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0423 Innermost Asia : vol.2
Innermost Asia : vol.2 / Page 423 (Color Image)

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doi: 10.20676/00000187
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Sec. iii]   INTO THE HELMAND BASIN   905

of the ancient Lop Sea, whether from the glacis of the K`un-lun or from the barren slopes of the Kuruk-tagh. The resemblance of the impressions was much strengthened by the succession of clearly recognizable ancient shore-lines which were passed on the descent to the actual edge of the northern portion of the Hamûn at the post of Lab-i-Baring. That the first of the old shore-lines I noticed lay fully 8 miles away from this point on the present western limit of the lake showed the shrinkage that the latter has undergone.

Of the fluctuations which the extent of the Haman annually undergoes I could judge by visual evidence when on December ist I made my final march to Nasratabad, the capital of the Persian portion of Sistan. For after regaining the direct road marked by the telegraph line about a mile to the north-east of the ruined tower of Mil-i-Nadir, it was possible for us to ride across that waist-like contraction of the Haman which is regularly under water from early February till the autumn. During the few winter months, however, the shrinkage of the lake allows traffic to proceed here without having to be ferried across on reed rafts, as is necessary during the rest of the year. Thus for some ten miles we followed a narrow track winding through thick reed beds, just like those I well remembered in the riverine belt of the dying Tarim and the westernmost lagoons of Lop-nôr. Large herds of cattle were grazing in what during the greater part of the year is a haunt of fish and water birds.

On arriving where this ` Naizar ' thinned out and gave place to a stretch of bare lake shore, I could not help being struck at once by a negative but very significant observation. I mean the total absence of that saline efflorescence which is so characteristic a feature of the ground near the Lop-nôr marshes and all the terminal river-courses of the Tarim basin. It makes Sistan differ greatly in the surface appearance of its soil from the vastly greater basin of Chinese Turkestan, which it otherwise resembles in many physical respects. This difference deserves to be briefly noted here for two reasons. On the one hand it must draw our attention at the outset to the important consideration that the Hâmûn marshes, which the Helmand delta, comprising the cultivable portion of Sistan, adjoins on the east, do not form the true terminal basin of the river ; for they are swept out and kept fresh by the drainage which large floods of the Helmand, recurring at intervals of several years, pass through them into the salt lake of the Gaud-i-Zirrah some sixty miles lower down in the desert. On the other hand this geographical fact helps us to understand better both the fertility of the soil in the Helmand delta and the great number of ruins attesting the former prosperity of Sistan.

How little of that prosperity is now to be found in this land of ancient fame in Iranian tradition was made sufficiently evident by the neglected look of both fields and villages encountered during the remainder of the day's march from the Haman to Nasratabad. There I was most kindly received by Major (since Lieutenant-Colonel) F. B. Prideaux, H.B.M.'s Consul for Sistan and Kahn. It was due mainly to most helpful and effective arrangements of this distinguished political officer that I was able to employ the comparatively short time at my disposal in Sistan to the greatest profit on archaeological work. I had all the more reason to feel deeply grateful for the generous support and very encouraging personal interest that Major Prideaux accorded to my work, because it was rendered at a time when the uncertain political situation in Persia and the activities of a German Military Mission in power at Kirman were causing serious preoccupations to those responsible for safeguarding a far advanced section of the border of British Baluchistan.

Passage across


Absence of saline efflorescence.