The approach to Bamee[=a]n was very singular; the whole face of the hills on either hand was burrowed all over with caves like a huge rabbit-warren. I am informed that these caves are the work of nature, “yet worked, as it were planned,” and are occupied occasionally by travellers both in summer and winter; they are observable in many places in Toorkisth[=a]n, and, when situated high up on the face of the hill, afford a safe retreat for the hunter. The road was tolerably good for the last three miles, running along a narrow valley sprinkled with numerous forts, which are generally occupied by the Huzareh tribes, an ill-featured but athletic race.
I shall not detain the reader by any description either of the wonderful ruins of the ancient city of Goolgoolla or of the gigantic images of Bamee[=a]n, these curiosities having been ably described in Masson’s very interesting work; but I was a good deal amused by the various legends with which the natives are familiar, of one of which, relating to a chalybeate spring in the neighbourhood called the “Dragon’s Mouth,” I shall take the liberty to offer a free version. It was related to me by an old gentleman who brought a few coins to sell, and I listened to him with some patience; but in proportion as the old fellow observed my passive attention did he increase in verbosity and pompous description. I still waited for the point of the story, but my friend, after exhausting his powers of speech and metaphor, was fain to wind up his tale with a most lame and impotent conclusion. I now give it to the reader, not from a wish to punish him as I was punished, but because from the prolixity of the narrator he necessarily most minutely described scenes and customs, which, though they had nothing on earth to do with the “Dragon’s Mouth,” may prove interesting to the reader, as illustrating the peculiarities of the people amongst whom we were now sojourning.
“A TALE OF THE DRAGON’S MOUTH.”
In the reign of Ameer Dost Mahommed Kh[=a]n, when all the pomp and pride of glorious war was in its zenith at C[=a]bul, there lived on the borders of Kulloom and Kundooz, a chieftain named Khan Shereef, whose grandfather had accompanied the illustrious Nadir Shah from Persia in his expedition through Affghanist[=a]n, and followed the fortunes of his royal master, even to the very gates of the imperial Delhi. On his return towards Persia, he had for a time intended to settle in C[=a]bul, but “death, who assaults the walled fort of the chieftain as well as the defenceless hovel of the peasant,” seized him for his own; the father also paid the debt of nature in the capital of Affghanist[=a]n, but not before the young Khan Shereef had seen the light. Growing up to manhood and wearying of the monotonous life a residence in C[=a]bul entailed, he pursued his way across the frontier mountains of Toorkisth[=a]n, and arrived at the court