The Ghilji of Afghanistan first come prominently into notice in the reign of Mahmud of Ghazni, who employed them largely as soldiers in his numerous invasions of India for the conversion of the land to Islam. It is probable that the tribe in the course of these successive expeditions, which extended over a period of eighteen or twenty years, and were sometimes conducted by the route south of Sufed Koh, that is, by the Pewar and Gomalor Ghawailari routes, and sometimes by those to the north of that range, that is, by the Khybar, Abkhana, Hinduraj, etc, through Swat to Peshawar, enlarged their original borders by the conquest and colonization of the territories they now hold to the eastward of Ghazm, as far as the Suleman range and the valley of Jalalabad, - an operation the more easy to them by reason of their nomadic and military mode of life - a characteristic in their manners which still distinguishes this people from all the other laces inhabiting Afghanistan.
As a lace the Ghilji mix little with their neighbours, and indeed differ in many respects, both as to internal govern-ment and domestic customs, from the other races of Afghanistan. Those small sections of the people, who are settled in the plain, live in villages and follow agricultural pursuits; but the great majority of the tribe are pastoral in their habits of life, and migrate with the seasons from the lowlands to the highlands with their families and flocks, and easily portable black hair tents. They never settle in the cities, nor do they engage in the ordinary handicraft trades, but they manufacture carpets, felts, etc, for domestic use, from the wool and hair of their cattle The pastoral clans are notoriously predatoiy in their habits, and continually at fued amongst themselves and with their neighbours Physically they are a remarkably fine race, and in stature, courage, and strength of body are second to none in Afghanistan; but they are a very barbarous people, the pastoral clans especially, and in their wars excessively savage and vindictive.
Several of the Ghilji or Ghilzai clans are almost wholly engaged in the carrying-trade between India and Afghanistan and the northern states of Central Asia, and have been so for many centuries to the exclusion almost of all the other tribes of the country. The principal clans employed in this great carrying-trade are the Niazi, Nasar, Kharoti, and, to some extent, the Sulemankhel. From the nature of their occupation they are collectively styled, or individually so far as that goes, Povinda and Lawani, or Lohani These terms, it appears, are derived from the Persian words parwinda, a "bale of merchandise," and rawam, a "traveller".
Their principal routes to India are by the Ghawailari or Gomal and the Zhob passes, and they fight their way backwards and forwards every journey in enormous caravans of the combined clans, disposed in regular military order against the attacks of the Waziri and Kakar, through whose territories they pass The several clans travel with their families and flocks and dependents, as well as with their merchandize, and the whole together form a vast assemblage, numbering many thousands of fighting men and beasts of burden, besides the families and flocks They assemble in autumn in the plains of Zurmat and Gardez and Kattawaz to the east of Ghazni, and, after making good their way through the passes to the Derajat, they leave their families and flocks to pasture there, whilst a portion of each clan goes on into India with the merchandize. These enterprising merchants carry their long files of camels straight across country to Delhi, whence they disperse by rail or road to the principal cities of India, and always arrange so as to return to their families in the Derajat early in the spring for the homeward journey. They bring down various productions of their own country, such as fruits, madder, asafoetida, wool and woollen fabrics, furs, drugs, etc, together with horses, raw silk, shawl, wool, etc, from Bukhara. And they take back cotton piece-goods, chintzes, broadcloth, velvet, etc, of English manufacture, together with tea, spices, metals, and variety of other articles, such as brocades, silks, and muslins, etc, of Indian manufacture.
During the cold weather, the Povinda is to be seen in most of the larger cities of India, and at once attracts attention in the crowds of the bazar by his thorough strangeness of appearance and rude independence of manner His loose, untidy dress, generally in a state of dirt beyond the washerman's cure, and often covered with a shaggy sheep-skin coat, travel-stained and sweat-begrimed to an extent that proclaims the presence of the wearer to the nostrils though he be out of sight in the crowd; his long unkempt and fiayed locks, loosely held together by some careless twists of a course cotton turban, soiled to the last degree, if not tattered also add to the wildness of his unwashed and weather-worn features ; whilst his loud voice and rough manners complete the barbarian he is proud to pass for Such is the common Povinda and caravan driver as seen in the bazar There are others of superior stamp, wealthy merchants, or well-to-do traders, who drop the barbarian role, and appear in decent flowing robes, with capacious and carefully adjusted turbans, well modulated voices, manners studiedly polite, and a keenness for business second to none. But these are the few, and they mix not with the public throng.
These Povinda clans, though classed as subdivisions of the Ghilji people, differ from them in one or two important respects. The Kharoti and Nasir, for example, differ markedly in features, complexion, and stature from the Sulemankhel and Turan clans, and, moreover, keep a good deal to themselves in their internal clan government, whilst their hereditary occupation, as travelling merchants for a long course of centuries, without any other clans of the tribe joining them in it, is a remarkable fact, and, with the other circumstances stated, would seem to indicate a difference of origin.