The road from Jacobabad to Sibi and on through the Bolan Pass until it reaches Quetta passes through the inhospitable Kacchi desert and the Brahui mountain range. The Bolan Pass was the original access into India, until superseded by the Khyber Pass, and provided a trade route to Central Asian merchants and Afghani traders.
The British were forced to use the Bolan Pass when the Army of the Indus, prevented by Ranjit Singh from traversing the Punjab, assembled at Rohri /Sukkur and then marched north-westwards through the Pass until it reached Quetta on 20 April 1839.
An exuberant description of Quetta as it appeared to a footsore member of the Army of the Indus Capt. Richard Kennedy gives an idea of early Quetta. He described it as ‘a small place of poor appearance, and its population ground to the dust by the exactions of its government, and the free-trading character of its neighbours. Until our tents arrived and were pitching, we rested in a noble orchard.
Fine standards of the size of forest-trees, apple, pear, peach, apricot, and plum, were surmounted and overhung with gigantic vines, which wreathing round the trunks, and extending to the remotest branches, festooned from tree to tree in a wild luxuriance of growth such as I have never dreamt of seeing in fruit-trees and the vine : it was the first month in spring, and they were covered with blossoms which perfumed the air, and presented a picture of horticultural beauty surpassing description.’
Nature, bountiful yet capricious, exacted a toll from Quetta for such generosity when, on 31 May 1935, the city suffered and survived a devastating earthquake which killed 23,000 inhabitants and demolished a number of its old buildings.
THE BOLAN PASS, 1838
Lithograph published in Sir K.A. Jackson Views of Affghaunistan (London, 1841), plate 3.
The text by Jackson accompanying this illustration read: ‘The entrance to this important pass, is about half a mile wide, over a perfectly stony road, along the bed of the Kanhee or Bolan River, which winds through the valley, varying materially in width. On each side are mountains, partially formed of pudding-stone, of a dull brown colour, in some places full a thousand feet in height.
Some parts are covered with grass alternating with high rushes and. reeds, whilst other presented only a surface of absolute sterility. Near the small village of Kirta, the pass widens to an extent of three or four miles, and is in possession of a Belochee chief’.
‘The Siri Bolan, or head of the Bolan stream, is near the termination of the pass, beyond which is the mouth of a most picturesque defile, overhung by dark and rugged cliffs. The pass then spreads out into a much wider space, covered with southern-wood, when narrowing again, after a further march of about two miles, its gorge opens on to a barren plain in Affghanistan. The army was eight days crossing the pass, its length being eighty-three miles.’
MOUNTAINS AT KIRTA NEAR BOLAN PASS, 1838
Lithograph published in Sir K.A. Jackson Views of Affghaunistan (London, 1841), plate 4.
VILLAGE OF KIRTA, BOLAN PASS, 1857
Engraving from a sketch by Capt. Malcolm Green and published in The IIIustrated London News, 21 February 1857.
The Illustrated London News explained the earlier historical significance as a background to the sketch: ‘The Bolan is not so much a “pass” over a lofty range as a continuous succession of ravines and gorges, its length being between fifty-four and fifty-five miles; the highest point in the right of the view is the Camel’s Hump Mountain.
The pass is very important from a military point of view: it will be recollected that in 1839, the Bengal column of the Army of the Indus spent six days in marching through the pass, entering it on the 16th and leaving it on 21 March.’