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The Feel of Cold Steel Across His Throat

Image When word of George Hayward’s plans reached the ears of the authorities, considerable pressure was brought to bear on him to call off his expedition. Not only were the dangers to a lone European traveller in this wild and lawless region immense, but it was also a highly sensitive area politically. Indeed, it was for just such hazardous operations as this that the Pundits had been conceived and trained. To a man like Hayward, however, the risks merely made it more attractive. In a revealing moment he had once written to Robert Shaw: ‘I shall wander about the wilds of Central Asia possessed of an insane desire to try the effects of cold steel across my throat.’ From anyone else this would simply have sounded like bravado. But Hayward, as his few friends would confirm, genuinely relished danger, though in retrospect it appears more like a death wish. Having no close ties or family, moreover, he had little to lose, and a great deal to gain if he succeeded. For on one thing everyone was agreed. Hayward was a first-rate explorer and a surveyor of great skill. If he did get back alive, his discoveries were likely to be of immense value.

Originally, like his Kashgar journey, the Pamir expedition was to have been sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society, which now had Sir Henry Rawlinson as its President, and some of whose operations in Central Asia smacked as much of the Great Game as of geography. But in the meantime something had happened which had caused Hayward reluctantly to distance himself from the Society for fear of embarrassing it. It had also greatly increased the dangers of the expedition, for it had made an enemy of the Maharajah of Kashmir, through whose territory the explorer would have to pass on his journey northwards. The affair had sprung from an earlier visit which Hayward had made to a remote region beyond the Maharajah’s domains known as Dardistan. Here lived the Dards, a fiercely independent people with whom the Maharajah was constantly at war. It was from them that Hayward had learned of an appalling series of atrocities which Kashmiri troops had carried out in the Yasin area of Dardistan some years earlier. Details of these, which had included tossing babies into the air and cutting them in half as they fell, had been sent by Hayward to the editor of The Pioneer, the Calcutta newspaper. They had been published in full, under Hayward’s name, although he insisted that this had been done expressly against his instructions. Inevitably, a copy of the paper had found its way into the hands of the Maharajah, a ruler whose goodwill and cooperation the British authorities were most anxious to preserve, and who was now reported to be extremely displeased.

Even Hayward could hardly fail to see that this affair, and his own involvement in it, was highly embarrassing to both the British government and the Royal Geographical Society. He therefore wrote to the latter formally severing all connections with it for the duration of the expedition. The anger at the Maharajah’s court, he declared, ‘is very great, and it cannot be doubted that they will in every way secretly strive to do me harm’. Although he had been strongly advised to postpone or abandon his venture, he was nonetheless determined to proceed, despite the greatly increased risk. The fact that the matter was now public knowledge, he argued, would make it difficult for the Kashmiri ruler to harm him. Indeed, it might even oblige him to protect the party during its passage through his domains, lest he be blamed for any harm which befell it. Hayward made it clear, however, that the expedition was being undertaken entirely at his own risk and on his own decision. He hoped to reach Yasin, he said, in twenty-two days, and from there to enter the Pamir region by the Darkot Pass.

At the very last minute the Viceroy, Lord Mayo, had tried to persuade him to change his mind, warning him: ‘If you still resolve on prosecuting your journey it must be clearly understood that you do so on your own responsibility.’ But Hayward had already defied officialdom once by visiting Kashgar, and ultimately there was little that anyone could do to stop him this time. After all, he was not a government official, and was now no longer answerable to the Royal Geographical Society. He was a free agent. Undeterred therefore, and accompanied by five native servants, he set out northwards across the Maharajah’s territories in the summer of 1870. Travelling via Srinagar, his capital, and the small town of Gilgit, on Kashmir’s northern frontier, the party passed without incident into Dardistan. By crossing the no-man’s-land separating these two warring peoples, they had risked incurring the suspicions of both. Nonetheless, on July 13, they rode safely into Yasin, where they were warmly greeted by the local Dard chief, Mir Wali, whom Hayward knew from his earlier visit and believed to be his friend.


The true story of what ensued in this wild and desolate spot, where human life counted for little, will never be known. But during his brief halt in Yasin it seems that Hayward quarrelled with his host over which route he should take out of Dard territory into the Pamirs. Mir Wali, it is said, had been ordered by his own chief, the ruler of Chitral, to send Hayward to see him before being allowed to continue on his journey. But Hayward, already delayed, was anxious to press on. To travel to Chitral would have meant a considerable detour westwards, and anyway he was suspicious of the ruler’s motives. He thus refused, and an angry scene is said to have followed, during which the Englishman called Mir Wali by what was described as ‘a hard name’ in public. Other accounts challenge this, claiming that it was invented as an excuse for what was being planned. What is certain is that Hayward was bearing a number of highly desirable gifts which were intended for the chiefs of areas through which he had still to pass. These, according to several subsequent witnesses, had attracted the covetous gaze of Mir Wali, and possibly the ruler of Chitral, who were loath to see them leave their domains.

By now Mir Wali had abandoned his efforts to re-route Hayward via Chitral, even lending him coolies to see his party as far as the village of Darkot, twenty miles to the north, which marked the limits of his own territory. After an outwardly friendly parting from Mir Wali, Hayward left Yasin for Darkot, arriving there on the afternoon of July 17, and setting up his camp on a nearby hillside, 9,000 feet above sea level. Hayward, who had performed a great service for the Dards by exposing the Kashmiri atrocities, had no reason at that point to suspect treachery. However, that evening he was surprised to learn that a party of Mir Wali’s men had arrived unexpectedly in Darkot. They told the villagers that they had been sent to see the Englishman safely over the Darkot Pass on the following day. It seems, though, that they made no attempt to contact him. Hayward was puzzled by this, for he was not expecting the men, and Mir Wali had not mentioned them at their parting.

Something else worried him too. One of his servants now confided to him that shortly before they left Yasin an attempt had been made by Mir Wali to persuade him to desert. Hayward decided to take no chances. He would sit up all night, in case treachery was afoot. ‘That night,’ the village headman reported later, ‘the Sahib did not eat any dinner, but only drank tea.’ He sat alone in his tent, writing by the light of a candle. On the table before him were his firearms, loaded and ready. In his left hand he held a pistol, while he wrote with the other. But the night passed quietly. At first light everything appeared normal. Nothing stirred in the camp. Perhaps he had been worrying needlessly. Hayward rose and made himself some tea. Then, exhausted by the long night’s vigil, he fell asleep.

This was the moment Mir Wali’s men had been waiting for. One of them crept silently into the camp from the nearby undergrowth, where he and his accomplices had been hiding. He asked Hayward’s unsuspecting cook whether his master was asleep. On discovering that he was, he made for his tent. One of Hayward’s servants, a Pathan, spotted him and tried to stop him, but the rest of Mir Wali’s men now rushed in. The struggle was over in seconds. Hayward’s servants were all seized, and he himself pinioned while a noose was slipped around his neck. He had no time to reach for his firearms. Their arms tightly bound, the captives were next led into the forest. According to the headman’s account, which he obtained from the men themselves, Hayward tried to bargain with them for his own and his servants’ lives. First he offered them the contents of his baggage, including the gifts he was carrying, but they pointed out that these were already theirs for the taking. He next offered them substantial rewards of money which his friends would provide in exchange for the party’s release. However, the men clearly had their orders and showed no interest.

There are two different accounts of what followed. According to one – that of the village headman – Hayward’s ring was next torn from his finger. Then the leader of Mir Wali’s men drew his sword. Realising that he was going to die, Hayward uttered what those present took to be a prayer. Seconds later he was dead, slain by a single stroke of the sword. So that there might be no witnesses to the crime, his five servants were killed. The murderers then hastened to Hayward’s camp, which they proceeded to ransack in search of his own personal possessions and the gifts he was carrying. Their task now complete, they rode back to Yasin to report to their master, and to hand over to him the Englishman’s valuables. The other account of Hayward’s death, said to have come from one of his murderers, and which was to gain wide currency at the time, maintains that he asked his captors for one last favour before they killed him – to be allowed to watch the sun rise over the mountains. If the story is true, then the Mir’s men let him walk forward to a piece of rising ground. There, with his arms still tightly bound, Hayward stood in silence while the sun rose. Then he strode back to his captors, declaring: ‘I am ready’.

It was just how the Victorians liked their heroes to die. Hayward’s treacherous murder, in one of the world’s most desolate spots, stirred the nation profoundly when word of it reached London by telegraph from India nearly three months later. Surprisingly, no painter tried to immortalise the scene, although the popular poet Sir Henry Newbolt would later do so in verse. His poem – ‘He Fell Among Thieves’ – ends thus:

And now it was dawn. He rose strong to his feet,
     And strode to his ruined camp below the wood;
He drank the breath of the morning cool and sweet,
     His murderers round him stood.

Light on the Laspur hills was broadening fast,
     The blood-red snow-peaks chilled to a dazzling white;
He turned, and saw the golden circle at last,
     Cut by the Eastern height.

‘O glorious Life, Who dwellest in earth and sun,
     I have lived, I praise and adore Thee.’
                                                    A sword swept.

Over the pass the voices one by one
     Faded, and the hill slept.

Whatever the outrage felt by Victorian England towards Hayward’s murderers, there was very little that could be done about it short of dispatching a punitive expedition into these dangerous wilds, and that was something that the Viceroy had no intention of doing. The tragedy proved all too clearly the point which Sir John Lawrence and others had made – that one should not allow Europeans, however willing or brave, to venture into regions where their deaths could not be avenged. Immediate efforts were nonetheless made to try to discover the precise circumstances of the murder, as well as to retrieve Hayward’s body so that he could be given a proper burial. It was obviously too dangerous to send investigators to the spot, and nothing very useful was to emerge as to whether Mir Wali was solely responsible for the murder, or whether others were behind him, as some suspected. Both the Maharajah of Kashmir and the ruler of Chitral were rumoured to have been involved, although there is no evidence against either of them.

Hayward’s body was recovered on the initiative of one of his friends, a British geologist named Frederick Drew, who was in the employ of the Maharajah of Kashmir. Unable, for reasons of personal safety, to visit Yasin or Darkot himself, he sent instead a highly trusted British Indian sepoy to discover all he could about Hayward’s death, and to try to find and bring back his remains. The resourceful soldier, at considerable risk to his own life, succeeded in recovering Hayward’s corpse from beneath a pile of rocks which had been heaped on it, and in conveying it back to Drew at Gilgit. He also rescued some of the explorer’s possessions, including books, maps and papers, which his murderers had judged valueless.

On December 21, Drew was able to report to the Royal Geographical Society that he had buried its gold medallist in a garden beside the fort in Gilgit, a detachment of troops firing three volleys over the grave. Later a headstone was erected bearing these words: ‘To the memory of G. W. Hayward, Gold Medallist of the Royal Geographical Society of London, who was cruelly murdered at Darkot, July 18, 1870, on his journey to explore the Pamir steppe. This monument is erected to a gallant officer and accomplished traveller at the instance of the Royal Geographical Society.’ It remains there to this day in what was to become Gilgit’s Christian cemetery, though now one has to obtain the key from the cobbler’s shop opposite if one wishes to see it. At the time of Hayward’s burial there grew beside it an apricot tree which, it is said, never bore fruit again. Today only a weeping willow stands there.

As for the treacherous Mir Wali, he was never brought to justice. However, shortly afterwards he was forced to flee from Yasin, for the ruler of Chitral, using British wrath over Hay-ward’s murder as a pretext, forcibly relieved him of his authority. This was supposedly by way of punishment, but it soon became obvious that the real motive was to enable him to reward one of his relatives with Yasin’s rule. Mir Wali’s sins finally caught up with him, though. After evading pursuit for several years, he met with a violent and dramatic end at the hands of his enemies – according to one account plunging over a precipice locked in a deadly embrace with an assailant. More than a century later Hayward’s name is widely remembered throughout the region. At Darkot, hardly less remote today than in his time, villagers took me to the bleak spot beside a small stream where, they say, Hayward was killed. My guide, as it happened, was a direct descendant of Mir Wali. According to a British traveller, Colonel Reginald Schomberg, who passed through Darkot in the 1930s, Hayward’s pistol, telescope and saddle were said still to be in the possession of local families. More recently, in the 1950s, six topographical watercolours by the murdered explorer turned up in the Bombay bazaar, and were subsequently sold at auction in London. Just how they found their way on to the market will forever remain a mystery – like so much else about George Hayward.


The Russians had long been concerned about the activities of British officers, explorers and other travellers in a region which they had come to look upon as lying within their sphere of influence. Thus the journeys of Shaw and Hayward (and perhaps even the Pundits, of whose existence they were by now very likely aware) had not gone unobserved by General Kaufman in Tashkent. Even more disturbing to him, however, was the British mission, ostensibly commercial, which Lord Mayo had dispatched under Sir Douglas Forsyth to the court of Yakub Beg. For the Muslim leader was currently showing himself to be extremely hostile to St Petersburg, strengthening his military posts along their common frontier, and prohibiting the entry of all Russian goods and merchants. To Kaufman it must have looked as though the British had at last abandoned their policy of masterly inactivity, and were preparing to bring Kashgaria under their protection and to monopolise its trade. In fact, though the Russians did not yet know it, the British had met with a reverse. On reaching Yarkand, the mission had discovered that Yakub Beg was at the eastern end of his kingdom, nearly a thousand miles away, and was not expected back for quite some time. There were those who suspected that he had done this deliberately, fearing on careful reflection that he might needlessly risk St Petersburg’s wrath by receiving the British. Whatever the reason, the mission had no choice but to return empty-handed to India. Coupled with the unavenged murder of Hayward and his servants, this rebuff, intended or otherwise, represented a serious blow to British esteem in Central Asia.

It was at this moment that St Petersburg launched the first of a series of major moves which were to strengthen greatly its political and strategic position in the region. Spurred on by Count Ignatiev, who had shortly before been appointed as his country’s ambassador to Constantinople, it unilaterally renounced the humiliating Black Sea clauses forced on it under the Treaty of Paris after the Crimean War. These, it may be recalled, banned Russian warships and naval installations from the Black Sea. The news caused consternation in London, for the ban’s purpose had been to keep the Russian fleet as far away as possible from the Turkish straits and the Mediterranean, and so safeguard Britain’s imperial lifeline with India. However, not having the full backing of the other major European powers, the British were unable to do much about it short of going to war with St Petersburg, and that the government was unwilling to do.

Russia’s next forward move followed soon afterwards, in the summer of 1871, though because of the remoteness of the region where this occurred it took the British three months to hear about it. The Muslim territory of Hi, which commanded important strategic passes into southern Siberia, had shaken off Chinese rule during the recent insurrection and won temporary independence. Lying adjacent to Yakub Beg’s domains, to the north-east of Kashgar, it had not yet been annexed by him. But believing, or at least claiming, that Yakub Beg was about to seize it, General Kaufman ordered his troops to pre-empt any such move, lest the Muslim ruler’s occupation of the territory threaten Russia’s southern borders. For it was across these passes, it should in fairness be said, that in Mongol times the destructive hordes had poured into Russia, causing them to be likened by Russian strategists to the Khyber Pass. However, that was not the Hi valley’s only significance. It was also rich in minerals, as Kaufman’s geologists were well aware, while for good measure it served as the principal granary of this desolate region, a fact which can hardly have escaped his generals. On June 24, the Russians marched through the passes into Hi, where they defeated a force more than twice their strength which attempted to stop them. The following day they entered Kuldja, the capital, the Russian commander proclaiming it to have been annexed ‘in perpetuity’ although he had no authority to do so. Later St Petersburg corrected this, declaring that the occupation was merely temporary.

So distant was Hi from the nearest Chinese outposts, since their expulsion from Turkestan, that Peking was totally unaware of the Russian incursion until officially informed of it by St Petersburg. It was explained to the Chinese that the Tsar’s forces had recovered Hi from the rebels for the Emperor, and would hold on to it until he was once again able to defend it against Yakub Beg or anyone else. This did not deceive the Chinese, who immediately demanded that it be restored to them. St Petersburg refused, and relations between the two powers became extremely chilly. No longer worried by the prospect of upsetting Peking, the Russians decided to reopen discussions with Yakub Beg over the old questions of recognition and trade. In the spring of 1872, they dispatched a senior political officer to his court at Kashgar with instructions to offer him full recognition in exchange for opening his markets to Russian goods on specially favourable terms which would effectively keep out the British. This time the talks were successful, or so the Russians thought.

It was Yakub Beg’s aim, however, to keep foreign influence to a minimum in Kashgaria. The best way to achieve this, he reasoned, was by playing one side off against the other. No sooner had the Russian envoy departed than he sent a special emissary to the British in India expressing his profound regrets at his unavoidable absence the previous year, and inviting them to dispatch a second mission to Kashgar for talks with him. Alarmed by news of the Russian visit, Lord Northbrook, the new Viceroy (Lord Mayo had been assassinated the previous year), accepted gratefully, and in the summer of 1873 a second British mission set out across the Karakorams. Far larger than the earlier one, it consisted of political and military officers, trade experts, surveyors and other specialists, and was headed once again by Sir Douglas Forsyth. His instructions were to obtain from Yakub Beg a trade deal similar to that which he had granted to the Russians, and to gather as much intelligence as possible from this little-known region, whether political, strategic, economic or scientific. With its escort of infantry and cavalry from the Corps of Guides, and its numerous interpreters, secretaries, clerks and servants, the mission totalled 350 men and 550 baggage animals. After thirty years, Britain’s policy of masterly inactivity in Central Asia, condemned by its hawkish critics as craven surrender to Russia’s designs, was at last coming to an end.


At first the tougher line which London was beginning to take appeared to yield gratifying results, momentarily allaying fears of further Russian moves towards India. For an unprecedented climb-down by St Petersburg brought to a conclusion the long-standing disagreement with London over the location of Afghanistan’s northern frontier. This had arisen over the sovereignty of the remote and mountainous regions of Badakhshan and Wakhan, on the upper Oxus, where the Russian outposts lay closest to British India. London had all along insisted that they formed an integral part of eastern Afghanistan, while St Petersburg argued that they did not, maintaining instead that the Emir of Bokhara had a better claim to them. Then, in January 1873, the Russians suddenly and unexpectedly gave way, acknowledging that they lay within the domains of the Emir of Afghanistan. Furthermore, they reaffirmed that Afghanistan itself lay within Britain’s sphere of influence, and outside their own. In return they expected Britain to restrain the Emir from embarking on military adventures beyond his northern frontier or inciting his co-religionists there to make war on them. The British were delighted, believing themselves to have won an important diplomatic victory, although the agreement was not incorporated into a formal treaty, the Russians merely accepting it in principle. Indeed, even now, the frontier was little more than a vague line on an even vaguer map, for almost nothing was known about the wild Pamir region of eastern Afghanistan – a deficiency which George Hayward had intended to put right. But what the British did not then realise was that Russia’s capitulation over Badakhshan and Wakhan was merely a smoke-screen for a further advance, the boldest yet by far, which was being planned at the highest level in St Petersburg.

Only a month before the Afghan frontier agreement, at an extraordinary session of the Council of State, presided over by Tsar Alexander in person, it had finally been decided to launch an all-out expedition against Khiva. Secret preparations had been in hand for this for many months, but the agreement over the Afghan frontier appeared to provide the ideal moment for such a move. By conceding to the British what they wanted, the Tsar and his advisers reasoned, they had made it more difficult for London to object to the seizure of Khiva. The British, however, had already got wind of the fact that something was afoot. Assurances were demanded from St Petersburg that no further conquests were being planned in Central Asia. These were given without so much as a blush, although a 13,000-strong force commanded by Kaufman was by now ready to march towards Khiva. Finally it had to be admitted that an expedition was about to be launched. But even then St Petersburg insisted that it had no intention of occupying the city permanently. Indeed, the British Foreign Secretary was assured, the Tsar had given ‘positive orders’ to this effect.

Following their two earlier disasters, in 1717 and 1839, the Russians were taking no risks this time, advancing across the desert from three directions simultaneously – from Tashkent, Orenburg and Krasnovodsk. Aware of the enormous distances which an attacker had to cover, the Khan had at first felt secure. But as Kaufman’s troops advanced ever further into his domains, he became increasingly alarmed. In an attempt to buy off the invaders he released twenty-one Russian slaves and captives held in Khiva, though to no avail. Finally, when the nearest Russian troops were only thirteen miles from his capital, the Khan sent his cousin to Kaufman offering to surrender unconditionally and submit permanently to the Tsar if the Russian commander agreed to halt the attack. Kaufman replied that he would only negotiate from inside the city. To help the Khan make up his mind, the Russians turned their new, German-made artillery on the mud-built walls. On May 28, 1873, the Khan fled, and the following day Kaufman entered Khiva in triumph.

Although, as at Tashkent, Samarkand and Bokhara, the Russians had done no more than defeat ill-armed and undisciplined tribesmen, the fall of Khiva represented to St Petersburg a resounding psychological victory. Not only did it help to alleviate the humiliation of the earlier Khivan disasters, as well as that of the Crimean defeat, but it also greatly enhanced the Tsar’s military prestige and growing reputation for invincibility throughout Central Asia. In addition, it won the Russians control over navigation on the lower Oxus, with its attendant commercial and strategic benefits, as well as total domination of the eastern shore of the Caspian. It also closed a large gap in Russia’s southern Asiatic flank, and brought Kaufman’s jubilant troops to within 500 miles of Herat, India’s ancient strategic gateway. After half a century, the forebodings of men like Wilson, Moorcroft, de Lacy Evans and Kinneir were beginning to look ominously justified. By seizing Khiva, the British ambassador in St Petersburg warned the Foreign Office, the Russians had secured a base from which they could ‘menace the independence of Persia and Afghanistan, and thereby become a standing danger to our Indian Empire.’

A terse exchange of notes now followed between London and St Petersburg, with the latter once again assuring the British government that the occupation was only temporary. In November, however, The Times published details of a secret treaty, signed by the Russians and Khivans, under which the Khan became a vassal of the Tsar’s and his country a Russian protectorate. The British realised that they had been duped once again, while the Russians insisted that military imperatives and changed circumstances had overridden all earlier undertakings – an excuse the British had heard before. To this Prince Gorchakov, the Russian Foreign Minister, added the following reproof. ‘The Cabinet of London’, he reminded the British, ‘appears to derive, from the fact of our having on several occasions spontaneously and amicably communicated to them our views with respect to Central Asia, and particularly our firm resolve not to pursue a policy of conquest or annexation, a conviction that we have contracted definite engagements toward them in regard to this.’ It fooled nobody, of course, but once again, short of war, there was little or nothing that could be done about it – or about the Russians’ next move.

Worried perhaps lest this time he might have overtaxed British forbearance, Gorchakov volunteered yet another assurance. ‘His Imperial Majesty’, he declared, ‘has no intention of extending the frontiers of Russia such as they exist at present in Central Asia, either on the side of Bokhara, or on the side of Krasnovodsk.’ He omitted to mention Khokand, however, whose ruler had been closely tied to Russia by treaty since the fall of Tashkent. In the summer of 1875, an uprising there directed against both the Russians and their puppet khan gave Kaufman the opportunity he needed to impose a tighter grip on this unstable territory, then still nominally independent. On August 22 his troops routed the main rebel army, and four days later he entered Khokand, over which he raised the imperial Russian flag. After further fighting, in which the rebels suffered heavy losses, the towns of Andijan and Osh also fell to him. Not long afterwards the khanate was formally proclaimed to be part of the Tsar’s Central Asian empire, and renamed the province of Ferghana. Alexander, the official announcement declared, had ‘yielded to the wishes of the Khokandi people to become Russian subjects’. So it was that the Russians, in a period of just ten years, had annexed a territory half the size of the United States, and erected a defensive barrier across Central Asia stretching from the Caucasus in the west to Khokand and Kuldja in the east.

For India’s defence chiefs this was highly disturbing. The incorporation of the Khanate of Khokand into the Russian Empire had brought Kaufman’s battle-hardened troops to within 200 miles of Kashgar. It could only be a matter of time before the Russians seized that too, together with Yarkand, which would give them control of the passes leading into Ladakh and Kashmir. Then the ring around India’s northern frontiers would be complete, allowing the Russians to strike southwards from almost any point or points of their choosing. Only the great mountain ranges of the north – the High Pamirs and the Karakorams – stood in their way. Until recently these had been regarded as impenetrable to a modern army with its artillery and other heavy equipment. Shaw and Hayward had been the first to challenge this, only to have their warnings rebutted by the experts. Now others, whose opinions could not be so lightly dismissed, were expressing similar fears about the vulnerability of the northern passes.


By now the mission headed by Sir Douglas Forsyth which the Viceroy had dispatched to the court of Yakub Beg at Kashgar had returned to India. Their reception this time had been splendid, and the many promises which the Muslim ruler had made to them greatly exceeded anything he had offered his earlier Russian visitors. However, despite the vows of undying friendship between Kashgaria and Britain, and visions of a great new trading partnership, in the end nothing was to come of it. The vast markets for European goods which both the British and the Russians had believed to exist in the region were to prove illusory. It soon became clear, moreover, that Yakub Beg was merely stringing his two powerful neighbours along, exploiting their mutual jealousies to safeguard his own position. After all, an oriental could play the Great Game too. But if Forsyth’s mission failed to extract from the wily ruler anything other than what would prove to be worthless promises, it did succeed in one thing. Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Gordon and two other officers had been allowed by Yakub Beg to return home across the Pamirs with a small escort of the Indian Corps of Guides. The route they took was much the same, though in reverse, as that which Hayward had hoped to follow. Their aim, like Hayward’s, was to explore and map the passes leading from the Russian frontier southwards into Kashmir, and gauge whether a modern army could enter India by them.

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