Some 37km to the east of Kaka, the main road and railway track both veer away from the line of the Kopet Dag Mountains close to the small town of Dushak, taking a route to the northeast which will bring the visitor to Tejen and then Mary. But southeast from Dushak, a minor road continues to run along the base of the hills, before fizzling out near the village of Chaacha. There are several worthwhile places to visit along this route, including Bronze Age settlements, shrine pilgrimage sites and, especially, the Mausoleum of Abu Said Meikhene.
THE BATTLE OF DUSHAK
In the dying months of World War I, a little-remembered series of engagements took place in this part of what is now Turkmenistan, pitching British forces against those of Bolshevik Russia. Britain's chief concern in the region was the threat of an invasion of Transcaspia by Turkey, which was allied to Germany. This, it feared, would mark a stepping stone to India for the Turco-German alliance. Britain was accordingly backing the newly formed Transcaspian Government, although the immediate threat to the latter was less that of Turkish forces landing on the eastern shore of the Caspian than of the Bolshevik force advancing westwards from Tashkent. The British mission, led by Sir Wilfrid Malleson, based in Mashad, accordingly found itself caught up in the defence of the Transcaspian Government against the Bolsheviks.
The military campaign was focused almost entirely on the single-track line of the Transcaspian Railway, along which both sides moved in armoured trains. The Anglo-Indian forces comprised the I/I9th Punjabi Infantry, the 28th Light Cavalry, and elements of the 44th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, together with a disparate coalition of anti-Bolshevik forces, including Russians, Armenians and Turkmen horsemen. The Bolshevik ranks had been supplemented by German and Austro-Hungarian former prisoners of war, who had been promised that they would finally be allowed to return home once the counter-revolution had been defeated.
In August 1918, the Punjabis repelled an attack by Bolshevik troops on Kaka railway station, through an effective infantry charge with fixed bayonets. The British commander on the ground, Colonel Denis Knollys, decided to try to move onto the offensive, and take the Merv Oasis, whose food-stocks were desperately needed by a hungry Ashgabat. The first objective en route to Merv was the Bolshevik-held railway town of Dushak. Knollys resolved to capture this by circumventing the Bolshevik armoured train.
On the night of 12 October, the I/I9th Punjabis, Transcaspian infantrymen and light artillery circled north of the railway. The Indian Light Cavalry rode into the hills to the south, and Turkmen horsemen made a wide sweep, to cut off the line to the east of Dushak. The element of surprise was, however, lost when two Punjabi patrols opened fire on each other in the darkness, and the battle for Dushak became a bloody affair. The I/I9th Punjabis were particularly badly hit. Many of the accompanying Transcaspian troops went to ground in ditches at the start of the battle. A Bolshevik ammunition dump at the station was exploded by a British shell, and the Bolsheviks fled the town. Looting by the Transcaspian forces was, however, to cost the coalition its victory. The scattered Bolshevik units were able to regroup, and take reinforcements from Tejen. With only the Anglo-Indian troops and a few Russians left trying to defend Dushak, they had no alternative but to retreat. The Bolsheviks claimed victory, explaining away their own heavy losses by inventing the presence of a Scottish regiment.
However, the Bolsheviks, possibly fearing rumoured Anglo-Indian reinforcements, were to pull back from Dushak, Tejen and then Merv. The British and Transcaspian forces were able to occupy Merv on I November without further bloodshed. But then came the end of the First World War. With the Turco-German threat to India now gone, the British authorities had no wish to see Malleson get further embroiled in fighting against the Bolsheviks. In February 1919 he received orders to recall his Transcaspian mission. The Transcaspian Government was now abandoned to the Bolsheviks, who had secured the whole region by February 1920 under the able command of General Frunze.