Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Death on the Farang Bur

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Between the beginning of the 19th century and well into the 20th, the two great imperial powers of the day played what was called the Great Game. The name, coined by Arthur Conolly a red-blooded Scottish captain in the service of the East India Company, was the euphemism for the struggle for the control of Asia by Britain and Russia. In June 1842 Conolly gave up his ghost in the town square of Bokhara to the executioner’s sword. But the Great Game lived on; sometimes chivalrous, sometimes devious, mostly deadly.

By the time the last proponent had played out the final act of this lethal Game, death had brought immortality to many a man engaged in it. Among others, one was called George Whitaker Hayward. He died not very far from Gilgit and his remains today lie buried in the dappled sunshine of the Christian cemetery in that town. In 1990 I had hunted for his grave, but building material spilling over from an adjacent construction site had covered up the tombstone and I had come away thinking it had fallen victim to our insensitivity for history.

In Gilgit again in September 1994, I visited the graveyard and was surprised by the neat look it wore. The trees looked fresher, there was no building material, and the cemetery was spic and span. It was not difficult to notice Hayward’s tombstone among the few graves in this tiny walled in burial ground – only the inscription had fallen out of its place in the stele and had been fixed on the horizontal piece. Returning to Gilgit recently, I went to the cemetery again, just to check if old Hayward’s resting place was still intact.

It was about sundown and I was alone under the trees alive with birds. The tombstone reminded me that Hayward, too, was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS). I thought how I might have worked at the same desk where this first-class explorer and surveyor may have planned his own last and fatal expedition almost a century and a half before me. My flesh crawled. I sat down and touched the tombstone. I could almost see the bearded George Hayward, spear in hand, sword in the belt and a turban on his head – the image, perhaps his only one, that can be seen in a number of books. He was the most pathetic of the Great Game heroes.

With RGS backing Hayward explored the country around Kashgar before setting out to prove what he believed to be shortest route from Peshawar to the Pamirs: the trail from Peshawar over the Lowari Pass, through the Yarkhun River valley and across the 3700 metre high Broghal Pass in the extreme north of Chitral. Meanwhile, he wrote a letter to The Pioneer, the most widely read English language newspaper of India of the day. In this he censured the Maharaja of Kashmir for gross atrocities committed in Yasin (west of Gilgit), of which he had heard from survivors themselves. The article made its way to the Maharaja who was incensed. To please the Maharaja and to avoid any unnecessary embarrassment, the Government of India drew away from the explorer and so too did his patron, RGS.

Despite the withdrawal of official support Hayward arrived in Yasin on July 13, 1870 to pursue his Pamir Expedition. He knew once he had explored the Darkot Pass at the head of this valley and made it safely into the Pamirs over the Broghal, officialdom would come clamouring to his support. Then, as now, there was no dearth of men eager to bask in another man’s glory. But that, Hayward knew, would be only when he returned successful to India. It never was. Five days later Hayward was dead, hacked to pieces by the men of the chief of Yasin.

Few details of that grisly occurrence are known, making it one of the most abiding mysteries of the Great Game. Some say that that in Yasin Hayward had a heated argument with the Chief, Mir Wali, on the question of the route he was to take to Broghal. Others allege that Mir Wali was taken over by greed when he noticed the valuable gifts the explorer was bearing for other overlords on the way. In the Orient things work strangely, and there is every possibility that the Maharaja of Kashmir, upset with Hayward over the matter of his correspondence with The Pioneer, may have connived with his erstwhile enemies from Yasin for the removal of Hayward. Whatever it was, the truth has never been discovered.

Leaving Yasin and arriving at Darkot, two marches to the north, Hayward set up camp outside the village on a low hill by a stream. To this day the stream is known as Farang Bur – White Man’s Stream. It was the afternoon of July 17th. Later that day he was surprised to learn that a party of armed men had arrived from Yasin. By exposing the Maharaja’s atrocities against these very people, Hayward believed, he had gained their favour and had no reason to fear violence at their hands. But even before the sun had set, Hayward had some inclination of impending treachery. This came from his servant who now told him that shortly before departure from Yasin, Mir Wali had incited him to desert. And so Hayward decided to remain awake through the night.

He forwent dinner and plied himself with tea as he sat alone in his tent writing by lamplight. On the table was a loaded revolver and across his knees lay his rifle. His camp slept. Outside there was no unusual sound. The night wore on peacefully until complacence took over. Just before dawn, the fatigue of the long vigil overcame him and Hayward put his head on the table to sleep. The men who had waited beyond the glow of his campfire were alert, however. They leapt into his camp; a short struggle followed and they were in control. Hayward was bound, a noose put around his neck and he and his servants were led into the forest.

It is said that Hayward tried to buy his freedom against the contents of his baggage. The men of Yasin pointed out that after killing him all that was anyway going to be theirs. Then, just as the first rays of the sun were beginning to light up the remote valley of Darkot, a single stroke of the sword beheaded Hayward, who believed that the shortest and easiest route to the Pamirs was over the Broghal Pass. Next went his servants and then his camp was looted. Another account says that before he died he requested to be allowed to watch the sun come up over the mountains. And so with his hands bound behind his back, he walked to a small hillock and stood looking silently eastward. Done with his private ritual, he turned back and calmly said, ‘I am ready.’ The sun, so far as George Whitaker Hayward was concerned, rose the last time on July 18, 1870.

Weeks later Hayward’s body was recovered on the efforts of a British geologist working for the Maharaja of Kashmir. The burial took place in a small garden in Gilgit as soldiers fired three volleys for the departed explorer. It might have brought his spirit some peace to know that death – and not success, as he had hoped, had caused his re-adoption by RGS for the last line of the epitaph in Gilgit reads, ‘This monument is erected to a gallant officer and accomplished traveller at the instance of the Royal Geographical Society.’

Related: Murder in the Hindu Kush

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 00:00,


At 26 July 2013 at 14:21, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My prayers for this brave soul.

At 26 July 2013 at 21:24, Anonymous Aaima Ashraf said...

Human is the most expensive and the cheapest product at the same time

At 26 July 2013 at 21:32, Blogger Lahoremassagist said...

Classical explorer. True here.

At 27 July 2013 at 11:11, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

All who wish to know everything about Hayward MUST read Tim Hannigan's invaluable book, Murder in the Hindu Kush.

At 27 July 2013 at 18:21, Anonymous Saima Ashraf said...

Death sometimes becomes the mesage of life for some.

At 11 February 2015 at 02:04, Anonymous Anonymous said...

taken a great pain .

At 4 March 2015 at 07:09, Anonymous mahe said...

Salman Rashid it must be a unforgetfull experience where great men walked on the very same soil as you were there a long time ago.

At 4 March 2015 at 09:18, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Indeed it is, Mahe. I have many times felt I see those long gone men. I seem to get to know them intimately walking in their steps.

At 18 May 2015 at 15:11, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sir,.....I have just finished this brilliantly written book.......very tragic in the way he was murdered. thanks for the write are indeed fortunate to have visited his grave.........warm Rgds.....Meher

At 20 May 2015 at 09:01, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Thank you, Meher. Hannigan's book is really quite a masterpiece.

At 26 July 2015 at 14:10, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes he was murdered brutally in the line of duty and passion but dont you think he was there for greater imperial designs of the empire at the cost of freedom of the valleys and India.

At 19 July 2016 at 12:31, Blogger Unknown said...

Just one question, why would Mir Wali be taken over by greed of some relevantly insignificant gifts the explorer was bearing when he was the ruler of Yasin at that time? And before that why would he let him stay for 3 months in Yasin, tell him the route was not safe and so Hayward to head back and then returned later? This is just bogus, of course all the evidences show it was a plot. The rest all just sound stupid and it is safe enough to say the Dogras killed him.


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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand

Jhelum: City of the Vitasta

Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

Between Two Burrs on the Map: Travels in Northern Pakistan

Gujranwala: The Glory That Was

Riders on the Wind

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