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  Kingdom of Babur Shah

Babur: The Tiger(1526-1530) by Afghanland.com

Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur Mirza, The founder of the Mughal dynasty, "The Tiger," who ruled from 1483 to 1530. saw his royal lineage as the key to future greatness. His mother was a descendent of the greatest of the Mongol warriors, Ghengis Khan, while his father carried the blood of the legendary Timur Shah, who conquered and ruled the ancient city of Samarkand.

From his base of operations in Kabul, Babur tried to commandeer Delhi through sheer will of his pedigree. Over a century earlier, Timur had raided Delhi and managed to place a new dynasty, the Sayyids, on the throne of the sultanate. Therefore, as a direct descendent of Timur, Babur convinced himself that he could claim the throne as his right. But the Turkish sultan of Delhi, Ibrahim Lodi, refused to give in so easily, for his family had thrown the Sayyids out of Delhi several generations back, and he would not recognize Babur's claim. This left Babur with little choice but to invade and hope his forces could defeat the well-entrenched defenders of Delhi.

In 1526, Babur's forces crushed Ibrahim Lodi's army, largely due to Babur's access to artillery and gunpowder, both of which were in short supply on Lodi's side. After completing the campaign against several regional Hindu armies including a formidable force of Rajputs from the west, Babur had the Delhi sultanate to himself, with no serious challengers. he expanded his kingdom by attacking Afghanistan and capturing Kabul in 1504. Babur loved the city of Kabul where he set his base. From there he crossed over the mountains into Hindustan and attacked the Dehli Sultanate. With an army of only twelve thousand men, he defeated the Sultan at Panipat, captured Agra and Dehli, and established himself as Sultan. He then attacked a confederation of Rajput states. He had conquered all of Hindustan and controlled an empire that extended from the Deccan to Turkestan. According to Afghanland.com sources, He was the first Islamic conqueror to employ muskets and artillery, and even though these weapons were somewhat primitive, they were more than a match for the armies of the Hindustan. In doing so, Babur laid the groundwork for his own dynasty of Mongol warriors, known to the contemporary Dari world as Mughols. Babur, unfortunately, never got the chance to take full advantage of his fledgling empire. He died suddenly in 1530, leaving the throne to his son, Humayun. Babur was succeeded by his son, Humayun, whose history walks the fine line between tragedy and farce. He inherited one of the largest empires in the world, and between 1530 and 1540, he managed to lose all of it to rebellions, from Afghanistan to India. He went into exile in Persia, and slowly put together an army to re-conquer his lost territory. By 1555, he managed to reach his goal and regain all the territories of his father. Babur also left behind a handwritten memoir, penned in his native language that recounted almost 40 years of his adventures, ideas and opinions. This document, the Baburnama, is one of the earliest known autobiographical works in the Islamic world, and is perhaps the most detailed account of central Asian life of that period.


Taken from foot lose in the Jang


In Babur's footsteps

A group of adventurers follow the marks left behind by the great emperor in the subcontinent
By Raheal Ahmed Siddiqui

Babur ShahI am a true admirer of Babur's memoirs -- a beguiling narrative. Hence I decided to follow his footsteps in the subcontinent. His first incursion took place in January 1505. "Till that time I (Babur) had never seen a hot country or the Hindustan border-land." Crossing Khyber, his party dismounted at 'Jam-torrent' (Jamrud). Babur had heard about 'Gur-Khattri' (Golkhetri in Peshawar) as a holy place of Jogis and Hindus, but pressed for time he moved on to Kohat and sacked it. Next, he turned southwest, marched towards Thal (in Parachinar) taking the 'Hungu road for Bangash'. On the way, 'the Afghan's of Kohat' attacked but were put to sword. Babur writes: "The suppliants threw themselves on the ground and placing grass in their mouth, cried out, 'I am your cow'." (This custom is also mentioned by Charles Masson, the famous 19th century traveler in his 'Narrative of Various Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan and the Punjab,' while wandering through these areas in the reign of Ranjt Singh.)

However, this act which could have saved their lives from sword of an orthodox Hindu, had no effect on Babur, who casually writes, "The prisoners were ordered to be beheaded and a pillar of their heads was set up in our camps."

According to Erskine this barbaric act was typical to the Tartar conquerors of Asia, and throughout Babur's memoirs we find frequent mention of 'pillar of heads' as part of a victory ritual. Yet none of his Mughal successors resorted to this custom, a clear sign of Indianisation or rather dilution of the robust Tartar spirit.

From Hangu, Babur continued westward to Thal, a town on River Khurram (Khurram Agency) from where he traveled south-east along the river on a track called Gosfand-liyar (sheep road) as it was not a frequent riding road. The valley of Bannu (the town was not yet founded) was plundered and when Shadi Khan, the tribal headman, surrendered to Babur with 'grass between his teeth', all prisoners were pardoned. Further east, Isa Khail village, located at the confluence of Khurram and Indus River (Mianwali District) was sacked. He then turned south, wandered aimlessly on a waterless plain (Laki Marwat and Tank Districts) where his soldiers dug water holes in dry beds of water channels. Babar notes, "It is a wonderful provision of God and where except for the great river, there is no running water, water should be so placed within reach in dry water courses."

Finally camped near the present town of Daraban in D I. Khan district, Babur decided to return to Kabul. Two routes leading back to Ghaznawi were proposed. According to Erskine, the first route, 'Sang-i-Surakh' (tunnel rock) would have taken them through Kaniguram, now a small town in South Waziristan. It is the centre of Burkis, a small tribe that speaks Pashto and urmarh, an Indo-Aryan dialect not spoken elsewhere. The second route would have taken them along the bed of Gomal torrent. The final decision was left to his companions. Unexpected heavy rains had left Gomal swollen, making this route difficult. On March 7, 1505 Babur notes: "Someone said that if we were to turn the (birds) bill of the Mehtar Sulaiman range, we should get a level road, though it might make a difference of a few marches. Before my ablutions were finished, the whole army had taken the road and most of it was across the Gumal. Not a man of us had ever seen the road; we started off just on a rumored word! The prayer of the Eid was made on the bank of Gumal."

We decided to follow Babur's footprints from this spot on. Early morning, October 8, 2004, a small group of three adults and two children left D I. Khan, drove south on the Indus Highway, following tracks of an emperor who had never offered Eid prayers twice at the same place in his life ever since he was 12 years old. We wished to cover as much distance in a day in our four-wheeler as Babur did on his horse -- on easy pace and leisure in seven or eight marches. Our first destination was Bilah, described by Babur as "a small township in the Sind-water and dependent on Multan." No settlement of this name exists now, and none could be found in the Atlas of the Mughal Empire, compiled by Irfan Habib. Instead we stopped at Bokhara 'Pattan', a dying fishing village some eight kilometers from the highway on the banks of Indus where it leaves D I. Khan district and enters the Punjab. Bokhara Pattan is not Bilah of Babur but a historical aberration led this place to assume the name of a famous Central Asian city.

This ferry point was an important crossing point on the Indus for 'Lohani Afghan' traders transporting merchandise on camels from Afghanistan to the plains of Punjab. It lost its glory days when Indus was bridged. In 1988 District Council, D G. Khan for Rs.12 lac per annum, auctioned Pattan but in 2002 it fetched Rs.1.2 lac only. Instead of bridges, the headman blamed the extensive irrigation canals which has "sucked out all the water of this river", reducing it to a crawling worm for most part of year, easily fordable by a tractor. In another few years, Bokhara Pattan would join Bilah, disappearing from our memories and maps.

Driving towards D G. Khan, half asleep, I heard Ikramullah, the young political assistant to tribal area, telling Dr. Noorullah authoritatively that Bilah must be Leiah. The two names rhyme. But Bilah was on the right bank of Indus hence this hasty assumption does not coincide with the present location of Leiah (left bank), unless the river changed its course over centuries, a probability not recorded in history.

That night in Dera Ghazi Khan, when others made preparation for a tough journey that lay ahead, I re-read Baburnama and pondered on the murky historical record of the town. According to the Gazetteer of D G. Khan district, revised by A H Diack in March 1898, "The town of Dera Ghazi Khan was founded by Haji Khan Mirani and called after his son Ghazi Khan, who succeeded him and who died in 1494, as the date on his tomb shows." This indicates that the town of D G. Khan was founded much before 1494, a fact which does not co-relate with the chronicles of Babur. During his westward marches after leaving the banks of Indus, Babur while bitterly complaining about lack of green fodder, writes: "Although our men had constantly galloped off to raid, both before Sind-water was reached and all along its bank...". The chances of these raiding parties missing out a town in 1505 and Babur forgetting to mention the sacking with 'a pillar of heads', is minimal. It appears that the chronological facts given in this Gazetteer lean heavily on heresy, and therefore the history of D G. Khan city needs necessary revision.

Steps to dynasty

In the mid-winter of 1483 AD, when snow had closed the passes leading out of Farghana Valley in Central Asia, the first baby-boy was born in the house of Omer Sheikh. It was a moment to rejoice; women hung carpets from the windows of the ramshackle castle of Andijan. A soothsayer was called to predict good fortune for the child. Younis Khan, the Mongol maternal grandfather, who came to witness the shaving of the boy's head, could not pronounce the child's given name. To him, the boy was a little tiger, hence Babur (tiger in Turkish).

From the mother's side, the boy was a remote descendant of the dreaded Genghis Khan, whose savage hordes had captured and destroyed most of the known world. From the father's side he was a direct descendant of Taimur Lane, the Turkish conqueror who made Samarkand his citadel and enriched it with the spoils of his campaigns.

The boy picked up the three languages spoken around him. He mastered the old Turkish of the countryside, the Persian dialect of the town and some Arabic of learned men.

Omer Sheikh died in 1494, while inspecting the pigeon-cote on the cliff that collapsed and fell over the precipice. Immediately anarchy broke out in Samarkand and Farghana Valley. Babur writes in his autobiography Baburnama: "In the month of Ramzan of the year 899 (June 1494 AD) and in the twelfth year of my age, I became the Padshah in the country of Farghana."
Babur Tomb in Kabul
Babur was more of a fugitive prince than an emperor for the first 22 years of his life. Twice he captured Samarkand, the fabled city and a seat of Timurid throne, and twice he lost it. The second time, in 1500, he barely escaped with his wife, mother and a few companions. However, his worst enemy Shaibani Khan, the Uzbeg warlord and a descendent of Batu of the Golden Horde, captured his eldest sister Khanzada.

Haunted by Shaibani Khan and deceived by his own kinsmen, the wandering tiger made a sudden decision in the summer of 1504 to occupy Kabul. In a brief time, he extended his kingdom to Kumduz, Ghazni, Balakh, Khandhar and Herat -- 'a city where sex, opium and wine dictated the measure of man.'

After the defeat and death of Shaibani Khan in the Battle of Merv (April 1510) at the hands of Shah Ismail Safwai of Iran, Babur found a God-given chance to retake Samarkand. He entered the city for the third time after an absence of nine years. But his triumph lasted for only eight months, after which he was forced to evacuate it and return to Kabul.

"From the year 910 (1504 AD) when I obtained the principality of Kabul, I had never paused to think of the conquest of Hindustan," Babur notes in his memoirs Tuzuk-e-Babri.

But it is truly Annette S. Beveridge's translation of the memories of Babur from original Turki Chughtai script to English that has made it easy for us to understand the emperors true character -- he was a daring adventurer with a wandering spirit, a lover of nature and beauty, a poet and a caring family man who was merciful in victory yet barbaric in battle. The memoirs were translated in 1921.

Between 1505 and 1519, Babur made four incursions into India. About his fifth and final expedition to Hindustan, the emperor writes: "On Friday, 1st of Safar, the Sun brings out the Sign of the Archer, we set out for Hindustan...". With a force of only 12,000 men, he left Kabul -- never to return to the city alive.

In Panipat, on April 21, 1524, the fate of India was decided. For the first time in the subcontinent, the Indians experienced the power of gunpowder and canon that destroyed Ibrahim Lodhi's frontal charge of elephants. A swift Mongol maneuver at the flanks completed the rout. Prince Humayun got the fabled diamond Koh-i-Noor, which now adorns the diadem of the British Queen. The battle of Kanwah (1525) followed and the foundations of the Mughal dynasty were laid.

In late autumn 1506, Babur was in Herat, a city rebuilt after the Timur war. Herat had experienced a century of uneasy peace and had become the centre of Timuried renaissance of the 15th century. For months Babur enjoyed the company of poets and musicians and relished wine till the disturbing news of a revolt in Kabul -- by his own relatives, including the half sister of his mother.

It was mid-winter and all the passes leading to Kabul were covered in snow. The journey was terrible and the force was almost lost in a snowdrift. They seemed likely to perish. Somewhere a small cave was discovered, but Babur refused to take shelter in it. He quoted a Persian proverb: to die with friends is nuptial. Babur writes: "The whole horde outside in misery and pain, I inside the cave sleeping at ease. That would be far from a man's act, quite another matter than comradeship!" Out in the snow, he not only braved the blizzard, but the poet inside him found time for _expression: "In that stress, I composed the following opening couplet:-

Is there one cruel turn of fortune's wheel unseen for me?

Is there a pang, a grief my wounded heart has missed?"

Next morning, a path to Kabul was discovered and the revolt was crushed easily. About the treatment of his rebel kinsmen, Babur's pen was modest. However, a more vivid description emerges from the chronicle of Prince Hyder Mirza Dughlat. In his Tarikh-i-Rashdi, written in flowery Persian, he notes: "The emperor (Babur), showing his usual affection and without a trace of bitterness, came into the presence of his step-grandmother cheerfully, although she had withdrawn her affection from him and set her grandson as kind his stead. Shah Begum was ashamed and did not know what to say. Going down on his knees, the emperor embraced her affectionately and said, 'What mercy of a mother falls upon another? The mother's authority over all children is absolute in every respect.' He added, 'I have not slept all night and have made a long journey.' So saying, he put down his head on the breast of Shah Begum and tried to sleep. He acted in this way to reassure the Begum." Similarly other rebels, including Mirza Khan and his mother (also Babur's mother's half sister) were also forgiven.

It was still dark when we left D G. Khan for Sakhi Sarwar, a rapidly growing town on the main highway to Balochistan.

Babur writes: "Having made three more marches close along the Sind, we left it when we came opposite Pir Kanu's tomb. Going to the tomb, we were dismounted. Some of our soldiers having injured several of those in attendance on it, I had them cut to pieces. It is a tomb on the skirts of one of the Mehtar Sulaiman mountains and held in much honour in Hindustan." According to Henry George Raverty, this Pir Kanu is the well-known saint Sakhi Sarwar.

The ink from Babur's pen flows further: "Marching on from Pir Kanu, we dismounted in the Pawat Pass." Now from Sakhi Sarwar, there are three passes leading to Dasht-i-Duki, the plains of Balochistan, but none of them is known as Pawat.

A straight route leads to Rakhi Gorge. Driving past Fort Munro one can descent in Rakhni, a town in Khetran that dominated the Barkhan District of Balochistan. Travelers did not frequent this route before 1863 because it could only be crossed on foot as the steep vertical walls of the gorge made it impossible for horses to scale these obstacles. Sir Robert Sundeman, who started his illustrious carrier as a young political officer of D G. Khan, realised the importance of this route -- as a mean to expand the imperial boundaries beyond Sakhi Sarwar to Balochistan which was then under the lordship of the Amir of Kabul. According to the Gazetteer of D G. Khan district, this road was completed in 1887, and was a fine piece of engineering work along the face of perpendicular cliffs.

The Kaha Pass, through which runs a perennial stream by the same name, is about four hours on horseback. It is south of Sakhi Sarwar and leads to Khetran and Bugti country. Kaha is a clear running stream, which forms large pools at each meandering point where mahaseer of good sizes can be fished. Since the local Gurchani Balochs do not eat fish, a good catch is always ensured throughout the year. Snubbed nose crocodiles were also encountered in the Kaha streams at least till the Gazetter was written in 1898.

It is unlikely that Babur, who always took time out to record details of flora and fauna of places he visited, has not mentioned the crocodiles in his memoirs. After all, he did dismount in the 'Pawat Pass'.

Another glaring omission in Baburnama is a reference to Harrand Fort, an ancient citadel guarding the pass as the last frontier of Greek Bactrian empire.

From Sakhi Sarwar, we headed north towards Sowrah Pass on the Sanghar stream, which we believed was the proverbial 'Pawat' pass. A few days before our journey, Ikramullah's BMP scouts had reported a graveyard by the name of 'Pawa', some distance above Sowrah Pass on the mountains. This news, coupled with availability of water and green fodder along the Sanghar stream, further strengthened our views on Babur's route.

Crossing the pass, we drove up stream for two kilometers along the bed of Sanghar and came across remnants of an old settlement that the locals believe was build by Arab traders before the Baloch migrated to these mountains. Pieces of pottery lay scattered among stones of varying sizes which were used as building material.

Beyond this site, the water of Sanghar stream disappears. Now this stream, which swells into a roaring river during monsoons, flows eastwards and joins Indus near the town of Taunsa. Along its course, at a number of spots, the stream disappears from sight, travelling underground in subterranean channels only to reappear few kilometers downstream. Arab travellers knew this phenomenon as Aab-i-Gum -- the disappearing water. The karez irrigation system in Balochistan is a man-made version of this natural phenomenon.

Our westward backbreaking journey along the dry bed of Sanghar ended at the BMP post Hingloon at 2.30 pm. Here, the water of Sanghar had reappeared again and the valley was narrow but green. The jeep able track ended here. We decided to take a much-needed rest since the rest of the journey was to be completed on foot.

Half an hour later, with horses saddled and the sun shining bright, I found a small contingent of BMP neatly dressed up in khaki ready for the move. Ikramullah, the energetic PA of the Tribal Area, had organized a route march of his force, which he intends to lead from the front. In order to man a mountainous area of 2500 square miles, the effectiveness of this force depends on swift foot marches across the mountains. I marvelled at the commitment of this spirited young DMG officer, who despite heavy odds was still demonstrating the brilliance of an old institution that has been discarded under the present devolution system as too colonial and therefore redundant.

Ikramullah and his men marched in the front and the rest of us followed in a single file along the pony trail between the steep walls of the gorge. I was worried that the two youngsters, my seven-year-old son Daniyal and twelve-year-old Hamza, both perched on horses, may not last this endurance test. Dr. Noorullah who by now was drenched in sweat complained why I had asked him to wear a thick full sleeve shirt. While fording the stream for the third time, Daniyal (or Danny) wanted to catch fish with his hands for dinner. But his offer was decline.

Danny, whose face was masked with a sunburn cream, kept asking about the wild animals. His answers could be found in Baburnama which is more than a biography. It gives the earliest recorded details of flora and fauna of this region, and is unfortunate that we know Babur only as a great conqueror and not as a great naturalist.

Evening shadows were lengthening when we crossed a huge boulder embedded on a raised plinth in the centre of the trail. It had few smooth cavities at the top, each filled with a stone. According to a BMP Sowar, ailing persons traverse great distances just to place a stone in the cavity, an act of devotion that may relieve them of their sufferings. Not believing in supernatural healing powers of a stone we moved on.

At dusk, a slight breeze picked up indicating that the night might be cooler than anticipated. Now Noorullah could appreciate my wisdom of advising him to put on a thick shirt. Danny, still clinging to the saddles, was now enveloped in a jacket and baggy trousers. The valley here was cup-shaped and more than a mile wide. We crossed an abandoned well, a unique feature not encountered in these mountains. The local Balochs had never mastered the technique of digging up wells and this one was abandoned even before their forefathers had settled in the area. It is typical for them to refer things not recorded in their memory to 'Arab traders', hence the same explanation was forwarded this time too. Nonetheless it reaffirms the fact that this was an important trade route frequented by caravans from Persia and Afghanistan before the Baloch settled here. Their marauding habits made the traveling unsafe, leading to its total abandonment.

An hour's journey from this well, the marching column of BMP came to a sudden halt. The silence was broken by Dafedar Hassan Khosa cursing loudly. Others joined in the chorus. In the dim moonlight I saw Rehmat Khan flung his heavy sandal at a snake. More sandals flew past him, followed by a volley of stones. I ran forward to save the life of the poor creature but was late; but not late enough to save if from further mutilation. Rehmat Khan wanted to crush its head with a large stone.

I handed the dead snake to Danny and searched for my pocket torch for a closer examination. I was warned of exposing my son to danger. It was a foot-long male krait. Rehmat Khan's life was now doomed as Danny decided to pocket the coiled carcass to show it to his little sister back home. He pleaded: "Chota Sahab, I will not live to see another sawan."

The reference to monsoon months is the extension of a popular myth when the snakes are known to be more mindful of revenge. My thoughts drifted back to Baburnama where Babur had also recorded a strange encounter with a snake. It was August 14, 1519 when a great snake was killed "...as thick, it may be, as the forearm and as long as qulach (outstretched arms). From its inside came out a slender snake, that seemed to have been just swallowed, every part of it being whole; it may have been a little shorter than the larger one. From inside this slender snake came out a little mouse; it too was whole, broken nowhere."

Shortly after 8.00 pm, amid gunfire, we straggled into Burg, a small village on the fringe of Punjab. It was a much-awaited 'home coming'.

The occasional howling of jackals disturbed me throughout the night even though I was able to fall asleep almost instantly.

Morning restored our energies. The valley was much greener than my last visit. Wild olives grew in abundance. Half a kilometer from Burg, as the valley grew narrower, we stopped to see the water supply scheme. Malik Fateh Buzdar and his clan have dug up a pond close to the water pump which provide water throughout the year to animals of all sorts. All neighboring tribes, even from Balochistan, drive their cattle here for water freely but his clan does not share the cost of running the machines with them. Moving further west, the valley tapered into a defile. After crossing it we found ourselves in a flat dry land.

We had left the mountains of 'Mether Suliman' behind in Punjab and the vast plains of Dasht-i-Duki in Balochistan lay ahead. A little distance from the defile, we examined an ancient mound where pieces of pottery in various sizes lay scattered. Dafedar Ahmad Imran Buzdar showed us a spot where a flat embedded stone, with inscription in Arabic, marks the site as a mosque.

Another kilometer from this place, a large mound was visible which was littered with broken pottery. Malik Fateh's brother, who lives in a nearby hamlet, showed us a complete round necked earthen pitcher dug up from this site by boys after last rains. Malik Fateh also recollected that as a teenager in early 1960s, he along with his friends once found a small dark cave high up in the valley of Burg. They saw a clay pitcher and out of sheer greed for treasure a daredevil entered the cave to discover that the pitcher was empty. His village elders told him that it must have been left behind by old Arab trader as a water reservoir for their return journey.

Pottery is still alien to these Balochs. They instead use water skins as containers or plastic cans as a more recent innovation.

Malik Fateh showed us a coin he found had at this site. It was minted in Tabrez in the reign of the Persian Emperor Islam Shah Safvi. The year engraved on it was 951 Hijri or 1540, barely 35 years after Babur had crossed the "Pawat Pass in the bill of Mehter Suleman mountains".

After leaving the banks of Indus, during his westward journey, Babur complained about the lack of green fodder which forced his party to leave behind horses. Babur wrote: "After passing Chutiali, a village in Duki, my own felt tent had to be left from want of baggage-beast." Some more marches brought Babur within two miles of Ab-i-istada (standing water), a shallow lake near Ghazni, where he saw a red cloud in the horizon. He called it a wonderful thing and wrote:"...not 10,000 or 20,000 in a flock but innumerable which, when the mass of birds flapped their wings in flight, sometimes shewed red feathers, sometimes, not." Babur's description of these birds have left many divided in opinion between flamingoes and China goose, which has white body and neck and russet head and tail.

Babur's first trip to Hindustan lasted for five months. He reached Kabul in May 1505.

Rejoined by our vehicles, we drove south to reach the main highway which was to take us to Gumbaz, an insignificant town in district Loralai earlier known as Chutiali. But the appalling road condition stopped us from carrying on further westwards. We learnt that the progress of work on the road was extremely slow and the whole section right up to Loralai has been dug up since last year. We turned back.

Later in the comfort of Sandeman's Lodge at Fort Munro, while eating the sweet juicy melons, Babur's favourite fruit, Ikramullah and I decided to follow his other four incursions into Hindustan, especially in areas which form Pakistan. The journey would definitely take us to Bajur where we will try to uncover the romantic legend of Bibi Mubarika and Babur Padshah.


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