My Wanderings in Persia
Ancient Assyrian Road. — Rameses. — Bubastis. — Cairo. — The Pyramids. — Aden and the Arabs. — Bombay. — The Kinship of the World. — Towers of Silence. — Caste. — Kurrachee. — An Eastern Wedding. — Attack by Arab Pirates. — Bushire and British Influence.
LEAVING Port Seyed, the first interesting sight is the ancient highroad to Assyria.
On this road Abraham came 2,000 years B.C., after having received the divine command to leave all and go to a land which should be shown him.
On this road Joseph was carried as a slave into Egypt, after being sold by his jealous and suspicious brethren. They also, in their turn, traversed the same road to find food during the great famine in Canaan.
The father of the twelve tribes journeyed along the same path when he went down to Egypt to once more behold his favourite lad. The mournful cortège bearing the bones of Jacob back to Canaan would pass along this road. These and many more equally stirring incidents could be thought of which would make the traveller gaze with reverential awe on this great historical road.
Not far from this, between Alexandria and Cairo, we had seen the ruined cities of Rameses, Bubastis, Pithon, etc.
Rameses is the place from whence the children of Israel commenced their long and weary march to the land promised them by their God.
At the present time two gates remain — the eastern and northern ones. It is more than probable that the Israelites passed through the eastern one; and as the moon spread its silvery light over these ancient ruins, we almost fancied that in it we saw the pillar of fire threading its guiding course eastward.
Bubastis, once a large city, is now, with the exception of a porch and dome of the once magnificent and popular temple of Pharaoh the Great, the second temple of the goddess Diana of Ephesus, but a heap of dust.
Our stay in Cairo was not protracted, owing to the necessity of speedily renewing our travels; yet we found time to visit those time-honoured piles, the Pyramids, which, defying time and decay, still stand through these countless years in their majestic grandeur, the oldest columns in the known world. We without difficulty imagined the patriarch Abraham standing in solemn wonderment under the shade of these giant structures; and the vision was made more real by an aged Arab, who, with erect form and pleasing countenance, was at the time passing, followed by a train of swarthy attendants.
After accomplishing the somewhat fatiguing ascent, we beheld the vast Lybian desert, and in the distance the sparkling waters of the
Nile, as they smoothly glide through the sandy plain. The distance from Cairo to the Pyramids is performed either by a camel or donkey-ride — the latter by far preferable. From Suez to Aden was the most trying part of our journey. The heat during the summer months is intense. The homeward voyage is sometimes spoken of with dread, even by those who have for years borne the heat of India.
The most amusing thing here is the swimming propensities of the young Arabs; they are to be seen in dozens paddling around the newly-anchored vessels in small canoes, and should sixpence be dropped in the sea, a dozen dark little forms will immediately plunge down, struggling hard for the coin. The successful diver will in a few moments find the surface at the opposite side the vessel. They appear to totally disregard the presence of sharks, which in large numbers are seen around Aden.
Leaving this Eastern Gibraltar, our next thoughts were of landing; and as the time of our arrival drew near, a feeling of intense longing gradually came over me. I wished to see this land where so many of England’s brave sons have shed their blood in its defence — the land spoken of as the brightest jewel in our monarch’s crown.
The approach to Bombay is exceedingly picturesque: the coast is covered with tropical splendour, but the real beauties of this fair city are to be found in its suburbs. As our vessel anchored, the confusion became even greater than on the day we sailed.
At last we in our turn were allowed by the Customs officers to depart in peace.
We hired a coolie-wallah’s boat to tranship our luggage on board the Burmah for Bushire, and to land ourselves on terra firma; but several times I resigned myself to my fate, thinking every moment we should be capsized. Our boat shot through the water at a mar-
vellous speed. In vain did we conjure them to go steadier; but, perhaps owing to their slight acquaintance with the English language, our words and tone apparently goaded them on to renewed energies. Had it been a race for dear life the waters could not have more suddenly parted. It was with a feeling of deep thankfulness that I jumped on shore. The man who to all appearances owned the boat came to me, his face beaming, said something about ‘Very quick!’ and ‘Good sahib!’ and presented his joined palms for the reward of his labours.
The whole world is akin in various ways. In all countries, without exception, in which I have travelled, the law of imposture on the unsuspicious or ignorant traveller holds supreme sway. Thus it was in Bombay. The native, in whatever capacity he was hired, would find means to impose upon the liberality of a newcomer.
In Persia, this systematic mode of secret
robbery is accepted as a virtue more than a crime; and it would indeed be difficult to point out a single man, throughout the whole empire, who on every occasion where it is possible does not indulge in this passion for ‘Modoekhil,’ or ‘made money.’
Even in London, what more pleasant to the eye of ‘cabby’ than a provincialist who, having mistaken his way midst the wilderness of streets, takes refuge in one of these public vehicles, and is driven, not direct, but as cabby chooses?
Outside Bombay are many scenes of peculiar interest: the ‘Tower of Silence,’ the place where the Parsees convey their dead, not for interment, but as food for the ravens, who sit croaking on the towers all day long. When a body is taken up and stretched across the bars, the ravens, with loud screechings, fly off until the dead is left alone, when they return to their horrid feast. The Parsee community appear to entertain this method in pre-
ference to committing the body to mother earth.
The latest improvement in Bombay is the tramway; the cars are drawn by bullocks, with native driver and conductor. It was thought, when the enterprise was mooted, that a great objection to their construction was the Hindoo’s entire subserviency to ‘caste;’ but of late years ‘caste,’ which had proved so great a curse to India, has been on the wane; and although there is yet much superstition attached to the word, and although a high caste Brahmin would not deign, nor would he dare, touch the polluted hand of an infidel, a Mohamedan, or low caste Hindoo, still the dreaded Suttee, and other infamous Brahminical institutions, are for ever buried in oblivion, and even the sacredness of the Ganges is becoming doubtful to the sacerdotal Brahmins.
Leaving Bombay, our first stoppage was at
Kurrachee. A few hours were interestingly spent ashore; the harbour is some considerable distance from the town. The sacred tank of alligators repays one for the tedious walk; it was grievous to think that ignorant superstition at one time fed these reptiles with living human bodies.
Kurrachee can with justice boast of its Government Gardens and its library. This was the last place in which we saw the bustle and activity of daily labour: with British rule we left behind British industry.
One thing we saw in Kurrachee which deserves mention: that was an Eastern wedding. We were invited to witness the ceremonies by a brother of the bride. As we were being conducted towards the house, a number of females in white robes were noticeable, chanting a bridal song in a rather monotonous tone. On their entering the house, the door was immediately closed, and for some time we heard no more of these dusky damsels. The apart-
ment into which we were shown was closely adjoining those in which the ladies had disappeared. After patiently waiting some time, a loud shout was heard from outside, and it was interpreted to us, ‘Behold, the bridegroom cometh!’ The outer-door was thrown open, and, with great obsequiousness, the happy man was welcomed by the friends of the bride.
We were then all admitted to partake of the marriage feast, which occupied about an hour, after which some inaudible words were uttered by the priest, a number of lamps were lighted, and with loud shouts the bride was led out, and, seated on a richly-caparisoned white horse, the procession then marched towards the bridegroom’s house, into which no guests were allowed.
Leaving Kurrachee, we experienced stormy weather for some days, until nearing Jask (Beloochistan). At this place each passenger was served with rifle and bayonet. On our
inquiring the reason of this sudden armament, we were informed by the captain that a steamer, not long ago, had been attacked by Arab pirates, near Muscat, and robbed of all its cargo.
Fortunately we had no use for the weapons of so provident a company. Our steamer anchored off Bushire on the 11th of June, and it was a consolation to think that we had at last completed our travels by water. The journey had become a tedious one, but as we looked forward to the long march on horseback we planned out for ourselves various amusements for the way.
As an introduction to the country Bushire would be the worst spot to choose. It appeared, to our eyes, merely a collection of mud huts, and on entering the town itself our opinions of its beauties were not in any way enhanced on seeing the streets. The only notable building in Bushire is the British Residency, built purely in the Oriental fashion.
The streets of Bushire — as in fact all streets in Persia are — are extremely narrow, filthy, and irregular. The outer portion of the town still bears evidence to the severe shaking it sustained from the British war-vessels in 1856. A gunboat is stationed a short distance from the harbour — if such it may be called — in order, I presume, to protect ‘British interests,’ or vice versa
Bushire, although Persian, is under the entire control of the British Resident — the native Governor would not think of acting contrary to the wishes of the English Sahib. The internal as well as foreign affairs come under the notice of Colonel Ross, who is represented in the provinces by natives in the pay of the English Government. In fact, Southern Persia might be said to be indirectly under English rule; the power of the Resident is recognised by all parties. The Bushirees themselves imagine that England’s power is all but paramount in Persia. The inspired fear which is instilled
into them arises perhaps from Colonel Ross’s bodyguard, consisting of about a dozen Bombay Lancers, who take duty in and about the Residency; the close proximity also of the English guns may add in no small degree to their fears.