The perilous and painful march of Man Singh Kachwaha through Khyber Pass

In 1586 Mohmands and other Ghoria-Khels acknowledged Jalala (son of Pir Roshan) as their leader and rose in revolt against Mughals. They invested the Bala Hissar of Peshawar. Sayyid Hamid, who was faujdar of Peshawar, sallied forth from the fort and engaged in combat with Ghoria Khels but he got killed. 

Raja Man Singh, the celebrated general of Mughal emperor Akbar, marched from Jalalabad towards the Khyber but he caught fever at Pish-Bolak, and he halted there for some time. 

After the success over Sayyid Hamid, the Mohmands, Khalils and others of the Ghoria-Khels entered Khyber Pass and blocked it with sangars. Some of them also went to Tirah. Sukat Singh, son of Man Singh, tried to make a forced march through the Khyber but was unable to do so because the path was closed; and now Yousafzais and other Pashtuns, joined the confederacy.

By the time Kunwar, Man Singh, had recovered from illness, the forces dispatched from Lahore, on the news of outbreak and death of Sayyid Hamid had not yet reached their destination. They were at Attock, but unable to proceed. Man Singh, therefore selecting 3,000 from his force, and leaving the rest as an escort for Mirza Suleiman, late ruler of Badakhshan, who was on his way to Akbar’s court, proposed to march into Tirah, and thence to fall upon the Afridi Afghans, who were the yeast of disturbances in that quarter, after which he would suddenly advance through the Shadi Dara’h to Ali Masjid, in order that the different bodies of troops might effect a junction there , and open the Khyber route , which had been completely closed by the rebels.

Man Singh, accordingly, without encumbering himself with much baggage, marched at night from his camp at Pish-Bolak, and at daybreak reached the Kotel of Chhar-Jo-e. The Kotel was encumbered with snow – it was early in December – and the ascents and descents were great. With much difficulty the defile was cleared.

Man Singh halted at Bazarak, the diminutive form of Bazar, for a short time , and the following day a force, led by Muhammad Quli Beg, fell upon Afridis and captured a great deal of booty. Some of his officers wished Man Singh to return, in order that they might conduct their booty to a place of safety, but he would not hear of it. He continued his advance, and, by the Darah of Jzawarah (the Pashto for deep) reached the hills on which the Mohmands and Khalils, and others of the Ghoria Khels had taken up their position. Upon this the rebels tendered their submission, and thereby saved themselves. But no sooner had the Badshah’s troops penetrated these mountain tracts and defiles than Jalala and his Tarikis (Roshnais) fell upon their rear, and the whole of the Afghan tribes round about rose. Takhtah Beg, the officer in command of the rear guard, and other warriors, showed great gallantry upon this occasion, and fought with determined obstinacy, but being hard pressed they had to close up on the main body, and be relieved by another detachment of troops. After a deal of fighting the enemy gave up their attacks.

The Kunwar, Man Singh, now turned his face towards Ali Masjid and gave the command of the rear guard to his eldest son, Jagat Singh. Observing this retrograde movement, the Afghans again assembled in great numbers, and the affair assumed a very serious aspect. (Author’s note: The Afghans invariably follow the retreat of troops , and attack their rear if possible, it is their universal tactics, and had been for centuries, and should always be expected and provided for). There was no open ground for the troops to act and get at the enemy , and, amidst volleys of stones and showers of arrows , the men had to mount the hills and grapple with enemy as best as they could , and every now and again they made vigorous onsets upon them.

 At last more open ground appeared in sight , and there Man Singh, contrary to the advice of some of nobles with him, resolved to make a stand. Takhta Beg and a body of Kabulis in his force, in their turn now became the assailants and attacked the Afghans ; and after some severe fighting the enemy was defeated and compelled to retire to their fastnesses in the hills.

Some of the officers were of opinion that, as the day had nearly closed, they should bivouac for the night on the scene of their success, but others were for pushing on to Ali Masjid without delay. This was done ,and ,without halting the Mughal force reached that place by the Shadi Darah.

Jalala and his Tarikis followed them very quickly. About two hours before mid-night he reached the vicinity of Ali Masjid and took up a position where he and his followers lay in wait in battle array for an opportunity to molest the Badshah’s troops.

Some of the leaders under Man Singh were for sallying out upon the enemy at daybreak, but the troops were too much knocked up from the long march and their exertions to be able then to do so. At midday, Madhu Singh, appeared in sight with Raja Bagwandas’s division of troops from the side of Peshawar, which had been detached from the Badshah’s army, but as previously mentioned, had been detained at Attock. At the sight of the reinforcements, the Tarikis dispersed in all directions.


Man Singh

Fort Jamrud, at the foot of the Khyber Pass,” a photo from c. the 1920’s*; also *a view of the Khyber Pass


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