Swara to Ghazni: distance twenty-two miles.—For the first five or six miles the country rises by a gradual ascent, and is of similar character to that traversed in yesterday's march. Beyond this the road descends through the narrow gorge of Sher-dahan, at the entrance to which is built a substantial guard-tower, and conducts to a level plateau of considerable extent enclosed by hills. The road crosses the centre, and then by an abrupt descent conducts over a second though less extensive plateau, which stretches away to Ghazni.
The Sher-dahan, or " Lion's-mouth" gorge, at its entrance from the north, is about nine thousand feet above the sea level, and extends southwards for about a mile and a half by a somewhat rapid descent between low, rocky ridges of hill, which in most parts of its course are hardly more than forty or fifty yards apart. During the winter months this pass is entirely blocked up with snow, and the communication between Ghazni and Kabul is impossible except to foot-passengers, who can effect the journey by traversing the crest of one or other of its bounding ridges; but even this is a very difficult task, and is at all times attended with 'much hazard. This site is the highest ground on the route between Kabul and Kandahar, and from it the country slopes
down to each of those cities. It may be taken, with the range of hills proceeding east and west from it, as the watershed line between the countries of Kabul and Khorasan.
Beyond the Sher-dahan pass we traversed the plateau already mentioned, and passing close under the fortress of Ghazni, encamped on a sandy and gravelly flat about three miles to its south-west. Shortly before we reached Ghazni we passed close by the garden of the tomb of Sultan Mahmud (Roza i Sultan Mahmud), in which in former days stood the celebrated mausoleum of the renowned founder of Ghazni and its race of kings. This tomb, which has always been held in the greatest veneration by the people, and was at one time regarded as a sacred sanctuary for criminals, was desecrated by the British before their final departure from the country in 1843; and its celebrated gates of sandal-wood were deported into Hindustan as a trophy of vengeance. It is now, like everything else connected with Ghazni, a wretched and forlorn-looking place; the site of the tomb itself is marked by a heap of rubbish and the debris of walls, from the midst of which rise a few decaying and crumbling domes of unbaked bricks; whilst the garden, which is well stocked with fruit-trees, is tended by a few naked and mud-besmeared "fakirs," or religious devotees, who, on the produce of its fruit and the earnings of their religious avocations, manage to eke out a scanty subsistence, with which they are content to grovel in filth and wretchedness for the sake of the deference and superstitious homage they exact from their fellow-countrymen.
Beyond the Roza i Sultan Mahmud (around which is clustered a multitude of other tombs and sacred shrines of greater or less note) and the fortress, are the celebrated " Minars of Ghazni." These are two lofty towers of red brick, about three hundred yards distant from each other, and are said to mark the limits of the public audience hall of the Sultan Mahmud. One of them (that nearest the city) appears to be of older date, better material, and finer workmanship, than the other. Both are built of small flat red bricks (which have stood the wear and tear of centuries with wonderfully slight deterioration), and are covered towards their basements with ancient Arabic inscriptions, the letters of which are formed by a clever disposition of the bricks used in the building. The best proof of the excellence of the workmanship and material of these minars, is in the fact of their good state of preservation after braving the vicissitudes of many centuries, and withstanding uninjured the shocks of the earthquakes, which are said to be of frequent occurrence in this country. Besides, the minar farthest from the city is pierced near its upper tier by a large round hole, said to have been made by a cannon shot during the Chagatai Tartar wars—a shock sufficient to have brought down the superstructure had not the workmanship been of the very best kind.
The country in the environs of Ghazni is covered with orchards and cornfields, in the midst of which are scattered many villages. The fortress itself, which has been rebuilt on the foundations of the original ramparts, which were blown up and destroyed by the British army under Lord Keane in 1842, is a strong-looking place, and contains about three thousand five hundred houses. At the north angle of the fortress rises a high and commandingly situated citadel. This and the walls of the fortress, since their repair, are said to differ little from the Ghazni of former days and previous to the occupation of the country by the British. The whole place, however, in its tout ensemble, wears a faded and desolate look, and it is acknowledged that its prosperity and glory have steadily declined since the days of Ahmad Shah Abdal; and now it is comparatively an insignificant place for a city and fortress of its proportions. Even its inhabitants have a look of wretchedness and poverty, and are remarkable only for their ignorance and superstition. They appeared to suffer greatly from fevers both of the intermittent and remittent forms. The latter are generally attended with hepatic disease and jaundice, and very often prove fatal. Ophthalmia and bowel complaints also are of frequent occurrence here, as well as another class of disease (which was met with in its most hideous forms) owing its origin to the degraded vices of the people.
There are no manufactures carried on at Ghazni, except that of the "postin," or sheepskin coat. The chief trade of the place is in corn and fruits, and madder, all of which are largely produced in the district. Sheep's wool and camel's-hair cloth are brought into the market here from the adjoining Hazarah country. The former, together with that produced in the Ghazni district, finds its way vid the Bolan pass to Karachi, and thence to England, whence it is again returned in part in the shape of broadcloths. The latter are distributed all over the country, and also in the neighboring provinces of the Punjab.
Ghazni is celebrated for the excellence of its apples and melons, both of which are supplied to the Kabul market in great quantities, together with apricots and corn. The madder grown here is almost all exported to the Punjab and Hindustan by both the Bolan and Khaibar routes. Tobacco and cotton are grown only for home consumption. So is the castor-oil plant on account of the oil yielded by its seeds, which is very generally used for domestic and, in a measure, even for culinary purposes.
The population of Ghazni is a very mixed community, and contains a large proportion of the Hazarah race, more, in fact, than are to be found gathered together in any other part of the country. There are, besides, Afghans of various tribes, both Durrani and Bardurani, Tajiks and Kizilbashes, and though last named, by no means the least important or influential, are the Hindus— a thriving, or the only thriving, community, who monopolize the whole trade and money business of the district. But the trade of Ghazni is not nearly as great as it might be, and this is attributable to various circumstances, of which the principal are a want of liberal encouragement on the part of the rulers of the country, and the unfavorable situation of the city and its severe climate, owing to which last it is cut off from communication with the adjoining districts for several months of the year. The winter at Ghazni is described as a very rigorous season, and snow is said to fall so heavily as to prevent people from moving out of their houses for weeks together. It is reported that on more than one occasion the entire city has been buried and almost destroyed by excessive falls of snow. Even at the date of our arrival at Ghazni, the weather was cold and stormy, and the fruit-trees had only lately shown signs of returning life and activity. The corn crops, which are sown in the autumn months previous to the setting in of winter, were hardly six inches high, and the fruit-trees had still many unblossomed buds on their branches.