My Wanderings in Persia
An Escort. — Sport. — Execution. — Wolves. — ‘Burnt Father.’ — Hunting by Candlelight. — Eternal Friendship. — Yezdicast. — Fashionable Visitors. — Subterranean Exploration. — Obnoxious Smells. — Chlorodyne. — Courier. — Koomeshah. — Bereavement. — Myer. — Ispahan — Guana. — Half the World. — Good-morning, Sir. — Missionary.
BY sunrise I was in the saddle and wending my way through the fertile pastures and vineyards en route for Dehbeed.
We stopped for breakfast at the ruined caravanserai of old repute — the place of our out-door encampment a few months before. We had brought a plentiful supply of grapes from Morghaub, which were very palatable after the meal of dates, sour milk and curry.
I sat on the banks of the river close by, and might have been, to an ignorant observer, an Arab chieftain: not many yards from me were grouped some twenty villainous, cut-throat-looking ruffians, who had been sent by the head road-guard to escort me to Dehbeed. At times one would look to the edge of his scimitar, another would closely examine the priming of his charge, in order perhaps to prove their fidelity to my person.
We, however, presented a very formidable appearance to a passing tribe of Arabs whom we encountered on the road; my body-guard were, as I afterwards learnt, in unspeakable agonies to pay off an old debt they owed this tribe, but in my presence they wisely refrained from any outward show.
Dehbeed was reached early in the afternoon. I remained here with one servant three days, whilst my caravan proceeded on its journey northwards. During this time we were not inactive. The friend with whom I was staying
was a first rate hand with the wild pigs. Our hunting excursions proved most fortunate — the second evening found us with two hybecks, four deer, and a couple of small pigs as a reward for our exertions.
My saddle-horse had gone with the mules, so on the third morning, early, Mahomed Sadak (my man) and myself started ‘chapar.’ We overtook the caravan before sunset, about seventy-eight miles from Dehbeed.
From Dehbeed to Abadeh, another telegraph station, I have previously delineated — it was at this latter place where we caught up the party. This was the most northerly point to which I had as yet travelled; beyond here, I was a stranger to the road.
The following day, as we wound our way through the avenues of trees outside Abadeh, we came suddenly upon a numerous body of horsemen, who, it turned out, belonged to the governor, and were awaiting his arrival to commence the horrid work of building-up
three men in lime. I hurried on to escape the sight, once being sufficient for me to witness such executions.
Abadeh is famed throughout the Eastern bazaars for its unequalled carving on wood, some good specimens of which I obtained before leaving.
From this place to the next stage, Shulgistoon, the road is uninteresting — the whole length is a dreary waste. We were nearing the end of our day’s stage when some moving object on our right attracted my attention. I galloped a few hundred yards, when I saw the objects of my run: a couple of half-famished wolves, no doubt on their way to the village. They refused fight, and quickly made off towards the hills, their speed being accelerated by a bullet from my Martini-Henri, which struck the hindermost; he, however, made good his escape. The soft ground prevented my giving chase.
We arrived at Shulgistoon chapar khaneh
in good time, but were the first too late. A Persian khan with his ‘harem’ had been located in the best room for some time, and, of course, to ask the ladies to ‘move’ out was a thing not to be allowed — at least, not by an Englishman; although my servants could not see why all these ‘sons of dogs’ should remain in when the ‘Ṣáḥib’ was there.
They were nevertheless requested to find other quarters, a little later on, by a moolah who was travelling from Teheran to Shiraz; and had it not been for my timely and stern intervention, the fair occupants (they perhaps were dusky — I cannot say) would most certainly have been driven out into the cold March air, notwithstanding all the vociferous threats of punishment poured forth by their jealous owner, who expressed his gratitude to me for the interference. The moolah, on the contrary, would greatly have liked to ‘burn my father,’ had he dared to so give publicity
to his thoughts. He — perhaps wisely — thought of the consequences, and remained quiescent; his looks, however, betrayed his thoughts.
My lodgings that night were in a lower apartment, in a small stifling room used as a storehouse for corn. This I gave little or no thought to, and had my rest been undisturbed, no word of complaint would have escaped my lips. As it was, my bed was uninvitedly shared by a host of other and lesser animals, who used all their endeavours, but in vain, to keep my thoughts centred on things earthly by innumerable spear-like thrusts from head to foot; but after a ride of eighty-six miles without sleep, it would require a much more pleasing inducement than hunting with a candle to have kept me awake throughout the night.
Early the following morning I heard all astir, and after putting on my riding-equipment, spurs, revolver, and helmet, I stepped outside, and was just in time to speak a few
farewell words to the discourteous moolah, who wished me an almost forced ‘God be with you!’
In a short time I heard the voice of the khan calling for the ‘sahib.’ I went out and was kindly invited to partake of a cup of tea with him. Eternal friendship, he assured me, had been established between ourselves through my condescension. A pleasant conversation followed, in the course of which the khan informed me that he had been in Europe.
Vienna, he said, was the boundary point westward of his travels. He had greatly desired to see London, but Allah had not so planned it. The king had recalled him when on the point of leaving for the Modern Babylon. In parting, he wished my star would ever be in the ascendancy, and promised to call on me at Teheran on his return. Our acquaintance was never renewed; he, like me, forgetting the episode of our introduction.
Yezdicast was our next stage, twenty-five
miles from Shulgistoon. A continuation of the barren undulating plain; not a single particle of vegetation to be seen.
Yezdicast is a village built on the point of a rock overhanging the bed of the Morghaub River; it is about two hundred feet from the earth’s level, and is entered by a drawbridge which crosses a moat at the southern extremity of the village. The chapar khaneh and caravanserai are built below, and appear, when looking from the village above, mere huts in size. On looking through the caravanserai, I found names of travellers as far back as 1746, also ‘Une Scientifique Expédition à Perse, 1753,’ and several other dates equally old.
I had not been seated long in the chapar khaneh, when the Ketkhoda of Yezdicast was announced; and after drinking a few cups of tea, he invited me to dine with him in his elevated abode. I did not feel inclined for a Persian dinner-party, yet, unwilling to appear unfriendly, I dare not decline.
I have only once regretted accepting the invitation, but the regret commenced a few hours afterwards and has been a lasting one. We were met at the drawbridge by the illustrious governor en personne, surrounded by a host of swarthy Yezdicastees, who were his acknowledged vassals, and who appeared surprised at my dress, and exhibited, by their looks and actions, the greatest curiosity. We were then conducted along a number of subterranean passages which were very narrow and irregular. Two men were in advance of the procession carrying torches. At each step I either tumbled against the wall, or my head would come in violent contact with the roof, which was too low to admit of any one but a dwarf walking erect. After an exclamation of pain or disgust from me, they would in chorus yell out that the son of a dog who built the streets had made them too low, and that I must mind my most noble head. Many times I wished myself out of it,
but having proceeded so far I could not return.
At last, after painfully traversing these unearthly passages for — as it appeared to me — almost an hour, we arrived before a low door, at which the ketkhoda pointed, saying: ‘Bismillah, sahib!’ (welcome; or, ‘In the name of God, sir!’) I entered, after again bumping my cranium on the door-post, and saw two of his wives busily engaged in boiling rice, etc.
In the same squalid room was a little child — who, on seeing me, gave evidence of possessing some lusty lungs — muddling in dirt; a few fowls and a calf. On my sudden appearance, the women hastily took up their body-clothing (nothing else was at hand) and pulled it over their faces to screen themselves from my impure gaze, preferring to expose some other portion of their bodies rather than allow an infidel Feringhee to see such celestial countenances as were there portrayed.
I was then led into another room, where the kalyun, sherbet, coffee and fruit were brought by the ladies, who studiously avoided my eyes, retiring as quickly as possible.
I need not describe our dinner; the pillau, curries, fruit, and the pipe of peace, each was brought in turn, and a man was then despatched for the village musicians; but I pleaded fatigue, and asked permission to return to the chapar khaneh.
After the many meaningless compliments from the guests present, and receiving their obsequious salaams, I was conducted back to the entrance, and after another series of stumblings and bumps, I once more breathed pure air.
The smells emitted by most Persian villages are not of the most odoriferous kind, but I shall always consider Yezdicast excels them all; all other villages which I have had the misfortune to enter were deliciously sweet compared to this. The filthy, putrid atmosphere
had succeeded in giving me a racking headache; and, thinking of the old maxim that prevention is better than cure, I took a good dose of Dr. Browne’s chlorodyne — an invaluable medicine in the East, where attacks of dysentery, cholera, etc., are so prevalent, and which has proved efficacious in not a few obstinate cases. I have used it with great success on the nomadic tribes of Central Persia.
The stage from Yezdicast to Maksulbeg is another dreary march. Whilst at Yezdicast I heard something which I had not the opportunity, nor yet the inclination, to prove; the ketkhoda solemnly assured me that ‘bread of Yezdicast, wine of Shiraz, and a woman of Yezd, must make happy the life of man.’ I ventured to doubt this statement, but being ignorant of practical experience I did not venture beyond this.
The twenty-four miles’ march to the Maksulbeg post-house was finished when, as I was
dismounting, the British Legation courier from Teheran arrived, carrying the English mail to Shiraz, but the officer in charge at Ispahan, thinking the courier might possibly pass us unnoticed, had detained all letters addressed to me until my arrival there. Here was a disappointment, but Ispahan was not far off; the thought was consoling. As the fluid of golden hue tipped the eastern horizon, as the fore-runner of that glorious source of warmth, which was necessary that morning as I tremblingly sat in the saddle outside the chapar khaneh, we moved away towards the telegraph station at Koomeshah, a large village twelve miles distant. The morning was bitterly cold; the gradual and perceptible difference in the climate, as we journeyed northwards, was felt in the early morning and after sunset. The road here runs at the very base of a chain of mountains, which extend as far as the eye can reach eastward one magnificent unbroken range, running to the confines of Beloochistan. While
yet some miles from Koomeshah, the road abruptly branched northwards, the scenery, "which had been previously hidden from us by a projecting hill, was most picturesque. At our right were gardens, vineyards, and groves of orange-trees, well-watered by a tributary river winding its course serpent-like through their midst. In the far distance, running through mountainous sandy country, was the road to Teheran.
At our left lay the fanatical village of Koomeshah. The zigzag road, immediately outside the place, and windings, turnings, and endless crossings, were to me totally incomprehensible, one bridge spanning a narrow stream would have made straight the road; but instead of this, one must ride two miles round and come to the same place again, the only difference being that the second time we are at the right side of the water.
In the morning, when I was ready for leaving, my servant came to me with a doleful
look on his face, saying the muleteer was absent, and we therefore could not proceed until the next day. Towards evening the delinquent put in an appearance (he was a native of this place), and in a most piteous tone told me that he had been detained in performing the last rites to a lamented mother, who had, the previous day, ‘shuffled off this mortal coil.’ Such an excuse was of course satisfactory, but had I been, at the time, aware that his sainted parent had several times previously committed the same indiscretion, and that he had confessed to burying her on half a dozen different occasions, Mr. Charvodar would undoubtedly have come to grief. He, in a grave tone, informed me that he was then, with my permission, going to the grave, there to bewail his bereavement. About sunset he was seen at his own house, deeply partaking of the cup which cheers and also inebriates, with others who, perhaps, had also lost a mother, and were uniting their sympathies.
Myer was our next stage, twenty-three miles. After passing along the sandy rocky road for more than half the distance, the scene is again changed. Gardens, prettily situated, and which extend for miles in the direction of Ispahan, mark the route to Myer. The surrounding scenery is lovely: villages and gardens, majestic trees, crowned with the beautiful foliage of spring; the gentle murmurings of the distant river, form a lively contrast to the dreary barrenness which had been our morning’s portion, and which we had been continuously traversing for upwards of one hundred and forty miles.
We left Myer shortly after midnight, in order to reach Ispahan about noon; thirty-six miles would complete our journey to the ancient capital of the Persian Empire. The keen frosty air, from the snow-capped hills westward of Ispahan compelled me to seek for warmer stirrups than the steel ones of my saddle. I had two camel’s nose-bags, half-
filled with straw, tied and flung across the pommel of my hunting-saddle, and into these I put my half-frozen feet; a good-sized camel’s-hair rug was thrown over this, but even then the piercing cold made the saddle untenable; so I dismounted, and until sunrise walked briskly over the hard frozen road. A colder morning than this I never remember — not even in the northern wilds of Turkestan.
Some four miles from Ispahan is a lofty range of hills, which completely hide the city until close upon it; on reaching the summit, the view is one of the most picturesque and imposing of any in Persia. A few miles distant, built in the centre of a vast plain full of rich cultivation, well watered by that river so famous in the native song and story, the Zeinderud, running at angles with the plain. Surrounding the city is a stupendous chain of mountains branching from the Elburz range. And all around is dotted small villages, which embrace the twofold advantages of protection from the
city, should their property be in danger of marauding bands of Arabs, and the extreme richness of the country. The scene is made more romantic and Orientalised by the numerous pigeon-towers which are erected in and around the city; they are built for the purpose of collecting the guano, which is deemed the finest manure for melon-growing; one thing is certain: the finest melons of the East are grown at Ispahan and Kashan; they are called ‘Tokhm-i-kand,’ or ‘seed of the sugar.’
As I viewed the city from this place, the morning sun shining brilliantly on all the surroundings, unclouded by the black wreaths of smoke so familiar in an English town, and listening in vain for the deafening noises of machinery, I could imagine the enraptured gaze of the poet as he proudly viewed the place from this point, and sang its praises in the following strain: ‘Ispahan nesfeh jahan; agar Ispahan na bud, jahan na bud,’ (‘Ispahan is half the world if there was no Ispahan,
there could be no world’). Another poet (Hajee Samuz), more patriotic than the rest, likens the parents of Ispahan to the starry heavens in all their splendour, but adds that the child is by far the fairest. Such is the native laudation of the city we had now reached.
The entrance to Ispahan, or rather Djulfa, as this portion of the city is called, is through innumerable well-watered yet narrow and irregular lanes. The Christian population — mostly Armenians — numbering about two thousand, reside here. It is the only Christian settlement in Persia. The name Djulfa was probably given by the earlier settlers, who came from the town of that name in Armenia.
In passing along these lanes I was most agrbly surprised at hearing a sweet-sounding ‘Good-morning, sir,’ from almost every youth who happened to see me. These children are taught by the Rev. Mr. Bruce,
in a splendid school but recently completed. This kind-hearted gentleman is the only English clergyman in Persia, tolerated only on account of the Christian settlement at Djulfa. Nobly and faithfully does he fight against the numerous obstacles which are ever crowding in his path: the Romish priests, the Armenian bishop, and lastly, but not least, native fanaticism, coupled with the bitter hatred of the moolahs, who are strictly jealous of any new doctrine being introduced into the country, or the blessings of Christianity being made known to their ignorantly enthusiastic followers, are in their turn to be battled with; and on more than one occasion has Mr. Bruce — even when (lamentable to say) unaided and retarded by his country’s mission in Teheran, rendered almost helpless by those who are in duty bound to protect him — come off more than a victor.
On one occasion, when ignored by the
British Ambassador, who not courteously re-
fused even a reply to the missionary’s appeal for protection and justice, he (Mr. Bruce) was compelled to communicate with the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in London, demanding the protection which the British flag affords. Redress and safety were then demanded of the Shah for this noble-hearted gentleman, and were forthwith given. After great and almost forcible opposition, the new schools were built and opened; even then this irascible system of persecution was carried on by the parties who were averse to the Divine Truth being taught, who were encouraged by the openly neglectful manner in which Mr. Bruce was treated at Teheran. The foremost of the band of persecutors was the so-called minister of religion, — the reverend father in God — the Romish priest — who, by all the deceitful, hypocritical devices in his power, sought to unseat the Protestant champion.
The schools are now in a flourishing con-
dition. Mr. Bruce is not a little aided in all his duties by his good lady, who has won the admiration and deep respect of all those who, in passing through or residing in Persia, have been honoured by an introduction to the missionary’s family.