Ascent of the Takht e Suleiman

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Ascent of the Takht e Suleiman, A. H. McMahon
Published in Khyber.ORG on Thursday, May 26 2011 (http://www.khyber.org)


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Ascent of the Takht e Suleiman

A. H. McMahon

Publishing Date: Thursday, May 26 2011

Some remarks which I happened to see a short while ago in one of the monthly magazines on the subject of the Takht e Suleiman were calculated to lead one to suppose that the summit of that mountain has never yet been reached by a European. The name of this mountain is so well known from its mythical, geographical, and ethnological associations, that it may interest some of the readers of the Geographical Journal, to know that its summit has been reached by Europeans.


Top of Qaisaghar or Kase Ghar; with shrine of Qais Abdul Rashid; the legendary fore-father of Pashtuns

This mountain, which, with its sister peak of Qaisaghar, form the highest points of the Suleiman range of the north-west frontier of India, is situated in the territory of the Sherani's, who, until brought under British control in the winter of 1890, were an independent and extremely troublesome border tribe. Many legends attach to it. According to some, Noah's Ark alighted here after the Deluge; while others (from this the mountain derives its name) connect it with Solomon, who, as the story goes, once came to Hindustan to marry a lady named Balkis. While returning from India with his bride in a flying throne, the lady requested Solomon to stop for awhile, to enable her to take a last fond look at her native land. Thereupon the throne alighted on this peak, which has ever since borne the name of Takht e Suleiman, or Solomon's Throne. Ethnologically, the mountain is considered by some to have been the birthplace of the Pushto speaking races.

The Takht e Suleiman

From these and other legends connected with this mountain, the shrine situated near its summit has been for many centuries the place of pilgrimage of such adventurous pilgrims, who were hardy enough to face the dangers of the road, through the wild tribes of the country, and the difficulties of the mountain itself. A native surveyor is said to have reached the shrine about a hundred years ago, while somewhat later two Englishmen, Messrs. Fraser and Harris, members of Elphinstone's Mission of 1809, are said to have attempted the ascent, without success. The military expedition sent to survey this mountain in 1884 succeeded in reaching the summit of the Qaisaghar peak close by, which is 11,300 feet, and some 200 feet higher than the peak of the Takht itself. No attempt was made to scale the Takht, which was said to be inaccessible.

During the Sherani expedition in December, 1890, General Sir George White, the present Commander-in-chief of India, in order to show the Sherani's that even their most remote mountain fastnesses were not inaccessible to British troops, ascended the mountain from the eastern side, accompanied by a small party of picked men, and succeeded, after some two days hard climbing, in reaching a point on the east line of the hill, but was unable to devote the time necessary for an attempt to reach either the shrine or the actual summit.

Major McIvor, then political agent at Zhob, and my self determined, the following year, to attempt the ascent, and found ourselves on June 28, 1891, at the Pezai spring, on the western slopes of the range - the highest point at which spring water on that side is obtainable. At dawn on the 29th we commenced the actual ascent, and by the evening, after a hard day's climb, reached the crest-line at the point where the famous shrine is situated. Here we found a couple of rough stone hut shelters erected by pilgrims, in which former visitors had each in turn left cooking-vessels and supplies of flour and rice for the use of them who might come after them. The actual shrine was close by, and within a few yards, but far from a pleasant place to get at. The face of the mountain at this point on the eastern side is a sheer precipice of many thousands of feet. The shrine is some 20 feet down below the edge of the precipice, and consists of a small ledge of rock about 4t feet long by 3 feet wide, with a slight artificial parapet of rocks on the outer sides, about a foot in height. It is reached by four foot-holes cut or worn away in the rock. The hand and foot-hold is good, but the edge of the precipice appears slightly to overhang the little ledge below, and the sensation therefore experienced in going down or coming up over the edge of the precipice is only equalled by that of seeing some one else do so. All pilgrims apparently do not enter this shrine, but content themselves with looking down into it from above. Those who do descend have a small token in the form of a small piece of stick, which they fix into the interstices of the little rock parapet. Both of us descended, and left our stick tokens. The look down into space from this little ledge does not tempt one to make a very long stay there.

The crest of the mountain at the shrine is not the highest point, which is at one of the three knob-like peaks at the south end of the crest. These we determined to ascend, if possible, next day, notwithstanding the assurances of our native guides that these peaks were quite inaccessible. After a cold night on the crest, on the ground, where some snow was still lying in patches, we commenced a hard day's work. Each of the three peaks before us was separated from the place in which we were and from each other by precipitous gaps in the crest-line, and the ascent certainly did not appear hopeful. Without describing the many adventures of the day, it will suffice to say that we both succeeded in reaching the tops of all three peaks, and also, I am glad to say, in discovering a possible way down again - a matter which at one time appeared somewhat doubtful.

This is the first occasion on which Europeans have reached either the shrine or the summit of the peak of the Takht e Suleiman. No one has, as far as I know, gone up to either place since.


Captain McMahon was the British Joint Commissioner of the Afghan-Balochistan Boundary Commission and he sent this correspondence via his camp in Fort Sandeman while stationed at Zhob, Balochistan on the 8th of August, 1894. This correspondence was published in the Geographical Journal, Volume 4, Number 5 in November of 1894.

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Ascent of the Takht e Suleiman, A. H. McMahon
Published in Khyber.ORG on Thursday, May 26 2011 (http://www.khyber.org)