Bahá'í Library Online
. . . .
.
>>   Books

Persia and the Persian Question, volume I

by George N. Curzon

previous chapter chapter 1 start page single page chapter 3 next chapter

Chapter 2

WAYS AND MEANS

(Dedicated to the Traveller only)

Sive per Syrtes iter aestuosas,

Sive facturus per inhospitalem

Caucasum, vel quae loca fabulosus

Lambit Hydaspes.

HORACE, Carm, lib. I. xxii.

THE questions that were put to me before I left England, as to the direction which I was about to take, and after I had returned as to the direction which I had taken, lead me to think that, even in these days of universal primers and travellers' guides, geographical information is not so widely diffused as to render superfluous a chapter explanatory of the different ways by which Persia can be approached or left, and of the preparatory steps which require to be taken by a traveller. There is so wide a choice open to the latter in regard both to route and means, that some guidance in either respect is desirable. The tables of routes and distances which I shall give are all derived from first-hand sources, and are brought up to the latest date. There is no existing publication in which they can be found similarly collected.

Persia, though remote, is the reverse of inaccessible. The physical situation of the country between two seas, on the north and south, at once suggests the easiest avenues of approach; whilst her land frontiers on the east and west, abutting as they do upon wide extents of territory, in the hands of alien if not hostile powers, indicate other but less facile modes of entry. It results accordingly that the majority of arrivals first land upon Persian soil on the shores either of the Caspian Sea or of the Persian Gulf. The situation of the modern capital, Teheran, at a distance of about 200 miles by road from the Caspian, renders this the more frequented line of approach; just as in the seven-


[page 27]

teenth century, when the Sefavi dynasty held their gorgeous court at Isfahan, the ports of the Persian Gulf were the more natural point of debarkation. Even in the early part of the present century, while the Caucasus was still unsubdued and a terror to travellers, the southern route was preferred by European, and especially by English voyagers, the more so as Anglo-Persian relations were then in the hands of the East India Company, and were dictated and controlled from Calcutta or Bombay. It was at Bushire that the missions of Sir John Malcolm, Sir Harford Jones, and Sir Gore Ouseley first set foot upon the territory of the King of kings.

Premising, therefore, that these are the simplest and most obvious lines of access, I will commence upon the north with the Enzeli-Teheran route, and will next describe the remaining northern approaches; after which the eastern, southern, and western entrances will succeed each other in natural order.

The Persian port, or rather landing-place (for, as will be seen, Persia enjoys no such luxury as a port), on the Caspian is at Enzeli, a village upon a low spit of land enclosing upon the sea side a broad but shallow lagoon, known as the Murdab, or Dead Water, on the inner or southern shore of which, at a slight distance from the sea, is situated the considerable town of Resht. It is in this sense that travellers commonly speak of landing in Persia at Resht.

Enzeli is served by the steamers of the Russian Caucasus and Mercury Company, running from Baku, which place there are several methods of reaching from Europe. (1) Train may be taken to Constantinople, boat (Messageries, Austrian Lloyd, or Russian) from thence to Batum — 3 or 4 days — and train viâ Tiflis to Baku — 32 hours; (2) train may be taken, viâ Berlin and Cracow to Odessa, and Russian steamer thence to Batum — 3 days; (3) Tiflis may be reached overland from St. Petersburg and Moscow by rail to Vladikavkas, and by carriage over the famous Dariel Road — 136 miles — into Georgia; (4) there is still another method of reaching Baku, viz. by rail across Russia to Tsaritsin, on the Volga, thence by river-boat to Astrakhan, and thence by Caucasus and Mercury Company steamers down the west coast of the Caspian, touching at Petrofsk and Derbent — 2½ days — to Baku. This is perhaps, in point of time, the most ex-


[page 28]

peditious route. In any case the traveller cannot rely upon reaching Baku under eight or nine days from London.

From May to November the Caucasus and Mercury steamers run weekly, and sometimes bi-weekly, to Enzeli, leaving Baku as a rule on Sunday night; during the remainder of the year somewhat irregularly. After touching at the Russian (once Persian) port of Lenkoran, and the frontier village of Astara on Monday afternoon, they are timed to arrive at Enzeli — a total distance of 197 nautical miles, in from 30 to 36 hours from the start, i.e. at some time on Tuesday morning.

Here, however, the peculiar and doleful idiosyncrasies of Persian travel are not unlikely to begin, for there is often such a surf on the bar[9] that it is quite impossible to land passengers in boats; and in the winter months it not infrequently happens that the unhappy voyager, after being tossed about for several hours in sight of his destination, is taken all the way back again to Baku, whence, after a mournful week of dabbling in naphtha and becoming saturated with petroleum, he returns in order to repeat the experiment.

Should the elements, however, prove propitious at Enzeli, he is transferred to a small steam-launch, in which he is conducted to the projecting spit of land, at the western extremity of which stands the custom-house of Enzeli, and where also is a somewhat decayed but picturesque five-storeyed pagoda or summer-house belonging to the Shah. The decorative features of this structure, which is painted blue, red, and green, increase in smartness as they approach the upper storeys, the topmost of which is reserved for the use of His Majesty; but they are in a state of great dilapidation, and are moreover often rendered invisible by a mat covering, intended as a protection against the appalling damp. From here the launch steams across the Murdab, a voyage of about ten miles, in an hour and three-quarters. This shallow and wind-swept lagoon is some thirty miles long from east to west, by twelve in maximum breadth from north to south, and is peopled with every variety of wild fowl —


[page 29]

cormorants, geese, swans, duck, coots, divers, guillemots, gulls, pelicans, crane, and snipe. They dot the surface and swarm in the islets and reed-beds on its inner fringe, supplying a foretaste to the sportsman of the richness of the entire belt of country between the sea and the mountains, which abounds in game. At the southern extremity of the lagoon the launch is exchanged for a native boat, which is towed up a creek for five miles to the fishing village of Pir-i-Bazaar.

Pir-i-Bazaar (i.e. Saint of the Bazaar; more probably Pileh-Bazaar, i.e. the Cocoon Mart, so called from the silk industry) consists of a caravanserai, a few houses and sheds, and a fishing establishment, a weir being thrown across the stream at this point, resulting in a multitudinous capture of a species of carp. Rickety carriages are here available which transport the new-comer along a vile road, roughly paved, for a distance of six miles through the jungle to Resht. The Resht river, or Shah Rudbar, flows down to the sea on the left hand, and snakes and tortoises crawl in the slimy watercourses and swamps on the right.

Of Resht I shall have something to say in a later chapter upon the northern provinces of Persia, of one of which, viz. Gilan, it is the capital city. In this context it is regarded solely as the first town in which the traveller sets foot on Persian soil, and as the starting-point of his journey into the interior. From the aspect of the place and of the surrounding country he will probably derive an impression of Persian scenery and life which requires very early to be abandoned, and which is as unlike the general characteristics with which he will afterwards become so sorrowfully familiar as Dover is unlike Aden. At Resht he sees red-tiled cottages and mosques, lanes, and hedgerows, and gardens, which speak to him of other lands, whilst in the wealth of wood and water that is spread around he observes a favourable indication of the fertility of Persian soil. Let him take his soul's fill of both sights; for the modest yet appreciable architectural features of Resht he will see nowhere repeated beyond the Caspian littoral, and the forests and rivers will presently be succeeded by stony deserts and treeless peaks.

At Resht the traveller will form his first experience of that Persian wayfaring, of whose pleasures and pains I shall have so much to say as I proceed. Here he must decide between the only


[page 30]

two practicable methods of travel in that country, viz. riding chapar, i.e. by Government post — or riding with his own animals and appointments by caravan. The former means rapid, if exhausting and sometimes painful progress; the latter is attended with less physical discomfort, but is apt to be unutterably tedious, and, as the same animals must be used day after day, unconscionably slow. In the one case the traveller is an item or piece of animate baggage, who is transferred from his starting-point to his destination with as much swiftness as a succession of mediocre and sometimes abominable steeds can manage to convey him, or as his own inclinations or strength will permit. He transports his wherewithal on horseback with him, he sleeps in chapar-khanehs, or post-houses, which occur at regular intervals along the route, he carries his food in portable shape or buys it on the way, he, pays a fixed tariff for horses and accommodation, he diverges not one inch from the main track, he seldom looks behind him, and he has but one appetite — viz. to get on.

The other plan involves much forethought and preparation — the purchase of a camp and equipments, the hiring of a large number of riding and baggage animals and of servants to look after both, and all the responsibilities consequent upon the superintendence of a numerous following. On the other hand, it leaves the traveller absolute discretion as to his movements, and, while it never allows him to hurry (for baggage animals cannot be trusted to do more than twenty-five miles on an average in the day), it gives him unstinted liberty to dawdle. According to his objects and tastes, therefore, the stranger will have very little difficulty in choosing between the two. If he is anxious to go ahead, does not mind roughing it a little, and is fairly active and strong, he will travel chapar. If he has ladies or a family and household with him, if he is not inured to much riding, still more if he requires to move slowly and investigate or explore, and most of all if he wishes to diverge from the beaten track (for there are less than a dozen post-roads in Persia, the number being restricted to the chief lines of communication), he will travel caravan. In either case he will probably do wisely to adopt the speedier method as far as Teheran, where he can then make up his plans as to the future; whilst, if he can persuade some friend at the capital to send down a gholam (courier) or a Persian servant


[page 31]

to meet him at Enzeli or Resht, he will be saved from the agony of the opening struggle with an unknown people and tongue, and will pass with less mental exasperation through the grim ordeal of Persian chapar-khanehs and post-boys. In favour of this decision are also the facts that he can take a carriage from Resht as far as Kuhdum, eighteen miles, and therefore need not begin his ride till the latter place; that the post-houses between Resht and Teheran are somewhat better equipped than those on the other lines; that more and rather better or less execrable horses are engaged in the service; and finally, that at Kazvin they can be abandoned altogether for the luxury of a carriage which will convey him the remaining hundred miles to the capital over the sole road in the country on which the European method of locomotion is common.

In passing I may say that the charge for post-horses is one kran (7d.) per farsakh (approximately 3½ to 4 miles) for each horse required. The minimum number usually employed by a single traveller is one for himself, one for his native riding servant,[10] and one for the chapar-shagird, or post-boy, who takes back the animals, driving them in front of him, when the stage is over. If the traveller is carrying a good deal of baggage, a fourth horse may be required; but the vagaries of this animal, who is far too obstinate to be led by a rein, and who, being riderless, takes every opportunity of bolting from the track and disappearing across country, where he has to be pursued and whipped back again, constitute such a check upon progression as well as such a tax upon temper, that most persons will gladly purchase immunity from so indefinite an expansion of their journey by the necessary contraction of their personal effects. And it is surprising, as I shall presently show, how much can be carried on the backs of the three horses already named. The charge for each stage must be paid beforehand to the chaparchi, or post-master, at the chapar-khaneh where the fresh animals are engaged; and at the end of the stage it is customary to give one kran for an ordinary stage, or two krans for a very long stage, to the post-boy who has accompanied you. Not once in postal rides of over 1,200 miles did I receive the faintest sign of acknowledgment from any


[page 32]

one of these individuals, whose stolidity is proof even against the agreeable emotion of receiving a tip, and who never deviate, even by accident, into an expression of gratitude. As a Persian traveller seldom gives them anything, I suppose they look with contempt upon a European who is foolish enough to squander a gratuitous shilling. At the chapar-khaneh, where the traveller puts up for the night, and where he is supplied with a few conveniences, such as water and firewood, possibly with milk and eggs, it is usual to give the postmaster, upon leaving in the morning, a gratuity varying, according to the nature of the service, from two to four krans. These are the only disbursements required, except for provisions bought in the villages en route; and to meet this outlay a supply of a few hundred krans, which can either be procured in one-kran or two-kran pieces at Baku, or can be sent down from Teheran, is necessary. These are usually carried in bags in the rider's holsters, and are a great encumbrance on a long journey. But no other currency is in existence, and no other method of payment is therefore possible.[11] With these preliminary instructions for his guidance, from which he will already have learnt that the journey lying before him, if not luxurious, is at any rate cheap, the traveller will upon arriving at Resht (or Kuhdum) make his way to the post-house, and after procuring his tezkereh or postal order, will arrange for starting upon his ride as soon as possible. He will not, as did a friend of mine, ask for a porter to take up his luggage to the hotel! There is an English as well as a Russian Consulate at Resht; and the former building, after being for some time unoccupied, has lately received another official inmate, so that in the last resort the help of a countryman and the majesty of officialdom can both be appealed to for assistance.

The stretch of country between Resht and Teheran may be roughly divided into three sections — (1) the forest belt extending from Resht to the mountains, which is a portion of the immense wooded zone that covers the flat coast-line from Talish in the west to Astrabad in the east, a total distance of 400 miles; (2) the spurs and the main range of the Elburz Mountains, which at the highest point of the pass attain an altitude of over 7,000 feet above the sea; (3) the elevated plateau or plain upon


[page 33]

their southern side, descending from Kazvin to Teheran. Between Resht and Kazvin the stages are as follows:[12]

Name of Station

Distance in Farsakhs

Approximate distance in Miles

Resht to Kuhdum

6

16

Kuhdum to Rustamabad

5

18½

Rustamabad to Menjil

5

17½

Menjil to Paichenar

5

13

Paichenar to Mazreh

5

20

Mazreh to Kazvin

5

21

Total

31[13]

106

After leaving Resht the road strikes inland through the first or woodland belt, traversing a forest, which, while it reeks with miasma, also abounds in game. Here are to be found not only the humble fauna with which we are familiar in England, such as hares, foxes, pheasants, and the like, but wolves, hyenas, jackals, leopards, tigers, lynxes, and wild boar. Generally


[page 34]

the tigers along the Caspian littoral are not man-eaters. They are frequently of immense size; and I saw the skin of one, killed near Resht, which a noted Indian shikarri declared was larger than any that he had seen in that country. The impenetrability of the jungle and its malarial fevers are presumably the obstacles that have saved from the clutch of the Englishman one of the few remaining sporting grounds in the neighbourhood of Europe. Higher up in the Elburz Mountains is found the big game that is common to loftier altitudes — ibex, mountain sheep, wild goat, antelope, and huge bears. After twelve miles the road begins to rise, and soon after leaving Kuhdum enters the hills. In this section it has at one time been paved with cobbles, but, like most things in Persia, the causeway has fallen into ruin, and in wet places is apt to become a treacherous quagmire, whilst on a steeper acclivity it often resembles a staircase rather than a ramp. Beyond Kuhdum, the left bank of the Sefid Rud (White River) is reached, and, through lovely scenery, where woodland is variegated by open glades and rocks, is followed as far as Rustamabad. At this stage, and as the elevation increases, vegetation begins to dwindle; the forest trees are replaced by olives, and finally by low bushes and shrubs; the scenery gains in ruggedness and grandeur, until at length, a little before the station of Menjil, the river is crossed by, a seven-arched bridge (not infrequently broken down), over which the wind sometimes whistles through the narrow gorge with concentrated fury. Between Menjil and Paichenar the road skirts first the Shahrud (King's River) as far as the Loshan bridge, and then the Paichenar river, which is a tributary of the Sefid Rud; and steadily but laboriously, and over heartrending inequalities in the ground and beside savage precipices, mounts to the Kharzan pass, some 7,500 feet above the sea. This is a terrible spot in winter, being frequently blocked for days by snow; and many are the camels and mules that have left their bones to bleach on its cruel heights. Nevertheless, there is a village here and a large caravanserai. Thence, the apex of the ridge having been conquered, the descent begins on the other side to Mazreh, one of the Persian villages famous for the visitations of the loathsome bug (variously called gherib-gez, i.e. Bite the stranger, or shab-gez, i.e. Night-biter, better known to science as Argas Persicus), that is one of the horrors of Persian travel. After passing the village of Agha Baba, level ground is reached, and the traveller endeavours


[page 35]

to screw a gallop out of his jaded steed as he approaches the extensive vineyards and orchards that encircle the once populous city of Kazvin.

Kazvin, which is reported to have 40,000 inhabitants, but has probably not much more than two-thirds of that total, is the first large town which the newcomer will have seen in Persia; and it will supply him with some idea of the typical Persian city, of which he will encounter so many analogous samples later on. Like many of them, it has been a capital city in its day, sharing this distinction with Isfahan, Shiraz, Teheran, Tabriz, Suleimanieh, Ardebil, Nishapur, and Meshed. Like most of its compeers, however, the sun of its glory has now set, and deserted spaces and crumbling remains mark the spot that once teemed with busy life and glittered with the pageantry of royal rule. Said to have been founded by Shapur II. (Zulaktaf),[14] it was one of the places that were captured in 1078 A.D. by Hasan Sabah, the celebrated chief of the so-called Assassins, known in Europe, from a paraphrase by the Crusaders of his Arabic title, Sheikh el-Jebel, as the Old Man of the Mountains, whose original method of recruiting his band is so agreeably related by Marco Polo, and whose impregnable stronghold of Alamut (i.e. Eagle's Nest) was only about thirty miles distant in the mountains.[15] It was not, however, till the rise of the Sefavi dynasty that Kazvin attained the zenith of its renown. By the second sovereign of that line, Tahmasp I. (1524-1576 A.D) it was made the seat of government,[16] the change being variously attributed by historians to the inability of that monarch to defend Tabriz against the Turks, and to his anxiety to remove to some distance from Ardebil, where the humble


[page 36]

circumstances of his family were known. After fifty years of metropolitan supremacy Kazvin was itself superseded by Isfahan, Shah Abbas the Great finding in the southern capital a more convenient centre for his extensive dominions. Pietro della Valle, the travelled Italian, was here in 1618, during the lifetime of Shah Abbas, but found in it 'nothing to satisfy the expectations of a royal residence, and only two things worthy of observation, the gate of the King's palace and the grand meidan or square.' On the other hand, Sir Thomas Herbert, the quaint historian of the embassy of Sir Dodmore Cotton from Charles I. to Abbas the Great, who accompanied Sir Robert Sherley and the English envoy hither after their bootless interview with the Persian monarch at Ashraf in 1627, reported of Kazvin that it was 'equal for grandeur to any other city in the Persian Empire, Spahawn (i.e. Isfahan) excepted;'[17] that its walls were seven miles in circuit, and its population 200,000. Here poor Sir Robert Sherley, fretting at his rebuff and at the inconstancy of princes, died on July 13, 1627, and was buried under the threshold of the door;[18] and here, only ten days later, his companion, Sir D. Cotton, stricken down with dysentery, followed him to the grave.[19] Chardin, who was at Kazvin half a century later, in 1674, describes its walls as then in ruins, the town having 'lost all those perquisites that set forth the pomp and grandeur of a sumptuous court;' but says that it nevertheless contained 12,000 houses and 100,000 inhabitants, and that its chief feature was the palaces of the grandees, which had passed for generations from father to son.[20] It was taken by the


[page 37]

Afghans in 1722 and by the Turks in 1725, and has suffered severely from earthquakes since. Among the remains of its ancient grandeur are the Royal Palace, built by Tahmasp and enlarged by Abbas the Great, which is now in ruins, but whose high gate, called Ali Kapi, like that at Isfahan, remains. The Musjid-i-Jama, originally built by Harun-er-Rashid in the eighth century, also survives; a huge structure with two broken blue-tiled minarets and vast deserted courts. But the principal mosque is the Musjid-i-Shah, rebuilt, by Agha Mohammed and Fath Ali Shah upon the remains of the original edifice of Tahmasp and Abbas. Although, however, Kazvin has fallen from its high estate, its position at the point of junction of the two roads from Resht to Teheran, and from Tabriz to Teheran, and of a third to Kum;[21] its vineyards, which produce a grape of good repute in Persia; and its textile manufactures, which are not inconsiderable, render it a place of some importance; and side by side with the evidences of decayed splendour are signs of reviving prosperity and pretentious appearance. The town has very showy modern gates, and it contains by far the finest inn (there is only one other competitor) in Persia. This building, or mehman-khaneh, is attached to the post-house, and is situated in a large garden with a wide avenue of trees. It is a handsome two-storeyed structure with large portico, belonging to the Governor of Kazvin, whose residence is hard by, and who 'runs' the concern. Furnished apartments and good food are an almost bewildering luxury to the traveller. There is also at Kazvin a combined station of the Persian and Indo-European Telegraph Departments, the wires of the latter connecting Teheran with Tabriz, and the Persians having the management of a line to Resht.

From the hotel at Kazvin, springless tarantasses and lumbering four-horsed European vehicles can be procured to transport the traveller the remaining 100 miles to Teheran; and he may well profit by the convenience while he can, for he will traverse one of the only two made roads in the country, and will enjoy a method of locomotion which he cannot repeat for months. The distance is reckoned as 24 full farsakhs, or 96 miles, and is divided into six stages of about 16 miles each,


[page 38]

the halting-places or stations, which are serviceable brick structures containing decent accommodation for the night, being Kavandeh, Kishlak, Yenghi Imam, Hissarek, and Shahabad. It would be a mistake to suppose that this carriage-road at all resembles anything which might be called by the same name in Europe. It is simply a cleared width of ground, off which the surface stones have been picked, but which has neither been metalled nor levelled. It is freely intersected by irrigation ditches, and in parts might be mistaken for the track of a switchback railway. And yet the cost of this unique work is reported to have been 640l. a mile! At Teheran, if no other quarters have been prearranged or offered, the traveller will find two small hotels in a very central position near the big Meidan, kept by a Frenchman named Prévot, who was formerly confectioner to the Shah.

The old postal road, which the devotee of the chapar may prefer to follow, runs to the south of the carriage road, the chapar-khanehs being at Abdulabad, Safar Khojah or Khwajah, Sunkurabad, and Mianjub. At Karij on this route, between the two last stations, and 26 miles from Teheran, is situated a palace or shooting-lodge, called Suleimanieh, belonging to the Shah, and built by his great grandfather, Fath Ali Shah, in 1812.[22] It stands upon the banks of the Karij, a fine stream which emerges from a gorge in the mountains, and whose water Fath Ali had conveyed to him in skins every morning to Teheran; and it contains two large portrait panels by Abdullah Khan, the famous Court painter of the earlier Kajar sovereigns, representing the Courts respectively of Agha Mohammed Shah and of his nephew, Fath Ali Shah.[23]

Those who are journeying by caravan may possibly be conducted by their muleteers over yet other routes between Kazvin and the capital, the choice depending upon the season of the year and the price of fodder. The option of so many alternative routes will of itself suggest to the newcomer that he is in a country where the ordinary channels of communication do


[page 39]

not exist, but where he can, as a rule, adopt pretty well what line he pleases in getting from place to place. The absence of any boundary marks between properties, and of hedges or ditches (except irrigation ditches) between arable plots, the wide stony plains over which one may gallop in any direction for miles, and the choice in many cases of a number of passes through the mountain ranges, leave the traveller in Persia a greater freedom of movement than in any other inhabited country in the world. By the carriage road, which is usually followed, the time occupied upon the entire journey from Resht to Teheran will be, according to the rate of progress in the earlier stages on horseback, from three to four days.

Such is the main and the easiest avenue of approach to the Persian capital from the Caspian. Under peculiarly favourable conditions, and with a perfect correspondence of trains and steamers, the journey from London to Teheran can be accomplished in a fortnight. In the majority of cases it occupies a little less than three weeks. I pass now to the overland routes which enter Persia from the north-west, and have for their immediate objective the commercial capital Tabriz, Teheran being reached therefrom, viâ Kazvin, by a postal road whose length from Tabriz is about 360 miles.

Of these routes there are two, of which the one is taken by caravans laden with other than Russian merchandise, and, in order to escape the prohibitory tariffs of Batum and the freight charges of the Transcaucasian Railway, starts from the Turkish port of Trebizond, in the south-east corner of the Black Sea, following from there a very steep line of country, 500 miles in length, to Tabriz. This route, as I shall subsequently show in a chapter upon the commerce of Persia, has been somewhat extensively adopted by English trade during the last half-century, and particularly since the final abolition by Russia of the free transit across the Caucasus in 1883, and is unquestionably the shortest way by which merchandise can reach Tabriz. It is not likely, however, to be followed by the traveller, unless he is anxious to visit the Turkish fortress of Erzerum en route, or to pursue a local examination of the Kurdish or the Armenian Question.[24]


[page 40]

The second is the line taken by the Russian import and export traffic, and also by a large number of travellers, which approaches Tabriz from the direction of Tiflis, crossing the frontier between Russia and Persia at Julfa, on the Aras (Araxes). In former times Tiflis was the starting-point of this route for all travellers by road;[25] but since the Caucasian isthmus has been crossed by a railroad the station of Akstafa, about 50 miles east of Tiflis, is the usual point of departure where the train is left,[26] and where vehicles or horses are engaged for the journey.[27]


[page 41]

From Akstafa to Julfa is a distance of about 250 miles, The traveller will pass through the interesting town of Erivan, the capital of Russian Armenia, and will be able to make the excursion to the Armenian ecclesiastical centre of Echmiadzin. At Julfa he crosses the river in a ferry-boat to Persian territory, where, after passing through the custom-house, he emerges upon the system of chapar-khanehs, postboys, decayed horses, physical discomfort, and execrable track, which I have already described between Resht and Teheran. The distance from Julfa to Tabriz is about 80 miles, or, according to Persian computation, five stages of 4 farsakhs each, the post-houses and distances being as follows: —

Name of Station

Distance in Farsakhs

Approximate distance in Miles

Julfa

Airandibil        î

Galand Kaya    *

5

20

Marand

5

24

Sufian

5

17

Tabriz

5

23

Total

20

84

About Tabriz I shall have a good deal to say in a later chapter upon the north-west provinces of Persia, to which I will refer my readers. The route from Tabriz to Teheran is the second most travelled route in Persia, and has been followed by a long succession of eminent voyagers, who have left a record of their experiences extending over a period of two hundred years.[28] The post stations and distances to Kazvin are as follows, the concluding section of the road from Kazvin to the capital having already been described: —


[page 42]

Name of Station

Distance

in

Farsakhs

Approximate

distance in

Miles

Name of Station

Distance

in

Farsakhs

Approximate

distance in

Miles

Tabriz

Nikbey

3

12

Saidabad

6

20

Zinjan

6

18¼

Haji Agha

4

13

Sultanieh

6

23½

Gejin

5

20

Khiah or Hidej

5

20½

Turkomanchai

5

19

Kirveh

4

19½

Mianeh

6

24

Siahdaban

5

17¾

Jemalabad

3

12

Kazvin

6

18½

Serchem

4

12

Total

72

263½

Ak Mazar

4

13½

The total distance from Tabriz to Teheran is accordingly about 360 miles, and from Julfa to Teheran, 440 miles.

Upon the above route a few places are worthy of special note. Turkomanchai is the village where on February 21, 1828, the famous treaty between Russia and Persia was signed by Paskievitch on behalf of the Emperor, and by Abbas Mirza on behalf of his father Fath Ali Shah. By this treaty was concluded a war of two years' duration. Persia lost Erivan and Nakhchivan, and was mulcted in a war indemnity of three and a half millions sterling. It set the seal upon the victories of Russia in this quarter since the opening of the century, and established the conqueror in a position of overwheming armed preponderance upon the north-west. Since that date Azerbaijan has always lain under the cold shadow of the Colossus of the North.

Mianeh is the traditional head-quarters and favourite hunting ground of the redoubtable qherib-gez, or Argas Persicus, and appalling stories are here related of its achievements. It is a curious fact, however, that its selection of Mianeh as the chief scene of its devastations appears to have been of comparatively modern occurrence; for in none of the travels of the seventeenth century, from Chardin downward, and even later, have I found any mention of the insect when Mianeh has been alluded to or described. Its bite, which is dangerous, and alleged sometimes to be fatal to strangers, is foolishly said to have no effect upon the natives, although they occasionally guard against its possible consequences by a system of homeopathic inoculation, which consists in administering the insect itself to the new arrival, wrapped up in a piece of bread. The creature, of which slightly different types are found in different parts of Persia (e.g. Mazreh, Shahrud,


[page 43]

&c.), is but little larger than a European bug, but is of a dark grey colour with little red spots on its back.[29] A favourite prescription of the Persian practitioner, should any one have been bitten, is to make the patient drink off a bowl of sour milk, then to place him in a seat suspended by cords to the ceiling, and twisting these, to spin him round as they unwind until he is violently sick; by which heroic remedy the poison is supposed to be effectively expelled. Another remedy is to wrap the bitten part in the still warm skin of a newly killed bullock. It is only fair to add that there is a small class of persons who disbelieve absolutely in the prowess of the Mianeh bug. Dr. Cormick, who, like his father before him, spent many years of his life as a physician in Persia, always declared that the current tales were absurd fictions; and facetious travellers who have reposed at Mianeh with impunity have been known to style the insect a hum-bug. On the other hand, I know of persons who have suffered for months from the effects of the bite; and an infantry regiment, marching from Tabriz to Teheran in April 1891, had 130 men laid up in the hospital from this cause. In 1817 Kotzebue mentions two quite recent cases both of which were attended with fatal results.[30]

It only remains to notice Zinjan and Sultanieh. The former is a considerable town with over 20,000 inhabitants, and is the capital of the district of Khamseh. It was the original stronghold of the sect of the Babis; and here it was that in 1850, after the execution of the Bab at Tabriz, a great massacre took place of his fanatical adherents. Sultanieh is one of the deposed capitals of the past. Three centuries ago travellers expatiated upon its splendid palaces and mosques, and left illustrations of its external appearance and surroundings. War, earthquakes, the march of time and the caprice of royalty have combined to effect its degradation; and shrinking at the feet of the superb mausoleum of Sultan Khodabundeh, it is now only a shadow of its ancient self.[31]


[page 44]

These, then, are the two principal north-western and northern entries into Persia. There remain two subsidiary avenues of approach also on the north and from the Caspian, with Teheran as their objective; which, however, are little used because of the difficult country that requires to be traversed and the absence of any facilities for transport. The first of these is the route across the Elburz range from the landing-place of Meshed-i-Ser, on the south coast of the Caspian, between Resht and Astrabad, viâ Barfurush and Amol, to Teheran. Meshed-i-Ser (i.e. Tomb of the Head, from a tradition that Ibrahim, brother to the Imam Reza, was beheaded here), the only port of Mazanderan, is not a port any more than are other Persian claimants to the title. A river flows into the sea, forming, with the aid of the prevalent westerly gales, the familiar bar off its mouth; and the ships of the Caucasus and Mercury Co., which touch here after leaving Resht, are compelled to lie out in the offing. As regards mileage, this route is by far the shortest from the Caspian to Teheran, the distances being to Barfurush 15 miles, to Amol 38 miles, and viâ Demavend to Teheran 160 miles, or five days by caravan.[32] An ill-constructed line of-rail, of which I shall have occasion again to speak, has recently been laid down as a private speculation by a wealthy Persian from a neighbouring point on the coast to Amol, but has ended, as might be expected, in collapse. The landing-place, however, of Meshed-i-Ser and the route therefrom are both used to some extent by Russian merchandise for Mazanderan, and even for Teheran itself, and the road from Amol has been reconstructed by an Austrian engineer officer, General Gasteiger Khan, under instructions from the reigning Shah. But, in spite of their decided advantage in distance, they are scarcely qualified to compete with the Resht-Teheran line.

The second of these subsidiary routes is from the landing-place of Gez, in the extreme south-eastern recess of the Caspian, whence a junction can be made with the above-named road at


[page 45]

Barfurush;[33] or whence an independent line can be pursued to Astrabad (23 miles), and thence over terribly steep passes (65 miles), to Shahrud, where the main caravan and postal route is struck between Teheran and Khorasan. I shall require to deal so fully with all these places later on, that I will do no more at present than indicate this as a possible variation in entering the country.

Further to the east, the Transcaspian Railway, recently completed by Russia in her newly conquered regions north of the Persian border, and the road which she has constructed in correspondence therewith from Ashkabad, her administrative and military capital, to the boundary of Khorasan, and which is being continued on the other or Persian side to Kuchan and Meshed, has within the last two years supplied a new means of access to North-eastern Persia, which did not previously exist, or could not be pursued with safety. The fact that no description of this new road into Khorasan had yet been published, coupled with my own desire to see something of the border regions of that important province, and to visit its capital, Meshed, determined me to enter Persia, if possible, from this novel quarter. English officers serving at Meshed had more than once received permission to quit or to return to their posts by this route; and, having already travelled on the Transcaspian Railway in the preceding year, I indulged in hopes that the Russian Government would not be averse to renew the permission, which indeed there could be no valid ground for refusing. The courtesy of the Russian Ambassador in London, assisted by the kindly offices of the British Ambassador in St. Petersburg, happily effected this object, and the ensuing pages will contain a description of my journey, which I need not now anticipate.

Upon the eastern borders of Persia no English traveller is now very likely to think of entering the country. The intervention of Afghanistan between India and Persia in this quarter, and the merciless policy of exclusion pursued by the Amir, Abdur Rahman Khan, render it absolutely impossible for any Englishman to dream of approaching Persia from this side. In bygone centuries we read of many European voyagers


[page 46]

who passed from the Indian territories of the Great Mogul viâ Kandahar into Eastern Persia; and conversely, even in the first half of the present century, and down to as late a date as 1873, when Captain H. C. Marsh was the last to perform the through journey, there were several Englishmen, such as Captain Arthur Conolly (1830), Mr. Mitford (1840), and Sir Lewis Pelly (1860), who left Persia on the Afghan side and rode from Meshed, viâ Herat and Kandahar, into British Hindustan. But what these could do with impunity, although not unattended with danger, is forbidden to a later age, and the eastern flank of Persia and the countries beyond are accordingly a terra incognita, except to the privileged members of Boundary Commissions, or to those who have laboriously made their way hither from other and less known directions.

We thus come, in our circuit of the Persian border, to the southern coast-line, and to the ports of the Persian Gulf. I shall have occasion later on to describe the various trade routes which lead therefrom into the interior of the country, and I will refer any traveller who contemplates landing at Bunder Abbas to that chapter. The main trade routes starting from Bunder Abbas are those which proceed to Kerman and Yezd; but for such as contemplate a westerly march from Bunder Abbas to Shiraz I may say that, although that method of entering or leaving the country seems now to have been entirely abandoned, it was once — during the time when the Sefavi dynasty held their capital at Isfahan, and when first Ormuz and afterwards Gombrun were among the greatest marts in the East — the most travelled route in Persia, and has been minutely described by a succession of famous voyagers, culminating in Tavernier and Chardin.

It here concerns me rather to notice the main southern channel of entry, which I have in an earlier portion of this chapter indicated as second only in popular use to the Resht line — viz. that which starts from the Gulf at the landing-place (again I am loth to use the word port) of Bushire. This is the route that is taken by all visitors coming from India, by all English and Indian merchandise going as far north as Isfahan, and by some of that which feeds Teheran itself; and it has been more travelled in this century and is better known than any route in Persia. As I traversed it in the opposite direction, and shall


[page 47]

subsequently narrate my own experiences, I will only add here that it leads through the cities of Shiraz, Isfahan, Kashan, and Kum, to Teheran, a total distance of just 770 miles. The first 170 miles, between Bushire and Shiraz, must be covered by caravan, there being no postal road over the precipitous ladders of the southern mountains; but from Shiraz northwards the rider can clatter along as fast as spur, bridle, and horse-hoof can forward him.

The risks and désagréments of this route, which are not inconsiderable, are likely before long to be obviated by the creation of a new avenue of entry into Persia from a point some what further to the west upon the southern coast line. Just as the aggrandisement of Russia upon the north-eastern borders of Persia has resulted in the construction of the Ashkabad-Kuchan road, already alluded to, so the predominance of British influence in the south is likely to lead to the construction of a new road from the Karun River, viâ Ahwaz, Shushter, Dizful, Khorremabad, and Burujird, to Teheran. A concession has been procured by the Imperial Bank of Persia, for the authorised execution of this enterprise, which was commenced in the autumn of 1890; and, should it be successfully completed, we may find that the stream of future travel is largely diverted from the Bushire line to one that will possess the advantage of being shorter by 250 miles from the point of debarkation to the capital. More about this, too, will be said elsewhere. For the present the line thus sketched cannot be considered as practicable for travellers, nor be recommended to the stranger.

The circuit which has already brought my readers to the furthest extremity of the Persian Gulf, and to the outlet of the Tigris and Euphrates does not require to be greatly extended in order to land them at Baghdad, which, it may surprise many at home to hear, is one of the most interesting points of departure for the Persian frontier and interior. Not only is there a considerable movement of trade into and from Persia in this direction, but some of the most notable Persian cities and monuments of antiquity can be visited from this quarter, and, it may almost be said, from this alone. Let me first state, therefore, the various means of reaching Baghdad, and then briefly sketch, the route from thence across the Persian border.

Some years ago, when I was first contemplating a visit to


[page 48]

Baghdad, I experienced the greatest difficulty in obtaining any authentic information in England upon the rival methods of reaching that city. Owing to the peculiarity of its situation, no place that I know is accessible to a European from such a variety of quarters, or is at the same time so difficult and so easy of access, the facility being only purchased at the cost of a disproportionate expenditure of time.

Baghdad may be reached from the Black Sea by one of two routes: either from Trebizond, viâ Diarbekir, Mosul, and the Tigris,[34] or from Samsun, viâ Diarbekir and the Tigris. The latter is the route that is taken by the Turkish post to and from Constantinople; and letters conveyed by this route, at a speed which no ordinary traveller could emulate, have been delivered in Baghdad twenty-four days after leaving London.[35] Samsun is one of the ports on the Black Sea at which most of the steamers to and from Constantinople touch. In both the above cases the outward journey to Baghdad may at certain seasons of the year be expedited by raft upon the Tigris from Mosul, or even from Diarbekir to Baghdad. But both are journeys which only the hardy traveller should undertake.

Baghdad may be reached from the Mediterranean either from Alexandretta viâ Aleppo, or from Beirut viâ Damascus; and in each of these cases, after leaving Aleppo, and after leaving Damascus, a further choice is open to the traveller. The ordinary route from Alexandretta runs first to Aleppo, a distance of 4 stages;


[page 49]

thence to Deir on the Euphrates, 10 stages; thence to Hit on the Euphrates, 10 stages; and thence to Baghdad, 4 stages; total, 28 stages.[36] From Alexandretta to Aleppo the distance can be covered either by horse or carriage in two days. From the latter place horses must be hired to Baghdad; and according to the impedimenta carried by the traveller he will be able to complete this section of his journey in from fourteen to sixteen days. A longer route from Aleppo may also be pursued, viâ Diarbekir (11 stages) and Mosul (13 stages), whence it is 12 stages by land to Baghdad.[37]

From Damascus, which is connected by an excellent carriage road and daily diligence service (9 hours) with Beirut, the alternative routes are as follows: (1) viâ Tadmor or Palmyra and Deir, a total distance by ordinary camel of 20 days, by fast dromedary of 13 days, no other means of locomotion being possible, and the security being none of the best;[38] (2) viâ the old Desert or Dromedary Postal Route straight across the desert, a distance for the ordinary traveller of about 150 hours


[page 50]

(nominally = 450 miles) or 15 days, but which the postman covered in 10 days. For over forty years, from 1838 to 1881, the British Consulate at Baghdad, assisted at first by a subsidy from the Indian Government, kept up this mounted post, which was originally established in connection with the Euphrates Expedition and Flotilla,[39] but was ultimately killed by the competition of the Turkish Government, who started a rival post at international rates. The hardships and lack of real interest, as well as the occasional danger, by this route are so great that few, if any, adopt it, except such as are resolutely bent upon sacrificing comfort and risking safety.

Finally, there is the circuitous and comfortable method of reaching Baghdad, which consumes much time, but no tissue, proceeding entirely by water. The steamers of the British India Navigation Company run from Bombay (in correspondence with the P. & O. boats from Europe), viâ Kurrachi and the Persian Gulf to Busrah, where transhipment is easily effected into the excellent river-boats of the Euphrates and Tigris Steam Navigation Company, which in from three to four days, according to the state of the river, accomplish the ascent of the Tigris to Baghdad. The only drawback to this route is the length of time, over five weeks, that is consumed between London and our destination.

Having thus conducted the traveller, by any one of the above approaches to Baghdad, let me now show him how he will enter Persia from this quarter, and what he will see by so doing. From Baghdad to the Persian frontier, five miles beyond the Turkish station of Khanikin, the distance is ninety miles, the road running for the most part over a level desert, and the halting-places being as follows: — Beni Saad or Orta Khan (15 miles), Yakubieh (14), Shahrabad (26), Kizil Robat (18), Khanikin (17). There is no postal service; and the traveller, who must engage his baggage animals at Baghdad, halts in khans (the Turkish equivalent to caravanserais) and rest-houses. After passing through the custom-house on the Persian border he finds the following route extended before him: —


[page 51]

Name of Station

Distance

in

Farsakhs

Approximate

distance in

Miles

Name of Station

Distance

in

Farsakhs

Approximate

distance in

Miles

Khanikin * (1,000 ft.)

 

 

Hamadan *

6

25

Kasr-i-Shirin (1,700 ft.)

6

18

Mila Gird

7

25

Sarpul

5

18

Zerreh

4

16

Kerind * (5,250 ft.)

8

29

Nuvaran *

9

32

Harunabad

6

20

Shamiran

4

14

Mahidasbt

6

22

Khushkek

5

19

Kermanshah * (5,000 f t.)

4

14

Khanabad *

6

22

Bisitun

6

21

Robat Kerim

8

32

Sahneh

4

16

Teheran (3,800ft.)

7

28

Kangavar *

5

18

Total

112

412

Saidabad

6

23

* = Telegraph Stations.

The total distance between Baghdad and Teheran is thus 90 + 408 miles, or close upon 500 miles.[40] Between Kermanshah and Teheran there is a chapar service and chapar-khanehs; but between Khanikin and Kermanshah there is only one post station, Sarpul, where the mail changes horses. It is accordingly usual to caravan from Baghdad to Kermanshah.

This journey is one of threefold and exceptional interest. It crosses the mighty Zagros range between Khanikin and Kermanshah, the steepest part of the pass, known as the Teng-i-Girra, between Sarpul and Kerind, being fully comparable with the kotals of the Bushire-Shiraz line, and, in winter, being frequently impassable from snow. By this ascent the traveller is brought up from the level plains of Assyria and


[page 52]

Chaldaea to the great Iranian plateau, which he does not again quit until he leaves Persia. Secondly, he passes through the important and flourishing Persian cities of Kermanshah and Hamadan, for accounts of which I must refer my readers to Chapter XVI., and which are situated in exceedingly productive tracts of country. Lastly, at Bisitun and at Tak-i-Bostan (four miles from Kermanshah) he encounters some of the most celebrated remains of Persian antiquity; and in the rock carvings, sculptures, and inscriptions which look down upon him from the chiselled surface of the mountain-side, he both reads a tale of bygone splendour and observes the most important historical document, albeit in stone, next to the Damietta Stone, that has been discovered and deciphered in this century. Here again let me invite any inquisitive reader to read on.

I have now, at some expense of space, and at a greater expense of previous trouble than many would imagine, completed the tour of the Persian frontier, and have supplied to the intending voyager information which he will not find collected in any other volume, but which I have judged to be indispensable to a work that claims to be one of general reference upon the country with which it deals. I have shown how Persia can be approached from the north, south, east, and west, and have indicated the routes and the means of doing so. It remains only for me, before concluding this chapter, to furnish that information regarding outfit and equipment which is as necessary to a traveller in the East as is a ticket upon a European railway.

For the requisite equipment for caravan travelling in Persia I cannot do better than refer my readers to Appendix I. of the second volume of Sir C. MacGregor's 'Journey through Khorasan,' to cap. xiii. of the second volume of Mr. E. Stack's 'Six Months in Persia,' and to Appendix C of Dr. Wills's entertaining work, 'In the Land of the Lion and the Sun.' Few persons will commence caravanning in Persia who have not tried it elsewhere, and already formed their own conclusions as to the desiderata of camp life. The size of tents, the structure of beds, the irreducible minimum of furniture, the provision of ammunition, the extent of the camp, the canteen, are matters dependent partly upon the taste or purpose of the traveller, partly upon the fashion of the day; and any too definite instructions might easily be found superfluous or might soon become obsolete. The case, however, is different with the chapar rider, who probably leaves England without the slightest idea of what lies before him, and who may be saved great expense and annoyance by knowing


[page 53]

clearly beforehand what to take and what to leave behind, what to expect and what to avoid.

It is useless to take out the usual European paraphernalia of portmanteaux, hatboxes, and trunks. They will merely have to be discarded on the way, or left behind to follow at snail's pace after the owner — and be knocked to pieces in the process — by mule or camel caravan. The first rule to be observed is that every piece of baggage must be of such a size as can easily be suspended or strapped to one side of a galloping horse; the second, that, as far as possible, the several pieces must correspond in size and weight. The slightest inequality makes it very hard upon the horse, and necessitates constant stoppages to readjust the load. I took out to Persia two medium-sized Gladstone bags (measuring 22 inches in length by 14 inches in depth), and the agreement of other travellers with my own experience leads me to recommend them as by far the best. When you arrive in Persia you can buy in the bazaar of any Persian town, or get manufactured in a day, a pair of large native saddle-bags or khurjins. They are made of carpet and leather. Put your Gladstone bags, one into each side, and throw the whole over the back of your postboy's horse. The two sides will balance, and no trouble will ensue. As the postboy does not use a saddle, but merely sits straddlewise upon the top of whatever baggage may be strapped upon his animal, he can be further made to carry bundles of rugs, coats, and bedding to almost any extent. Your Persian servant, who must be engaged beforehand, and without whom it would be foolish to travel, can carry upon his horse a second pair of saddle-bags, in which can be stored any smaller bags or articles, the cooking apparatus, and his own kit. Finally, in the holsters and saddle-bags of your own mount you will carry the immediate necessaries of the journey — flask, money, pistol, requisites of the toilette, books, &c. In addition to my Gladstone bags, I took two stout brown canvas bags, which I found most useful. They would hold a great deal when filled; and yet, if not wanted, could be rolled up into a very narrow compass. It will be obvious that the lighter a horse's load the more quickly will the stage be accomplished.

As regards saddlery, the Persian saddle, which is small and high-peaked, is so unlike anything that an Englishman has ever been accustomed to ride upon that he will only suffer from making the experiment. He must take out a roomy English military saddle, with holsters and saddle-bags, and plenty of rings or staples fitted for straps, of which he will find that a good surplus supply will be invaluable. In one of my holsters I carried a flask that held over a quart bottle of spirits, and whose contents were ample for the requirements of a journey of many hundred miles. The traveller is sometimes so exhausted that he would be tempting Providence if he had not some


[page 54]

restorative at hand; and I commiserate the teetotaller who starts on a hard chapar ride through Persia. I took out an English snaffle and two-reined bridle, and used them nearly throughout. I do not, however, recommend the former, except on the score of mercy. It is utterly unlike the Persian bit, and a Persian horse does not understand it. If he is a crock it does not much matter, but if he is a mettled animal he runs away. It is better, on the whole, to employ the native bit, cruel though it be.[41] With the saddle must be taken a felt saddle-pad, as most of the chapar horses have sore backs; and humanity, if no other consideration, dictates the precaution. I had my stirrup-irons bound round with flannel, a useful preventive of the acute cold at night and in the early morning.

For riding I recommend a stout pair of breeches, not too tight at the knee, where the strain soon tells. I took a hint from Dr. Wills, and bought at Tiflis an invaluable pair of big Russian top boots, at least two sizes too large for me over the foot. They are easily pulled on and off, are very flexible, and, by reason of the loose fit, keep the feet warm. Anglo-Indian officers usually ride in puttis[42] and shoes; and some travellers prefer riding-trousers to breeches. A good pair of nailed shooting boots are a sine quâ non for the climbs over the rocky kotals and passes, which would very soon knock a hole in the soles of any lighter construction. Goloshes should also be taken for visits to the grandees, who are very particular about their carpets, and do not like muddy or dusty footprints upon them. Woollen socks and stockings are indispensable, as also is a pair of spurs. Flannel shirts will always be worn when riding, although linen shirts are essential for the critical coteries of Teheran. I found a Norfolk jacket with single collar buttoning round the neck, and plenty of pockets, the best dress for riding; and I shall ever be grateful for the advice that prompted me to take a worsted (Cardigan) waistcoat, which could be pulled on and off as the temperature demanded, and was a supreme consolation on a cold night. A black frock-coat must be taken, if visits are contemplated to royal personages, governors, or ministers. The Persians look upon a cut-away coat as grossly undignified; and


[page 55]

would appear to estimate rank by the extent to which the hinder part of the body is enveloped, if one may judge from the voluminous skirts that are worn by H.M. the Shah. On the other hand, they care nothing for head gear; and the Sovereign is the only man in the country for an interview with whom a tall hat is de rigueur. Stout riding-gloves are required; and I agree with MacGregor in recommending a double Terai hat. It cannot get smashed, like a helmet; it furnishes ample protection against any but a summer sun, and when you enter a city you strip off the outer shell, and appear as smart as if you have just stepped out of Bond Street. But of all the necessaries of outfit, commend me, after a long experience, to a suit of dress clothes. Were I setting out to-morrow either for Lhasa or for Timbuctoo, they should accompany me; for I am convinced that I should find them equally useful were I to meet in audience either the King of the Negroes or the Dalai Llama of Tibet. I remember having heard that Gordon started in a dress suit from Cairo for Khartum. For outer coverings, I recommend a covert-coat for everyday wear, a macintosh (if in the rainy season), and an ulster of the amplest and warmest type, the cold at nights being sometimes excruciatingly severe.

The Persian chapar-khanehs contain nothing in the least degree resembling a bed. If unprovided, the traveller will have to sleep on the mud floor. By far the best substitute to carry is a big canvas bag, some seven feet long by four feet broad, with an opening which can be buttoned up. At every village in Persia, chopped barley or kah is procurable. Stuffed with this, and stretched out on the floor, the canvas sack makes the most comfortable couch in the world. A quilt or resai can be purchased in any Persian bazaar; and some good rugs or blankets and a pillow must be brought from home. A waterproof sheet, to wrap round the bedding for transport in the daytime and to spread under it at night, is also useful. I took linen sheets with me; but I never once used them in a chapar-khaneh. The weather was always much too cold, and I was far too tired to admit of complete undressing at night. For purposes of ablution, a folding indiarubber bath and basin are an invaluable luxury; nor must towels be forgotten. The Persians do not wash in our sense of the term; and accordingly their provisions for such requirements are of the slenderest. As the room in the chapar-khanehs occupied by the traveller usually has doors on two, and sometimes on three sides, opening on to the outer air, and as these are always rickety and frequently non-existent, it is advisable to carry with one a couple of light curtains and nails, in order as far as possible to vanquish the inordinate draught.

The traveller who is riding hard will probably find that he eats very little, and that his needs in this respect are easily satisfied. In the villages on the road, or at the post-houses, he can always purchase


[page 56]

bread and eggs, and sometimes a venerable fowl. Milk is not everywhere procurable, as cows are not kept to any great extent; and I more often failed than succeeded in getting it. Goat's milk is on the whole more common than cow's milk. A frying-pan, a tea-kettle, and a teapot must be carried, and can be bought in any Persian bazaar. Japanned plates and drinking cups, egg cups, knives and forks, and a small Etna spirit lamp, should be brought from Europe (Baku). Tinned meats, soups, and biscuits can now be procured at European or Armenian shops in Teheran, Isfahan, and Shiraz; but it is a wise precaution to take them. Crosse and Blackwell's tinned soups are quite excellent, and, besides being easily prepared, are almost a meal in themselves. Soup in tablets or powders are good in their way and economise space, but require more trouble and time in cooking. Sardines, potted meats, chocolate or cocoa, Liebig's beef tea, and good tea or coffee, are useful adjuncts, which should be procured in Europe. Lump sugar can be bought in the humblest Persian village. I nearly always cooked my own dinner. Firewood is easily and cheaply purchased; a couple of bricks make a respectable fireplace; and, though there is frequently no exit for smoke but the door, the situation has compensations which you must have ridden eighty miles in the day to discover.

A small medicine chest or case should be carried; and the maladies against which the stranger must chiefly provide are fever, diarrhoea, and dysentery. Chlorodyne and quinine form the nucleus of any such medical outfit.

If the traveller be a sportsman he will of course accommodate his armament to whatever game he proposes to pursue. If he is merely voyaging along the recognised highways in order to see the country, I do not recommend him to carry gun and cartridges; as game cannot easily be got at without time and trouble, and as these implements will add greatly to the weight of his baggage. In the out-of-the-way parts there is a great deal of game, and a sportsman well provided with introductions and equipped for the purpose might make a successful expedition. Round Teheran all the best shooting is in the hands of the Shah; but I have no doubt that should any sportsman encounter one of the royal keepers while in pursuit of game, the present of a shilling to the latter would turn him into a willing and competent beater. There are tigers in the north, lions in the south and south-west; wild fowl and partridges everywhere; and on every mountain range are to be found wild deer, sheep, or goat, of some description, from the mouflon and the ibex to the gazelle. Wild bears are seen in the Elburz range, and wild boars along the southern rivers. The wayfarer who has no lethal intent usually and wisely carries a revolver. The mere knowledge that he is armed acts as a deterrent upon robbery


[page 57]

or brigandage. I used mine for no more sanguinary purpose than to fire at running partridges, and to put out of its misery a broken-legged and abandoned donkey.

Among minor articles which will be found serviceable, but upon whose particular use I need not dilate, are wax matches, folding candlesticks (candles are always procurable in the native bazaars), insect powder, vaseline (the skin is apt to get terribly chapped by the sharp contrasts of climate), blue spectacles to resist the glare, air cushions, a telescope, and last, but of supreme importance, the best map that money can procure. I hope I shall not be thought impertinent if I suggest that the gratification of the last-named want will involve the purchase of this book.

As regards the best season of the year for visiting Persia, there are two alternatives, the late autumn and the spring. The former is the period from October to January, the latter from March to May. Snow as a rule falls towards the end of December at Teheran (in Azerbaijan much earlier), and blocks the loftier passes, besides rendering travelling excessively cold. It begins to melt in March. The advantages of the spring season are the richness of the verdure, which the stranger sees at no other time, the songs of the birds and the blooming of the flowers, which alone render the national poetry intelligible, and, above all, the length of the days, which facilitates long marches. But these are purchased at the cost of considerable heat in the middle of the day, and of persecution by vermin at night. In the autumn and winter, on the other hand, the climate is invigorating and superb. I rode 1,000 miles without a drop of rain; and in a country famous for filth I did not fall a victim to a single flea. On the other hand, there was no verdure or beauty in the landscape; and as the winter drew on the days closed in, and it was piercingly cold at night. During the summer months outdoor movement is impossible during the daytime. Travellers sleep or repose; and all marching is done by light of the moon and stars.[43]


[Page 58]

previous chapter chapter 1 start page single page chapter 3 next chapter
Back to:   Books
Home Site Map Forum Links Copyright About Contact
 
.
. .