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WITH THE MEHTAR'S FALCONS: A MORNING IN CHITRAL.
MORNING had broken, but As soon as we appeared, a the climbing sun still crowd of men, who were waithidden from the dwellers in ing outside the fort, began to
towers and hamlets of show signs of life, and shortly Chitral by the great mountain afterwards to move along the masses to the east, when our road which joined with ours party rode out of the Resid
a quarter of a mile farther ency gates and down the steep on. As our roads converged, path leading to the bazar. we recognised the Mehtar at There had been a hard frost the head of the procession, in the night, and the air was on a good-looking Badakshan keen and dry, making the pony. A dozen Chitrali nobles snow-capped mountains stand and retainers, who happened out hard and sparkling at the time to be doing feudal Crossing the wooden bridge service in the fort, formed the over the stream which issues mounted part of his retinue, from the Chitral gorge, we the people on foot, twenty or noticed that it was half cov- thirty in number, being serered over with ice.
vants and followers of no clattered into the bazar, particular standing. through which our road lay, The Mehtar, Shuja-ul-Mulk, people were just awaking to is a young man of five-andthe day's work. A Bajauri twenty, though old beyond his trader was watching his pony- years from the stirring scenes drivers throw the morning he has witnessed. Although feed of chaff before the line his personality is not at first of muffled - up animals which sight striking, his face indiwere to carry his goods north cates the possession of both to far Badakshan, as soon as shrewdness and determinathe snows on the passes were tion; and, indeed, to rule over sufficiently melted. A group of Chitralis successfully, as he fur-clad men, whose fair com- has done since an unexpected plexions betokened their origin turn in the wheel of fortune to be north of the Hindu Kush, brought him to the top while were preparing their early he was still a child, he has cup of tea. Shop doors were need of both. His clothes on being opened, and clouds of this occasion were the same dust voluming forth showed as those of his following—the that the morning clean-up was sombre-coloured though picgoing on. The bazar passed, turesque national dress : the Mehtar's fort, with its choga of homespun and rolled four towers, came in sight, cap of the same stuff, and down among the chinar trees, below baggy white pyjamas where the river flowed a few and long Russian
leather hundred yards to our right. boots. His pony, however,
was gay with the silver-plated branches at least, unrivalled head-stall and trappings that by any. Who, for instance, come from Afghan Turkestan. in England, would believe that The usual salutations given a wild-caught goshawk could and returned, we cantered or be manned,
trained, and flown walked on as the narrow path at game on the fourteenth day permitted, along the side of after taking, and yet this is by the impetuous Chitral river, no means an uncommon feat past the quaint old bridge of in Chitral. Here, five days is black wooden beams, to where considered ample period in the big tributary from the which to train
sparrowLutkoh valley mingles its blue hawk, and four days a merlin. waters with the muddier The training of the bigger stream of the main river. hawks is always placed in the Our venue was at the village hands of professional falconers, of Singur, just beyond the but there are probably few junction; and here, suddenly people of the upper classes in turning a corner, we found Chitral who are not capable ourselves in the middle of of training å sparrow-hawk or a group of some fifteen or one of the smaller falcons. twenty men with hawks on Indeed it is the common gibe their fists, the Mehtar's fal- against the poorer nobles that,
Our saises 1 were with instead of trying to improve them, and took our ponies as their position, they are content we dismounted.
to loaf about their orchards all In Chitral, among the pleas- day with sparrow-hawks on ures of a pleasure-loving people, their fists. The professional hawking comes first and polo falconers, of whom there are second, -neither of them a sport a large number, mostly belong which one would expect to find to families who came originflourishing in a country which ally from Badakshan, the home is a labyrinth of deep valleys, and birthplace of the royal impassable rivers, and precipit- sport. ous mountains.
The former The most celebrated of the was introduced from Badak- Mehtar's falconers, or Mirshan and the khanates of Shikar, was present to - day, Central Asia,—a legacy from an old man with a beard the earliest times when kings dyed red, a bright eye and a and emperors, from Alexander hooked nose, not altogether in the "two-horned” downwards, appearance unlike one of his found in it a relaxation from own favourites. He was in empire - making and empire- charge of the Mehtar's most breaking In Chitral, how- prized possession, a Shunkhar ever, the sport took root, and falcon, one of the largest and found so congenial a soil that rarest of the long-winged the falconers of this country hawks,—a magnificent bird, but are
of its of too little use as a pot-hunter
i Saises =
for her ownership to be a mat- lost altogether. The nature of ter of envy to people of lower the country, indeed, renders the degree, even if this had been long and high flights so adpossible. These hawks, as a mired in the long-winged hawks matter of fact, never do pass elsewhere, anything but desired into vulgar hands, for the in Chitral; and so, as a matter Mehtar has the prescriptive of necessity, they are treated right to every one that is taken and trained very similarly to in his country, as well as to the short-winged hawks. Thus, all peregrines and goshawks, though the lure is thrown up to excepting the tiercel of the attract them, they are taught latter; so that all that are to return to the fist like the caught are either kept in the latter. Chitrali falconers, who mehtari mews or given away can do anything with hawks, by him to neighbouring princes. could no doubt teach them Next in order of importance to easily enough to soar above the Shunkhar came the pere- their heads on the look-out for grines, of which there were game, or “wait on,” as it is two, wild-looking, dark-eyed called; but it is practically birds, the embodiment of the never done. It is in the trainpower of swift flight; three ing of the wild-caught goshawk, splendid goshawks, and several normally completed in fourteen tiercels of this species, some days and frequently in less, shahin falcons, and a number that the perfection of the Chitof sparrow-hawks. To be fully rali's skill is shown. Marrepresentative of the hawks vellous as the feat may seem, used in Chitral, there should there is really nothing esoteric have been included a charkh about it. The result is achieved or Saker falcon, and two by constant care and attention, kinds of merlins; but the last the methods used, including few seasons having been bad "waking,” or sitting up all ones, neither of these kinds night with the newly-caught had been taken, nor was in hawk, being much the same as any one's possession in Chitral. those in vogue in England.
Of all the hawks in use in After loosening our ponies' Chitral the goshawk is most girths and telling our saises esteemed. She is, par excellence, where to take them, we looked the hawk for a mountainous at each hawk in turn, the country, where long flights are Mehtar pointing out to us each not wanted. Next in order, in one's special merits. The falthe Chitrali's estimation, comes ooners, as he did so, unhooded the shahin. The bigger long- those that required it, and winged falcons go too far; and smoothed down their neckonce out of view, their re- feathers with an indescribable covery in this extremely diffi- air of pride. cult country is always doubtful. The first drive was to be They are lost to sight behind across the river, and the whole some mountain spur, and when party, preceded by the Hakim this happens, are frequently of Drosh, one of the Mehtar's VOL. CLXXVIII.-NO. MLXXVIII.
leading ministers, but none the five hundred feet below our less a good falconer, walked platform; beyond this the along a narrow path at the mountains rose up to an infinbottom of the high cliff of con- ite height, all but the lowest glomerate which overhung the slopes being deep in snow. water, to a point where a frail Half a mile up the river could bridge had been thrown across.
the cultivated terThe footway consisted of two races of the village of Sin, slender poles, the ends of which and above them long straight rested on other poles, which screes of rook fragments. Bewere projected from the bank, tween these screes and us was the shore ends being weighted another rocky spur and more down with stones. Across the screes. poles were laid osiers affording Our quarry to-day was to not too secure a footing. One be the ohakor, a fine big partby one we crossed, the lady of ridge, very similar to the the party refusing all proffered “Frenchman” at home. The assistance, much to the surprise peculiarity of this partridge is of the crowd, to whom all the that when alarmed he generally doings of the latest arrival in tries to escape by running up Chitral were a constant source hill, which a pair of very strong of astonishment. Not the least legs enable him to do at a pace remarkable of these in their which defies the sportsman eyes was her seat on horseback, with a gun. It is only by apfor it quite baffled their com- proaching chakor from above, prehension why she did not slip or on the level when their reoff on one side or the other. treat uphill is cut off, that they The chakor had already left on it, and the two came to the cultivated fields, as they earth together. The falconer, usually do in the early morning, whose hawk it was, plunged and were beginning their climb down the hill to retrieve the up the mountain side, when quarry and take up the hawk. they found their progress barred The Mehtar immediately turned by stops which had been posted and took a fresh hawk on his a few hundred feet up, and fist, but scarcely had he done were now in line slightly above 80 when shouts of
A scramble over the big grey can be induced to rise. For boulders in the river bed
they are prebrought us to a little track eminently birds to be driven zigzagging steeply upwards, and not walked up. Generafollowing which, in a quarter tions of practice have made of an hour, we reached a rocky Chitralis adepts at bringing eminence on a spur of the these birds in the required mountain which ran down into direction, and
direction, and almost every the river. A platform had village has its
village has its well - known been built up large enough to beats, the management of accommodate a score of people, which is understood to a nicety. the front guarded by a low For the Mehtar's drives every wall. Below us, to our front able-bodied man in the village and right, were precipitous has to turn out, and though rocks; behind us the bare he receives no payment or even mountain
up perpen- his day's victuals, it would dicularly till lost to view; to never occur to him to regard our left was the narrow path the duty as a hardship. His over straight slopes of shale ancestors have done the same, by which we had ascended. and in no country in the world The blue river, flecked here are people more iron bound by and there with white, flowed custom than they are here.
“ Hāni ! us. The surprised birds' anger hāni !”? came from the stops, at such treatment was, as we and a covey flew down wind arrived, being shouted out from close below us. The Mehtar rock to rock and spur to spur, again threw off his “ gos,” and their shrill gamey call echoing another of the party a shahin back from the cliffs on the op- falcon. A goshawk's tiercel posite side of the river. The (a male bird) is never flown beaters were out of sight, but simultaneously with the female, the signal to begin was passed which is bigger and stronger, on. The owners took their and has an unpleasant way of hawks from the falconers, and mistaking him for her quarry! all stood ready
And now the game was at its Almost as the first distant height, cries of “Hail hai!" shouting of the beaters reached or “Hāni! hāni !” followed us, & yell of “Hail hai !”1 each other in quick succession, from the stops above us, and and the chakor shot by us in garments wildly waved in the single birds and coveys. One air, signalled a single chakor, after another the hawks were A stiff wind was blowing down thrown off, and it was a magthe valley, and he passed out nificent sight to see the great of gunshot below us at a ter- birds wheel round in the wind rific pace. As he went by, the and dart off in pursuit. As Mehtar balanced and swung each one was thrown off, the forward the goshawk on his falconer in charge dashed after fist, and the bird with two her at full speed to take up the strokes of her powerful wings hawk if a kill had been scored, was launched in pursuit. As or to call her off if unsuccessshe got under way the Chit- ful. The latter is done by cries ralis raised a prolonged shout, of “Doh, doh” for goshawks and the excitement was 80 and the short-winged kind, and infectious that we could barely “Koh, koh” for the longrefrain from cheering her on winged hawks. To attract ourselves. We leant over the the latter, the lure made of wall to watch the result, and crow's feathers is also thrown were in time to see the flying up into the air and whirled chakor a brown ball two hun. about. Both sorts come back dred yards away; but a bigger on to the falconer's fist from brown mass was rapidly closing long distances. If the flight is
1 Hai=coming, sing.