The New York Times, October 7, 1882, p.2:|
SURVEYS IN CENTRAL ASIAEXPERIENCE ALONG THE ROAD FROM ASKHABAD TO HERAT.
COMPLETE CHANGE THAT HAS COME OVER
THE COUNTRY SINCE THE CONQUEST--
VILLAGES THAT ARE SEEN--POVERTY OF THEIR INHABITANTS.
St. Petersburg Letter to the London Standard.
M. Lessar, who was employed by the Russian Government to survey the road from Askhabad [Ashgabat, Turkmenistan] to Serakhs [Saraghs, Turkmenistan], and thence to Herat [in Afghanistan], gives, in a letter to the Golos, an interesting account of the results of his second adventurous journey, from which he has just returned...
M. Lessar... traveled with an escort of 20 well-mounted Tekkes, who received 40 rubles a month and had to provide for themselves in food and forage. Ten were armed with Berdan rifles, the rest with their own old-fashioned muskets, but all carried, in addition to these weapons, a whole arsenal of pistols, knives, and daggers.
Leaving Askhabad on the 16th April, M. Lessar reached Serakhs on the 21st, having stopped one day in Kaakhka to pick up the escort. The latter were allowed to travel by night for the sake of their horses, which can only walk or gallop, Lessar jogging on alone by day, and frequently meeting small parties of Turcomans and even solitary travelers, unarmed and mounted on asses, or even journeying on foot.
The entire road from Askhabad to Serakhs, 280 versts, runs parallel to the range of hills at a short distance from them, and is completely level, except near Annan and Gyauars, where it crosses some small sand hills. The name Attek (meaning "foot of the hills") formerly applied to the whole line between Kazandzhik and Serakhs, but was little used and quite unknown in Persia and Afghanistan.
The oasis as far as Gyauars was called Akhal, and the country further on toward the south-east Arakadzh, but the territory occupied by Russia and that beyond her boundary justifies the use of Attek for the country between her eastern frontier and Serakhs. Gyauars is the last inhabited spot in the Akhal-Teko oasis. Baba-dourmaz, on the frontier, 71 versts from Askhabad, is deserted.
In Attek two points, Luttabad and Shilgyan, are occupied by Persian shätes, subjects of the Shah, all the rest by Turcomans--Kaakhka, and part of Kouren by the tribe Aliel, the others by the Merv Tekkes. The whole of the population is quite recent, the Alieli having returned to their old habitations from Khiva, whither they had fled from the Persians, only after Tehernaieff's campaign in 1873, and the Tekkes being driven from Merv of late years by the pressure of over-population.
The people live mostly in mud huts, the tents being few in number, and still decreasing with the pacification of the country. From Luterabad to Kaakhka there are none at all, and only the most cautious of the Mervites continue to sow and harvest their crops in Attek, returning to Merv for the Winter.
As regards water supply, Attek is in much the same condition as Akhai, the quality being very limited, and the streams at considerable distance from one another. In Attek there is the further inconvenience that the sources arnd greater part of the course of those streamlets are in the hands of the Persians, who can divert them altogether at will. This they frequently do, and unless some definite arrangement is soon come to with the Persian authorities the inhabitants of Attek will be compelled to emigrate, and their country will become a desert.
The inhabited or habitable places on the road from Askhabad are as follows:
Annan (13 versts, 260 kibitkas or tents, that is, families,) is watered by the Keltetchinar, flowing from the range Kirikon.
Gyauars (33 versts, 40 kibitkas,) and Babadourmaz (71 versts, uninhabited,) have separate streamlets rising from the same range, flowing only in Russian territory--the first, fresh and sufficiently abundant; the second, brackish, but potable.
Artik (87 versts, 20 kibitkas,) watered by the Dourangvar, which previously supplies the whole fertile valley of Deregesk.
Luterabad and Kouren, (92 versts,) and all the other villages as foar as Kaakhka, are watered by the branches of the river Roudkhan, or Roudbar, rising in the Allah Akbar range. This is the chief river in Attek, and the country from Luterabad to Kaakhka forms a fertile oasis, having about 500 kibitkas [yurts] distributed on both sides of the road at 12 different points.
Kaakhka (120 versts, 650 kibitkas,) the chief settlement in Attek, is watered by the stream formed by the junction of the Lavin and Artehinian.
Near the ruins of Khadzhamed (137 versts,) is the village Naurek (20 kibitkas.)
Then comes Doushak, or Tehardei, (158 versts, 160 kibitkas) flowing through Kelat.
Meana (202 versts, 130 houses,) and Tehatcha (218 versts, 70 houses,) watered by two streams running also from Kelat, suffer greatly from the diversion of water by the Persians above.
From Tehatcha to Serakhs, a distance of 55 versts, there is no water, but only a broken cistern near the ruins of Robat-Abdullah-Khan. Thus, between Baba-dourimaz and Serakhs, there are about 7,000 Turcomans, counting five to a kibitka, besides the Persians at Luterabad and Shilgyan, but it is only in Kouren and Kaakhka that the population is constant. At the other points it will increase, now that the country is pacified, but the scarcity of water will always prevent any large addition to the population.
Attek produces wheat, barley, and clover, and melons, which form the staple food in Summer. Fruit trees and gardens exist only between Luterabad and Kaakha; beyond the latter point there are no trees at all.
The population is very poor, barely producing enough to live on, and any development of commerce is quite out of the question. The bazaars at the two places last mentioned amply suffice for the wants of the whole Attek country.
At Serakhs Mr. Lessar remained a day and a half to complete his preparations for the onward journey through a desert country. Here, too, he found that a great change for the better had taken place. Nothing more was heard of the Turcoman raids, and the Persians traveled to Meshed [Mashhad] in parties of two and three by the Mouzderan road without any escort. Even the old commandant had reduced his guard from 50 to 10 horsemen. He received the Russian traveler as an old friend, and treated him with the utmost hospitality.
The Merv and Ahil Tekkes, who had brought Mr. Lessar so far, were terrified at the idea of going through the Afghan territory between the Geri-rond [Hari River, aka Tejen, Tedzhen or Tedzhent] and Mourgab [the Morghab River], where they had hitherto only ventured on marauding expeditions in large numbers, having a wholesome fear of the warlike Afghans, and they endeavored to persuade him that the best route lay south of the Geri-rond. He was not to be deceived, however, by their bare-faced lies, and on April 23, left Serakhs, and forded the Geri-rond one-half verst south-east of the town.
The country round Serakhs is in a prosperous condition. It is inhabited by Merv Tekkes, who pay one-tenth of the produce in return for permission to water their fields from the Geri-rond. The consequence is that in Summer the river itself does not reach the town at all, but canals starting from a dam 16 versts above the town supply it with water and irrigate the surrounding country. In former days one of these went as far as Askhabad. Since the fall of Gook-Tepe the Persians have extended their jurisdiction across the Geri-rond as far as Old Serakhs.
The river flows from Kousun to Pul-i-hatun, mostly in one bed, having a depth of from 15 to 20 fathoms; the water is high from the beginning of January to the end of March, during which period the fords are very dangerous, but by April it can be crossed in many places with a depth of only four feet, while in Summer it is fordable everywhere, though in places the banks are too steep to allow approach. Forage for horses is everywhere abundant, and of the best quality, and the water itself is excellent.
The Geri-rond to the north and northwest of Serakhs is known as Tedzhent. O'Donovan crossed it swimming in February at Kangall-gougar... the depth in February was 5½ feet, and breadth 12 fathoms. In Summer there is no current and the river-bed is dry in many places, leaving, however, numerous stretches of water, supposed to be fed by springs or by the waters of the Tehatcha, Meana, and Doushak, which disappear 20 versts off in the marshes.
The nomad Tekkes are all to the north of Karibent, toward Alaman-Dzhungul. All other names on the map represent fords.
The country between Geri-rond and Mourgab was hitherto quite unknown. On the latter river, south of Merv, are Sarik settlements, Joulatan, Pende, and Bala-mourgab; further still south live the Dzhemids and Teimours. West of the Mourgab, as far as the Geri-rond, the country is a desert, the fortifications all in ruins, and abandoned. This road from Merv to Herat is described by Shakespeare; and Abbott, who traveled along it in 1840-41. It was used only by maurauders of all the neighboring tribes, of whom, however, at present only the Sariks continue to live by pillage.
The journey from Serakhs to Kousan (218 versts) was made in five stages. From that town to within one verst of Old Serakhs the road runs south-east, then turns due south. The ford is an easy one, the river running in four branches, with level gravel bottom, and the water in one only reaching the horses' bellies.
On the other side the Merv Tekkes, with consent of the Persian authorities, have constructed a fort called Popish-Pelonan-kala. The road follows the canal through fields and gardens as far as Deonkala, (14 versts from Serakhs,) the ruins of a small fortress. There it leaves the canal to the right, and passing through a valley five versts to Kassan Kala, goes through hilly ground to the Persian fort of Naurons-abad, on the western bank, opposite which the road comes once more to the level of the river, and so runs to the Tekke Naurons-abad, four versts beyond its namesake and 21½ versts from Deonkala. Thence it follows the Geri-rond 10 versts almost to the Shir-tepe, but turns off south-east, leaving the river to the right, and only meets it again at Kousan.
From the Shir-tepe to Rabat, (a ruin,) 50 versts from Kousan, where it crosses the Borkhout Hills, the road is of uniform character, either level or very slightly uneven; soil sandy clay, and though at present only used by camels, a few slight rectifications would make it perfectly fit for wheeled traffic. Forage is nearly everwhere obtainable and of good quality.
Twenty-nine versts from Naurons-abad are some abandoned wells, in some of which water stagnates; 12 versts further are the two wells of Adam-Yolan, beyond which 12½ versts the fresh-water springs of Agar-Tehishine, both of which are surrounded with abundance of grass suitable for forage; 8½ versts from the last-mentioned spot are the considerable ruins of Kungroneli, whence two roads lead to Afghanistan, one by which Lessar traveled through Kizil-Boulak and Khombou, the other through Ak-rabat.
To Kizil-Boulak, (39½ versts from Kungroneli,) where there is an abundance of fresh water, the road passes through a nearly level country, and only some 23 versts further, after crossing the salt river Shar-Yab, gradually mounts the slope of the Borkhort Hills to a height of 900 feet above the surrounding plains and 3,100 feet above sea level. Thence it falls by degrees until 6 versts beyond Khombou, (36 versts from Kizil-Boulak,) where it divides, one branch running to Post-rabat, on the west bank of the Geri-rond; the other to Keusyn, (46½ versts from Khombou,) the first Afghan settlement on the band of the Geri-rond, on the road from Meshed to Afghanistan.
Summing up the results of his journey so far, Mr. Lessar comes to the conclusion that the road he followed is by far the most convenient between Askhabad and Herat for wheeled traffic, and the only route possible for a railway if time and labor are of any account. Of alternate routes, that between Herat and the Caspian through Meshed is barred by several ranges of hills, which would entail much costly labor, and that between Askhabad and Meshed iis still worse in this respect, and the same consideration applies to the road from Serakhs to Herat on the Persian side of the river.
The road from Askhabad to Herat, through Khombou, is 585 versts. In building a railway along it no works whatever would be needed in the first 300 versts, nor on the last 125, while the intervening portion presents no greater engineering difficulties than Russian railways in general. In fact, if the rapid construction of a railway is demanded, there can be no question of any other route.
note: The verst, a Russian unit of distance, equals 1500 arshin, which is 3500 feet, 0.662 88 mile, or 1066.8 meters. So a verst is a little over a kilometer, or about two-thirds of a mile.
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Eastern Turkmenistan for centuries formed part of the Persian province of Khurasan; in medieval times Merv (today known as Mary) was one of the great cities of the Islamic world and an important stop on the Silk Road.
Annexed by Russia between 1865 and 1885, Turkmenistan became a Soviet republic in 1924. It achieved independence upon the dissolution of the USSR in 1991.
Extensive hydrocarbon/natural gas reserves could prove a boon to this underdeveloped country if extraction and delivery projects were to be expanded. The Turkmenistan Government is actively seeking to develop alternative petroleum transportation routes to break Russia's pipeline monopoly.
President for Life Saparmurat NYYAZOW died in December 2006, and Turkmenistan held its first multi-candidate presidential electoral process in February 2007. Gurbanguly BERDIMUHAMEDOW, a vice premier under NYYAZOW, emerged as the country's new president.
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Explorations in Turkestan Pumpelly 1905
...A History of Russian Turkestan Skrine 1899
The Merv Oasis v1 O'Donovan 1883
The Merv Oasis v1 O'Donovan 1883
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Turkistan: Notes of a Journey... Schuyler 1877
On the Road to Khiva David Ker 1874
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