Qatar Explorer - Part 2
Part 1 | Part 2
Later that evening two of the men who had gone in search of water came hurrying back with the welcome news that the baghalah had been sighted, and was anchored off the coast about four miles ahead.
Next morning an inshore fishing expedition resulted in a couple of large hamour and some sea bream. But there was a problem the camel men had never seen fish before, and did not know whether their consumption was forbidden or allowed by the Holy Quran. However, after some initial hesitation they were persuaded by the boat crew to accept fish as an addition to their diet, and took to the strange new food with enthusiasm.
Cheesman spent a rather queasy night on board the dhow, bucketing around in the swell, and was thankful to be back on land. The party was aiming for the landmark named Ras Hashm Husaini [ the Arabic translates as the fox's nose'] situated on the western coast of Salwa Bay not far from Salwa itself. On April 2nd they sighted it, and a travelling caravan of bedouin with camels, a donkey and a few sheep passed them, returning northwards on the Hasa-Qatar caravan route. Each party kept a close and suspicious watch on the other!
Article continued below...
Cheesman surveyed the terrain as he went, and adopted the sensible plan of only recording the names of landmarks on which both the boat party and camel party agreed. The next day they reached Salwa, and he was taken by one of his guides to see the ruins, which he had hoped might be those of Gerrha. They proved to be the remains of a rectangular fort, with a scattering of early-Islamic potsherds, obviously far too late to be those of Gerrha. There were some wells from which Cheesman and his party quenched their thirst, despite finding a dead seagull in one and a camel's corpse close to the other.'
They camped overnight, and the next morning Cheesman scouted around the area for more ruins and found those of another, smaller fort, apparently from the same period as the first. They crossed the Qatar-Salwa caravan route and struck across a white, sandy plain to a range of yellow sandstone hills about three miles south of Salwa. His bedouin companions took turns at looking through his field glasses, which Cheesman assured them had been brought specially to discover ruins.'
Two days later, after vainly trying to get accurate readings with his theodolite thwarted by almost continual cloud cover Cheesman bid farewell to his camel men, who departed for Hofuf, and went aboard the bagalah for the return trip to Bahrain.
The sea was so shallow that before long they found themselves only just afloat with barely four feet of water', and the boat had to be poled into deeper water guided by a man walking on the sea bed. They tacked over to the Qatar coast, which the boat captain told Cheesman had never been surveyed. There they were caught by a sudden shamal' wind. They searched in vain for a bay in which to take shelter for the night, and had no option but to anchor off a straight stretch of coastline.
Next day they tacked from side to side of the bay, working their way northwards. Cheesman was the first westerner ever to have seen this stretch of the Qatar coastline from the sea, and he wrote: Here the Qatar coast is a sandy shore; scrub grows close to the sea and across 1 to 2 miles of undulating sand-dunes until the hills are reached, which appear featureless and level-topped, running parallel with the coast. Dohat Salwa is about 8 miles wide, and from the middle both coasts were plainly visible.'
Once clear of the bay Cheesman saw numerous porpoises and flying fish, besides gulls and terns. The shamal gradually died away and they sailed back to Bahrain without further delays, arriving on the morning of April 8th.
Compared with the great names among the explorers of Arabia Charles Doughty, Bertram Thomas, Wilfred Thesiger and the like the name of Robert Cheesman is little known today. He undertook no lengthy pioneering expeditions in the unknown heart of Arabia. Nevertheless he made a valuable contribution towards the scientific knowledge of this part of the world. And his name will forever be commemorated by the small desert rodent called after him.
Read Part 1
Also see: Qatar Seas by the same author.