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Abstract:
In Moojan Momen's "The Bábí and Bahá'í Religions 1844-1944: Some Contemporary Western Accounts" (1981), p. 45, the work is described: "One of the most remarkable books ever to appear on Persia…", reviewed through p. 47 and used many times beyond.
Notes:
This book is also available as a nicely-formatted PDF (3.5MB; formatted by Bobbi Lyons).

This edition London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd., 1966.


Persia and the Persian Question, volume I

by George N. Curzon

London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1892
start page

All chapters

TO THE OFFICIALS, CIVIL AND MILITARY, IN INDIA
WHOSE HANDS UPHOLD
THE NOBLEST FABRIC YET REARED
BY THE GENIUS Of A CONQUERING NATION
I DEDICATE THIS WORK
THE UNWORTHY TRIBUTE OF THE PEN TO A CAUSE
WHICH BY JUSTICE OR WITH THE SWORD
IT IS THEIR HIGH MISSION TO DEFEND
BUT WHOSE ULTIMATE SAFEGUARD IS THE SPIRIT
OF THE BRITISH PEOPLE


CONTENTS OF THE FIRST VOLUME
click on chapter title to jump to that chapter

CHAPTER I: INTRODUCTORY

 

PAGE

Threefold object of this work — Meaning of the Persian question — Its relation to the Indian Empire — History and geography — Travel — Interest of Persian nationality — Drama of Persian history — Anglo-Persian connection — Fourfold division of journey — (1) Khorasan — Contiguous provinces — (2) Central provinces — Monuments of antiquity — (3) South-western Provinces — (4) The Persian Gulf — Changelessness of the East — Its abiding charm — Contrast between the East and West — Extreme in Persia — Intrinsic contradiction — The lies of life — Literature of travel — Division into periods — Eighteenth century — Nineteenth century — Order of merit

1

CHAPTER II: WAYS AND MEANS

Necessity of information — Situation of Persia — Scheme of chapter — I. Enzeli-Teheran route — Means of reaching Enzeli — Caspian steamers — Landing at Enzeli — The Murdab — Pir-i-Bazaar — Resht — Choice of means of progression — Chapar-riding — Caravanning — Cost of chapar-riding — Character of route — Resht to Kazvin — Kazvin — Carriage road to Teheran — Postal road — Caravan routes — Length of journey — II. Trebizond-Tabriz route — III. Tiflis-Tabriz route — Tabriz to Teheran — Places of note — The Mianeh bug — Zinjan and Sultanieh — IV. Meshed-i-Ser-Teheran route — V. Gez-Teheran route — VI. Ashkabad-Meshed route — VII. Afghan approaches — VIII. Persian Gulf — Bunder Abbas route — IX. Bushire-Teheran route — X. Mohammerah-Teheran route — XI. Baghdad-Teheran route — Means of reaching Baghdad — (1) Trebizond and Samsun routes — (2) Alexandretta-Aleppo route — (3) Damascus route — (4) Persian Gulf route — Baghdad to Teheran — Mountains, cities, and monuments — Summary — Caravan equipment — Chapar-riding — Baggage — Saddlery — Kit — Bedding — Food and cooking — Medicine — Arms and ammunition — Minor suggestions — Seasons for travelling

26

CHAPTER III: FROM LONDON TO ASHKABAD

Journey from Paris to Constantinople — Professor Vambéry — Tank-steamers on the Black Sea — Town and population of Batum — Daily life — Petroleum industry — Russian Custom-house — Trade and harbour — Russian military dispositions — Railway from Batum to Tiflis — Suram Tunnel works — Tiflis — Hôtel de Londres — Departure from Tiflis — Baku — Across the Caspian — General Annenkoff — Native passengers — The Desert

58

CHAPTER IV: TRANSCASPIA

Latest information — Steam communication on the Caspian — Change of terminus to Krasnovodsk — Further improvements — Workshop at Kizil Arvat — Stations, culverts, and bridges — Oxus flotilla — Merv irrigation and the Sultan Bund — Rolling stock — The telegraph — Speed and service — Balance-sheet — Goods traffic — Organisation of Customs — Great commercial future — Facilities for English travellers — Extensions of the Transcaspian Railway — Parallel European extensions — Russian morale in Transcaspia — Administrative changes — Independence of Transcaspia — General Kuropatkin — Russian consolidation in Central Asia — The future

70

CHAPTER V: FROM ASHKABAD TO KUCHAN

Arrival at Ashkabad — Start for the frontier — History of the Ashkabad-Kuchan road — Russian section — The Border Mountains — Projected railroad — Persian section of the road — Durbadam and Imam Kuli — Zobaran to Kuchan — Reception on arrival — Hospitality of the Khan — General description — Plantation and power of the Kurds — Their character — Authority of the Ilkhani — Ruling family — The present Ilkhani — His son — His reputation — Two interviews — Appearance of Amir Husein Khan — Conversation — Question and answer — Gift to the Khan — Dinner from the Khan's kitchen — Town of Kuchan — Buildings — Native bazaars — The Kuchan principality

86

CHAPTER VI: FROM KUCHAN TO KELAT-I-NADIRI

Intention of visiting Kelat-i-Nadiri — The victoria of the Ilkhani — Kuchan to Chamgir — Primitive threshing — Camp life — My retinue — Tower of Radkan — March to Pushtah — March to Bolghor — The guide beaten — Bolghor to Vardeh — Bagkhan — Mountain defiles — Ab-i-garm — Possibility of entering Kelat — Approach thereto — The gate of Argawan Shah — Entrance detected — Colloquy with the guard — Attitude of the serbaz — Answer of the Khan — Persian tactics — Abiit, excessit, evasit, erupit! — Report at Meshed — Attempt to climb the wall — Bird's-eye view of the circumference — History of Kelat — Fortification by Nadir Shah — Basil Batatzes — Later history — Persian sovereignty — Military value of Kelat — Its five gates — Population — Remains of antiquity — Cultivation and water-supply — Return march to Vardeh — On to Kardeh — Road to Meshed — Scenery of North-eastern Khorasan — Animal and human life — Physical peculiarities — Approach to Meshed — Accident to the cavalcade — Tomb of Khojah Rabi — Entrance to Meshed

113

CHAPTER VII: MESHED

Previous chroniclers of Meshed — History — Size and plan of the city — The Khiaban — Remainder of the city — Cemeteries — Health of Meshed — Wind-towers and guard-houses — The sacred buildings — (1) The Bast — (2) The Sahn — (3) Mosque of Imam Reza — The Prophet's Tomb — Other tombs — Europeans who have seen the shrine — (4) Mosque of Gowher Shad — Other buildings in the Bast — Library of the Imam — Revenues of the shrine — Population of Meshed — Government of the shrine — Extent of the quadrilateral — Prostitution — Tomb of Nadir Shah — Jews in Meshed — Public buildings — Manufactures — Wages and prices — Banks and Money-lending — Visit to the Governor-General — The Ark — Conversation with the Rukn-ed-Dowleh — Garrison — Foreign Consuls in Meshed — Appointment of M. Vlassof — Russian Consulate — British Consulate — Staff and appointments — Consular business — Tus — Telegraphs — Attitude towards foreigners

148

CHAPTER VIII: POLITICS AND COMMERCE OF KHORASAN

Design of chapter — Province of Khorasan — Natural features — Rivers and cultivation — Population — History — Revenue — Division of the spoil — Government — Origin of the Khorasan Question — Astrabad province — The Russians at Ashurada — Nature of the island — New island — Change of quarters desirable — History repeats itself — Peter the Great — Agha Mohammed Khan — Reasons of Russian activity — The Astrabad-Shahrud position — Persian and Russian Turkomans — Rebellion of the Persian Yomuts — Weakness of the Central Government — Bujnurd — Kuchan — Deregez — Attitude towards Russia — Kelat-i-Nadiri — Russian aspirations — Russo-Persian frontier — The Tejend — The two Sarakhs — Capture by Abbas Mirza — New Sarakhs — Reoccupation of old Sarakhs by the Russians — Strategical value — Eastern frontier — Meshed district — Districts of Jam, Bakharz and Khaf — Kain — Population and capital — Seistan — Russian propaganda — Influence of the Transcaspian Railway — Interior districts — Tabbas — Turshiz — Turbat-i-Haideri — Nishapur and Sebzewar — Shahrud-Bostam — Total military strength of Khorasan — Commerce in Khorasan — Former British trade with Meshed — Later conditions — Apparent Russian ascendency — Persian figures — My information in Meshed — Report of the British Consulate — Values of British and Russian imports — Anglo-Indian trade routes — Import duties — Russian trade routes — Custom duties — Largest items — (1) Anglo-Indian — (2) British — (3) Russian — Exports (1) to Russia — Growth of Russo-Persian trade — (2) To India — Perso-Afghan trade — Grand total — Steps to be taken by Great Britain — Russian covetousness of Khorasan — Contrast to Transcaspia — A pied â terre against India — British interests in Khorasan — Persian loyalty — Russian prestige — Feeling towards England

177

CHAPTER IX: THE SEISTAN QUESTION

Eastern frontier f Persia — (1) Zulfikar to Seistan — (2) Seistan — (3) Perso-Beluch boundary — (4) Mekran boundary — District of Seistan — Derivation of the name — Its application — Present condition — Protean transformations — Legendary history — Early history — Later history — Sir F. Goldsmid's Commission in 1872 — Partition of Seistan — Independent opinion — Present administration — European travellers — Political value of Seistan — Value to Russia — Value to Great Britain — Strategical importance — Engineering facilities — Nushki-Seistan line — Future of Afghanistan — Military criticism — Hostile opinion — Sir H. Rawlinson — Favourable opinions of natural fertility — A link in a larger chain

223

CHAPTER X: FROM MESHED TO TEHERAN

Postal route between Meshed and Teheran — Speed of locomotion — Cost of journey — Minister of Posts — Pros and cons of the chapar — The chapar-khaneh — The bala-khaneh — The Persian post-horse — Its humours — General character of road — Its lessons — Table of stations and distances — Alternative line — Departure from Meshed — The piety of pilgrims — Sherifabad — Corpse-caravans — Kadamgah — Plain of Nishapur — City of Nishapur — Its history and fame — Its destructions — Tomb of Omar el Khayam — Roads — Turquoise mines — History of working — Financial return — Purchase of stones — Deception — Zafarani — Sebzewar — Minaret of Khosrugird — Its history — Mihr and Mazinan — Pilgrim kafilahs — Others — Caravanserais — Camels by night — The poetry of contrast — Turkoman forays — Military escort — Perils and panic of the pilgrims — Tales of capture — Service of the Russians — Pul-i-Abrishum — Abbasabad — Miandasht — Dahaneh-i-Zaidar — Armian — Shahrud — bazaars — Bostam — Deputation from the Governor — Second section of journey — Deserted cities — Damghan — History — Dowletabad — Tumuli — Ahuan — Semnan — Lasgird — Road to Kishlak — The Caspian Gates — The Sirdara Pass — Hostile considerations — The real gates — Demavend — Aiwan-i-Kaif — Teheran

245

CHAPTER XI: TEHERAN

An old and a new city — Ancient testimony — Teheran under Shah Abbas — Later vicissitudes — Made his capital by Agha Mohammed Shah — Its then extent — Its appearance — Old British Mission — New Teheran — The interior — The Tup Meidan — Other medians — Nakkara-Khaneh — British Legation — The Ark — The Palace — Takht-i-Marmor — The Museum — Crown jewels — The alleged Peacock Throne — Testimony of Bernier — What history says — Deposition of the usurper — Oriental taste — The Gulistan — Royal Levée — The Shah — Shems-el-Imaret — Takieh — The remainder — Mosques — Bazaars — Street life — Population — European element — Foreign Legations — Advantages and disadvantages as capital — Political merits — Racecourse — Negaristan — Bath-room — Kasr-i-Kajar — Other palaces — Doshan-Tepe — British Legation at Gulahek — Demavend — Southern environs — Ruins of Rhey — Ancient Rhages — Its ruins — Tower of Yezid — Rock sculptures — Veramin

300

CHAPTER XII: THE NORTHERN PROVINCES

Mazanderan and Gilan — Astrabad province — History of the city — Present appearance — Shah Abbas' causeway — Population of Astrabad — Local industries — Peasant life — Maritime provinces — (1) Sea-coast — (2) Jungle and arable — (3) Forest belt — Towns and cultivation — (4) Bare mountains — Population — Dress — Influence of the Caspian of climate — Produce — History of silk trade — Table of produce and value — History of decline — Present area of production — Mode of cultivation — Other resources — Revenue — History — Russian invasion — Later history — Palaces of Abbas the Great — Ashraf — Ferahabad — Cities of Mazanderan — Sari — Barfurush — Meshed-i-Ser — Amol — Railway to the sea — New road to Teheran — Towns of Gilan — Resht — Possible improvements — Russian designs upon Gilan and Mazanderan — Perils of the climate — Perils of the country

354

CHAPTER XIII: THE SHAH — ROYAL FAMILY — MINISTERS

The personal element in Persian government — The Kajar Dynasty — Nasr-ed-Din Shah — His appearance — Health and habits — Intellectual attainments — Tastes and caprices — Sense of humour — Fancy for animals — The Shah as ruler — Atmosphere of flattery — Cruelty or humanity — His European journeys — Comparison with previous reigns — Comparison between 1848 and 1891 — Audience with the Shah — Harem of the Shah — The Kajars as progenitors — Family of the Shah — His sons — Succession to the throne — Muzaffer-ed-Din, the Vali-Ahd — His character — The Zil-es-Sultan — Fallacious predictions — Interview with the Prince — His appearance and conversation — The Naib-es-Sultaneh — Rest of the Royal Family — Brothers of the Shah — Council of State — Scheme of its functions — Present condition — Ministers of State — The Amin-es-Sultan — The Amin-ed-Dowleh — The Kawam-ed-Dowleh — Yahia Khan, Mushir-ed-Dowleh — Other ministers — The Amir-i-Nizam — The Sahib Diwan — Council of Five

391

CHAPTER XIV: THE GOVERNMENT

An absolute monarchy — Modern pretensions — Real curtailment of prerogative — Effective restraints — Administrative hierarchy — Modifications of royal power — Administrative divisions — System of purchase and of presents — Mudakhil — Practical illustrations — Effect on the peasantry — Reasons of popular acquiescence — Meagreness of official salaries — Duration in office — Pishkesh or gifts — The Royal khelat — Extraordinary pishkesh — Corrupt administration — Neglect of public works — Hosts of retainers — Bureaucracy — Salaries and titles — Twofold division of Law — Shar or Ecclesiastical Law — Abridgment of authority — Urf or Common Law — Civil cases and arbitration — Pains and penalties — Prisons — Defects and abuses of the system — Attempts at reform — Royal Proclamation of Freedom of Life and Property — Proposed codification of the law — Effect on national character

433

CHAPTER XV: INSTITUTIONS AND REFORMS

Ambiguous panorama — Petition-boxes — Scheme of chapter — Letter-post — Electric Telegraph — Newspapers — Their history, past and present — French papers — The coinage — Government Mint — Modern currency — Circulation of gold — Need of European banks — New Oriental Bank — Imperial Bank of Persia — Terms of concession — Opening of premises — Monopoly of bank-notes — Ancient experiment of the Mongol — Modern opinion — Notes of the Imperial Bank — First year of existence — The Reuter Concession of 1872 — Its rescission — Reasons of failure — Concession-mongers — Recent schemes — Roads in the East — Need in Persia — Existing carriage-roads — Minor roads — Chapar routes — Pack-roads — New Teheran-Shuster road — Projected roads — Road-making policy — Messrs. Andreas and Stolze — Persian education — Primary schools — Secondary education — Royal College at Teheran — Management and discipline — Provincial colleges — Limited scope — Religious questions — The Babi movement — Later developments — Modern proselytism — Persecution — Heroism — Not a political movement — Religious tenets — Observances — Future of Babism — Persia as a field for Christian Missions — History of Christianity — Religious liberty in Persia — Source of hostility — Practical results — The strength of Islám — The Jews in Persia — Backward condition — Disabilities and persecution — Summary

464

CHAPTER XVI: THE NORTH-WEST AND WESTERN PROVINCES

Peculiar political interest of Azerbaijan — Mountain system — Climate — Population — Revenue and expenditure — Tabriz — Earthquakes — Early history — Commercial importance — Capture by the Russians — Recent figures — The Blue Mosque and Citadel — European quarter — Government — Loyalty to the Crown — Russian views — Trade of Azerbaijan — Russian protection — Latest statistics — Export trade — Present and future — Azerbaijan troops — Drill and armament — Garrisons of Azerbaijan — Telegraphs — Ardebil — Daria-i-Shahi, or Lake of Urumiah — Navigation — Marble pits — Maragha — Urumiah — Origin of the Nestorians — Ecclesiastical organisation — The Mar Shimun — His authority — Creed and ritual — Missionary enterprise — (1) American Presbyterians — (2) French Catholics — (3) Swiss Protestants — (4) Anglican Mission — Results of Missions — Numbers and appearance of Persian Nestorians — Disabilities and hardships — Taxation — Armenians — Kurdistan — Origin and history of the Kurds — Religion and language — Occupation and character — Rebellion of Sheikh Obeidullah — Number of Persian Kurds — (1) Frontier tribes — (2) Kurdistan proper — (3) Kurds of Kermanshah — Products — Kermanshah — Vekil-ed-Dowleh — Tak-i-Bostan — Sculptures of the Sassanian kings — Panels of the chase — Behistun — Sculptures of Darius — Nature of the engravings — Ganjnameh tablets — Hamadan — Ancient Ecbatana — Turco-Persian frontier

514

CHAPTER XVII: THE ARMY

History of the Persian army — The brothers Sherley — Decline under the later Sefavi kings — The army of Nadir Shah — Fath Ali Shah — Army of Abbas Mírzá — (1) French officers — (2) British officers — Strength of the Persian army — Effects of the European system — (3) Period of decline — (4) English officers — Army of Mohammed Shah — Failure and withdrawal of the English contingent — (5) French officers — (6) Italians, Hungarians, Austrians, and French — (7) Renewed demands for English officers — (8) Austrian officers — (9) Russian officers — Surviving foreign element — Modern army — Numerical strength — (1) The Army List — (2) Nominal strength — (3) Effective strength — (4) Number embodied — Irregular cavalry — Semi-regular cavalry — (1) Isfahan regiment — (2) Cossack regiments — Regular infantry — Pay and rations — Uniforms — Army reform — Territorial distribution — Artillery — Guns — Arms and ammunition — The Arsenal — The Persian soldier and his arms — Camel artillery — Austrian corps — Cost of the army — Persian officers — Royal College — Naib's College — Military hospital — The rank and file — Parade of the Teheran garrison — Regiments on the march — Military administration — Qualities of the Persian recruit — Chance of reform — Future of the Persian army

571

CHAPTER XVIII: RAILWAYS

Professed interest in railways — Physical obstacles — The Reuter Concession, 1872 — Falckenhagen Concession, 1874-5 — Alléon Concession, 1878 — American and English Concessions — Boital Concessions, 1882 — Shah Abdul Azim Railway — Its success or failure — Teheran tramway — New lines — Mahmudabad-Amol Railway — Further concessions — Summary of impediments — Dearth of native material — Russian antagonism — Railway prohibition — Further extension — Ineptitude of Russian policy — Possible lines of rail in Persia: (1) Tiflis-Tabriz-Teheran — (2) Baku-Lenkoran-Resht-Teheran — (3) Meshed-i-Ser-Teheran — (4) Gurgan Valley — (5) Ashkabad-Kuchan-Meshed — (6) Dushak-Sarakhs-Meshed — (7) Teheran-Meshed — (8) Seistan Railway — (9) Trans-Persian line — (10) Bushire-Teheran — (11) Mohammerah-Burujird-Teheran — (12) Baghdad-Teheran — Indo-Mediteranean Railways — Euphrates Valley — Objections to the scheme — Physical — Political — Military — Economic — Summary — Schemes of Persian railroad continuation — Shushter-Shiraz-Bunder-Abbas — True line of Central Persian communication — Asia Minor Trunk Railway — Egytpo-Arabian line — Conclusion

613


PREFACE

This book, which is the result of three years' almost uninterrupted labour, of a journey of six months' duration to the country concerned, as well as of previous travel in adjacent regions, and of communications maintained ever since with the most qualified resident authorities in Persia, is issued in the not, I hope, vainglorious hope that, until superseded by a better, it may be regarded as the standard work in the English language on the subject to which it refers. When I went out to Persia in the autumn of 1889 as correspondent to the 'Times,' my immediate object was to furnish to that paper, in a series of communications, necessarily limited in number and length, a résumé of the political situation in the Shah's dominions.[1] At the same time I profited by the opportunity to collect a great deal of additional information, which it was not of my power to utilise upon that occasion, and to fill many gaps of which earlier study had revealed the existence in the contemporary knowledge of Iran. It is the information thus amassed, and since supplemented by continuous investigation and correspondence, that forms the material of these volumes.

As I advanced further into the examination of my subject, I very soon realised how inadequate were our existing sources of knowledge about Persia. Though excellent, and in some cases monumental works upon the country had been published in the first quarter, and even as late as the middle of the present century, there had not since the latter date appeared a single comprehensive work upon the country as a whole. Individual writers had selected and had, in some cases, adorned different branches of the subject with productions of a strictly circumscribed character. But even in their compositions I was habitually confronted by the refusal to describe this or that locality, or to discuss this or that question, on the ground that it had been so exhaustively done by earlier writers — a reluctance which, as I pushed my studies ever further and further back, and either never found the masterpiece in question (because it had never existed), or found it already rendered quite obsolete by the archaeological discoveries or the political events of a later time, I ended by ascribing as frequently to indolence as to an honourable respect for the labours of predecessors. So scattered, indeed, did all correct information about the country prove to be, that a traveller, meditating the proper literary equipment for at all an extensive journey in Persia, would almost require a separate baggage-animal to carry the library of indispensable tomes. In proportion, therefore, as I advanced, so did the horizon of my task expand before me, until I realised that there was genuine and imperative need for a compendious work dealing with every aspect of public life in Persia, with its inhabitants, provinces, cities, lines of communication, antiquities, government, institutions, resources, trade, finance, policy, and present and future development — in a word, with all that has made or continues to make it a nation.

Having accepted this responsibility, I have endeavoured to atone for a lack of personal fitness, which I shall be the first to acknowledge, as well as for the blanks left in my own travels, by such diligence of study or of inquiry as the reading of books, or the reference to competent authorities, has permitted. Of the works, between 200 and 300 in number, which have been written in European languages on Persia during the last five centuries, I have either read or have referred to nearly every one myself; and I can truthfully say that, among the many hundred references in these volumes, there is hardly one that is not an honest reference, i.e. the result of my own independent reading, instead of copied secondhand from any other work. To such of my readers as may smile at this exertion, I would reply in the words of Voltaire, 'Remember what books I have read, in order to save you the trouble of reading them, and be thankful;' and to such as express surprise I would rejoin that without such application neither could I have ascertained what other travellers or writers have said or done, or, still more, have left unsaid or undone; nor should I have had it in my power to fill so many of the considered lacunae of history, which the ordinary historian, bent upon big effects, is apt to pass over; nor would my picture have presented the unity of design with which I aspired to invent it.

For although the primary object of this work may be described as political, there will yet be found a good deal of History in its pages; whether I narrate the earlier records of important provinces, tribes, and cities, or whether I endeavour to trace the steps by which Persia has passed, and is still passing, from barbarism to civilisation, as she exchanges the slow beat of the Oriental pendulum for the whirr of western wheels; or whether I pick up the floating threads which, when woven into a single strand, will exhibit a connection between Europe, and especially between Great Britain, and Persia, extending over three centuries, and equally emphatic in the departments of international intercourse and of trade.

Similarly, in the domain of Archeology I have not forgotten that, while Persia is primarily the battle-ground of diplomatists and the market of tradesmen, it also contains antiquarian remains in great number that have employed the pens, and still engage the intellects, of famous scholars. Their labours have equipped me for a task upon which I have not perfunctorily entered, and in which the enthusiasm of the student may meet with a serviceable ally in the testimony of the eye-witness. To the professor, therefore, as well as to the politician and the student, I make my appeal.

To the question of Topography I have devoted an attention which a better-known country would scarcely have claimed. There are few places of importance in Persia which are not either described or referred to in these volumes, whose index may to some extent answer the purpose of a condensed Gazetteer. Finally, I hope that the Map, which has cost me a year's anxious labour and supervision, may be regarded as a decisive advance upon any previous publication. Its original execution by the skilful hand of Mr. W. J. Turner, and its appearance here, I owe to the liberal-minded generosity of the Royal Geographical Society, who undertook and placed in my hands the responsibility for its production. For notes as to the authorities from which it has been compiled, and the principles which have been observed in its construction, I will refer to the memorandum which I wrote to accompany its first appearance in the Proceedings of the Society for February 1892. Here I will only say that there is barely a name on the surface the identification and the spelling of which I have not personally supervised. It doubtless contains many errors; but these, I would fain hope, are the result, not of carelessness, but of data as yet in many parts imperfect. The smaller maps have been specially drawn for this work, under my instructions, by Mr. Sharbau, Cartographer to the Royal Geographical Society, whose elegant and accurate workmanship none can fail to admire.

If, in the handling of these, or, still more, of the political and general branches of my subject, about which I shall have something to say in an introductory chapter, my readers, comparing this book with similar ones on Western countries, find conspicuous defects of treatment or information, may I beg of them to remember that in the East there are no official sources of knowledge accessible to the public, no blue books, no statistics scientifically compiled, no census, no newspapers, no periodicals — none of that magnificent paraphernalia of which it is still doubtful whether it adds to the sum of human happiness or is the parent of intellectual confusion. Figures and facts — which are, in their very essence, an insult to the oriental imagination — are only arrived at in Persia after long and patient inquiry and by careful collation of the results of a great number of independent investigations; and I can truly say that single lines in this book have sometimes cost me hours of work and pages of correspondence.

Among the special features which I have incorporated, the following may be mentioned. At the end of such chapters as relate to a particular province or part of the country, I have compiled a list of the principal routes in the neighbourhood that have been followed and described by previous writers. In a country without railways or a Bradshaw, a new comer, if he diverge from the beaten track, is likely to be quite unconscious whether his route has been traversed before, or whether he is upon virgin ground. If the former, I present him with the means of comparison; if the latter, I acquaint him with the responsibilities of discovery. I had originally hoped to append to my second volume a bibliography of Persian Geography and Travel; but to such dimensions has my list of titles swollen that I must reserve it for a separate publication. Instead I have affixed to the discussion of each locality or subject as complete a catalogue as my reading has furnished, of the works relating thereto in European tongues. Many tables, pedigrees, and catalogues that have never previously been published are also included in the text.

For the political opinions expressed therein I desire to claim the sole responsibility. They have not been derived from, and are very likely not shared in their entirety by, the British Legation at Teheran. Still less have they been borrowed from any of the friends whose services I shall presently acknowledge. If they are ever found to be unpalatable to the admirers of Persia, they have certainly not been arrived at in any spirit of unfriendliness to that nation whose best interests I desire to serve, nor are they uttered without a profound conviction in every instance that they are true. The proportion of the whole truth that ought to be told in the domain of statecraft is a question open to dispute. But at least let me side with those who abhor the diplomatic lie. Finally, let me add that the whole of these two volumes, with the exception of the chapter on Persepolis, was already in print when I became officially connected with the India Office; and that the views expressed are therefore, in every case, those of a private individual only, and have been formed in entire independence of official authority or inspiration.

As regards orthography, I have endeavoured to strike a mean between popular usage and academic precision, preferring to incur the charge of looseness to that of pedantry. The transliteration of Persian or Arabic names into a language which is deficient in the symbols that represent some of their sounds is intrinsically difficult, and is complicated in this case by the Indian pronunciation of Persian names, with which Englishmen are more apt to be familiar, but which is not that encountered in Persia itself. In many cases I have bowed to convention, which after a time constitutes a law, spelling Bushire rather than Abu Shehr, and Meshed rather than Mashhad. Elsewhere I have endeavoured to combine approximate accuracy with as faithful a reproduction as possible of the sound of the native pronunciation. If I have sometimes been betrayed into inconsistencies, they are such as it is almost impossible to escape.

Should these volumes in any degree correspond to the fond ideal of the writer, it will only be because of the lavish assistance of which I have been the fortunate recipient. Neither my journey nor my studies would have availed for this object had they not been reinforced by the ready co-operation of every authority upon the subject to whom I have appealed, and more especially by a flood of information, extending to the very date of issue, which has reached me from correspondents in Persia itself. Neither could I have published these pages with any real confidence in their accuracy had they not, in the order of their composition, been despatched to Teheran for revision by more competent hands than my own, as well as been submitted, in many cases, to the judgment of equally eminent authorities at home.

Of these coadjutors the first, alike in authority, and in the extent of his assistance, has been General A. Houtum-Schindler, a gentleman who, after filling many important posts in the Persian Service, is now acting as adviser to the Imperial Bank of Persia in Teheran. To the advantage of long residence in the country he adds the erudition of a scholar and the zeal of a pioneer. He has personally revised nearly every page of these volumes, besides supplying me with much of my original information; and I tremble to think how many errors they might have contained but for his generous and never-failing co-operation. Few men so excellently qualified to write a first-rate book themselves would have lent such unselfish exertion to improve the quality of another man's work. Among others who have helped me in Persia itself I must mention the names of Mr. J. R. Preece, now British Consul at Isfahan; Mr. J. J. Fahie, Assistant Superintendent of the Indo-European Telegraph at Shiraz; my various hosts of 1889-90, and others to whom my gratitude is not the less profound that they prefer the omission of their names from this acknowledgement. In England, Sir F. Goldsmid has graciously given the benefit of his revision to the chapters relating to Seistan and the South-East provinces, upon which he is our chief authority, besides helping me in other matters. Colonel Sir E. C. Ross, recently British Resident at Bushire, has lent a similarly generous testamur to the chapters dealing with South Persia and the Gulf; and Colonel Stewart, our capable Consul-General at Tabriz, to the majority of the chapters relating to the North of the country. Mr. Cecil Smith, of the British Museum, has kindly read the accounts of Pasargadae and Persepolis, which places he has himself visited. Finally, I have profited, in more respects than I can name, by the scholarly and experienced counsel of Sir Alfred Lyall.

The photographs that adorn the text were either taken by myself or by Persian students of the Royal College at Teheran, or by personal friends, among whom I may mention Major Sawyer and Mr. Herbert Weld-Blundell. A few engravings have been reproduced by the courteous permission of the Librairie Hachette of Paris.

So wide a scheme, I am well aware, cannot have been carried out, even under the favourable conditions above described, without the commission of some blunders or mistakes. The sincerest compliment that a reader who detects any such can pay me, will be to amend a future edition, if ever called for, by an assistance for which I shall be truly thankful. I have already alluded to a supplementary volume. This I hope to bring out in the course of the present year. It will contain a Bibliography of Persian History, Geography, and Travel, Chronological and Topographical Tables, copies of Treaties and Conventions, lists of Dynasties, tables of Weights, Measures, and Coinage, and a good deal of additional or statistical information which I have collected while preparing these pages. It will be a work appealing to the student rather than to the general reader; but I hope that some of the latter class also will do me the favour of adding it to their libraries.

In conclusion I cannot desire a better fortune for this my second and more ambitious work, than a repetition of the indulgent acclaim that was accorded, more than two years ago, to the humbler credentials of my first.

GEORGE N. CURZON

1892


LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS

   

PAGE

THE ILKHANI OF KUCHAN To face

104

CARAVANSERAI AND KAJAVEHS

272

PANORAMA OF TEHERAN

304

DOWLET GATE

306

SHEMS-EL-IMARET

326

PAINTING OF FATH ALI SHAH AND SONS

338

MOUNT DEMAVEND

344

H.M. NASR-ED-DIN SHAH

394

THE VALI-AHD

416

PALACE OF THE ZIL-ES-SULTAN AT TEHERAN

420

THE BLUE MOSQUE AT TABRIZ

520

PANEL OF THE CHASE

562

ROCKS OF BISITUN

564

CADETS OF MILITARY ACADEMY AT TEHERAN

606

ILLUSTRATIONS IN TEXT

PERSIAN BAJ GIRHA

 

89

GUEST-HOUSE AT KUCHAN

 

96

NOBAD GELDI

 

118

THE TURKOMAN'S CHARGER

 

119

GATE OF ARGAWAN SHAH

 

128

BIRD'S-EYE VIEW OF KELAT-I-NADIRI

 

134

TEMPORARY BRITISH CONSULATE AT MESHED

 

172

A PERSIAN POST-HOUSE

 

250

A PERSIAN POST-MASTER

 

251

MINARET OF KHOSRUGIRD

 

270

ICE-HOUSE AT MAZINAN

 

271

THE BRIDGE OF SILK

 

279

DRUM TOWER AND CANNON OF PEARLS

 

309

THRONE OF FATH ALI SHAH

 

319

PALACE OF ESHRETABAD

 

341

ENTRANCE TO MOSQUE OF SHAH ABDUL AZIM

 

346

RUINED TOWER AT RHEY

 

351

THE ZIL-ES-SULTAN

 

420

THE NAIB-ES-SULTANEH

 

421

THE AMIN-ES-SULTAN

 

427

PRISON AT TEHERAN

 

458

THE MAR SHIMUN

 

539

TAK-I-BOSTAN

 

561

CAVALRY OF THE ZIL-ES-SULTAN

 

592

INFANTRY OF THE ZIL-ES-SULTAN

 

597

MAPS

NORTH-EAST KHORASAN To face

86

WEST KHORASAN

245

THE NORTHERN PROVINCES

354


[page 1]


Chapter 1

INTRODUCTORY

The things to be seen and observed are the courts of princes, especially when they give audience to ambassadors; the courts of justice, while they sit and hear causes; and so of consistories ecclesiastic; the churches and monasteries, with the monuments which are therein extant; the walls and fortifications of cities and towns; and so the havens and harbours, antiquities and ruins, libraries, colleges, disputations and lectures, where any are; shipping and navies; houses and gardens of state and pleasure near great cities; armouries, arsenals, magazines, exchanges, burses, warehouses, exercises of horsemanship, fencing, training of soldiers, and the like; comedies such whereunto the better sort of persons do resort; treasuries of jewels and robes; cabinets and rarities; and, to conclude, whatsoever is memorable.

— BACON, Essay xviii. on 'Travel'

IN this introductory chapter, before proceeding to my narrative, I wish to make clear to my readers the threefold object of which I have in view. Perhaps I shall best explain to them the primary aim of this work if I quote the opening words of my first letter from Persia to the 'Times:' —

The visit of the Shah of Persia to England in 1889 and the official and public reception accorded to him throughout the country have reawakened that interest in Persia and the Persian question which the remoteness of his dominions and the increasing indifference of the English public to interests lying outside their immediate ken had allowed in recent years to languish. The attentions paid to the distinguished visitor by all ranks, from the Sovereign downwards, and the efforts made to impress him both with the resources and with the friendly consideration of Great Britain, were evidences that the Shah was regarded as much more than an interesting Oriental potentate afflicted with a taste for foreign travel, and deserving to be run after


[page 2]

and cheered as the latest social lion. The public was dimly aware that motives of higher policy were at work, and that the monarch who was brought in state up the Thames, and fêted at the Guildhall, and conducted on a business-like progress through the principal manufacturing centres of the kingdom, was both an ally of the British nation and an important factor in the determination of our policy in the East. Even those who knew or cared little for Imperial politics were conscious that Persia is a country providing an extensive and profitable market for English and Anglo-Indian trade, and that on the most mercenary grounds, if on no other, a good understanding with its ruler is in the highest degree desirable. At the same time, in spite of the general recognition of the uncommon significance of the visit and of the practical expediency of a hearty welcome, there were not wanting symptoms both in the press and in the House of Commons that there were many who misunderstood, or could not read, the signs of the times; and it was more than hinted that there was something ridiculous in making such a lively fuss about a monarch who probably despised these tokens of interested attachment, and from whom nothing could be expected in return. The true bearing in its many and momentous ramifications of the Persian question was but imperfectly grasped; and what is in reality a problem of the most abstruse statesmanship was discussed as though it were a casual obligation to be decently discharged and then conveniently forgotten.

It is in the belief that such an impression exists, and with the conviction that it both is mistaken and may be disastrous, that I propose to describe, from the evidence of my own eyes in Persia itself, the character and dimensions of the Persian problem, and to indicate to English readers what is their stake in that distant country; why they are compelled to regard its policy and development with such acute concern; what is the meaning and what may be the results of a Persian alliance; and why it is so impossible to treat either the ruler or his people with polite indifference. There are many questions which in the course of my narrative will, I hope, come under examination. Such will be the present policy of the Shah's Government, the character, quality, virtues, or vices of the Persian Administration, the likelihood of reforms resulting from the European tour of the sovereign, the question of the succession to the throne, the strength and possible utility of the army, the opening for railroad enterprise in Persia, the political sympathies of the people, the relative degrees of influence possessed by Russia and Great Britain, the designs and ambitions of the two Powers, the meaning and significance of the Khorasan question, and the alleged danger to British commercial competition in the different provinces of the Shah's dominions. The late Sir C. MacGregor, when travelling in Persia in


[page 3]

1875, soon after the Shah's first visit to Europe, left on record this opinion: —

'I do not think our reception of the Shah has produced at all a good impression. The Persians know that we are anxious about the Russians, and they look on it as a purely political matter; and, while the enthusiastic reception their Shah met with in London adds much to his importance in their eyes, it has not in any way improved our position. The idea, I think, is that we are very anxious for Persia to be on our side when the struggle with Russia comes, and that we will pay extravagantly for her assistance. This I cannot help regarding as a great pity.'

I shall endeavour to ascertain whether such an impression still exists among the subjects of the Shah, or how far their training in the rudiments of politics has progressed in the last sixteen years. In fine, Persia, from an Englishman's point of view, and from the point of view more particularly of an English politician, will be the subject of my communications. Long residents in the country usually undertake, and are incomparably better qualified for, the task of describing local customs and manners, of which a traveller can form but a hasty and imperfect judgment. But a political problem may fairly be consigned to interested hands, and can be so committed with the greater safety if an honest endeavour is made, as will be in this case, to regard it, not from any narrow or selfish, but from an Imperial standpoint, and in its due relation to the broader question of Asiatic politics as a whole, of which it constitutes no unimportant part.

 

In the above paragraphs is indicated with sufficient precision the political aspect of this work. I need not conceal the fact that it is in the elucidation of that aspect that personally I am most concerned, and that I would sooner be author of a political treatise that commended itself to the well-informed than of a book of travel that caught the ephemeral taste of the public. Nor do I make this admission merely because success if attained in the one department may have some permanence, while in the opposite case it can scarcely be other than fugitive, but because, in the contemplation of the kingdoms and principalities of Central Asia, no question, to my mind, is comparable in importance with the part which they are likely to play or are capable of playing in the future destinies of the East. Turkestan, Afghanistan, Transcaspia, Persia — to many these names breathe only a sense of utter remoteness or a memory of strange vicissitudes and of moribund romance. To me, I confess, they are the pieces on a chessboard upon which is being played out a game


[page 4]

for the dominion of the world. The future of Great Britain, according to this view, will be decided, not in Europe, not even upon the seas and oceans which are swept by her flag, or in the Greater Britain that has been called into existence by her offspring, but in the continent whence our emigrant stock first came, and to which as conquerors their descendants have returned. Without India the British Empire could not exist. The possession of India is the inalienable badge of sovereignty in the eastern hemisphere. Since India was known its masters have been lords of half the world. The impulse that drew an Alexander, a Timur, and a Baber eastwards to the Indus was the same that in the sixteenth century gave the Portuguese that brief lease of sovereignty whose outworn shibboleths they have ever since continued to mumble; that early in the last century made a Shah of Persia for ten years the arbiter of the East; that all but gave to France the empire which stouter hearts and a more propitious star have conferred upon our own people; that to this day stirs the ambition and quickens the pulses of the Colossus of the North. In the increasing importance with which domestic politics are invested in our own public life and in the prevailing tendency to turn westwards, and to seek both for the examples and the arena of statesmanship amid younger peoples and a white-skinned race, room may yet be found for one whose fancy is haunted by 'the ancient of days;' who reminds his countrymen that, while no longer the arbiters of the West, they remain the trustees for the East, and are the rulers of the second largest dark-skinned population in the world; and who argues that no safeguard should be omitted by which may be secured in perpetuity that which is the noblest achievement of the science of civil rule that mankind has yet bequeathed to man.

Whilst, however, the connection of Persia with the larger problems of Asiatic politics is the first object which I have had in view, a second, scarcely less important, has ever been before me, and has gradually swollen in scope and dimensions, until of itself I would fain believe that it might justify these volumes. This is a desire to depict Persia as she now is, apart from her foreign relations; to give a succinct account of her provinces and peoples, her institutions and features, her sights and cities, her palaces, temples, and ruins; to trace her entry, in the present century, and particularly during the last half-century (a period nearly coterminous with the reign of the


[page 5]

present king), into the diplomatic comity of nations, and her efforts to accommodate herself to the ill-fitting clothes of a civilisation that sits but clumsily upon her: so that any man, anxious to ascertain in any respect what is the Persia of Nasr-ed-Din Shah, how to reach it, whither to go when he gets there, what to ask for and to see, what has been done or explored or said by others before him, what there remains for him to do, may discover that which he seeks in these pages, finding therein, not merely an account of the status quo — the fleeting record of a moment — but, pieced together, fragment by fragment, the processes and means by which that state has been produced, and by a knowledge of which alone will he be able either to comprehend the resultant issue or to frame a forecast as to the future. In a word, I shall endeavour to do here for Persia what far abler writers have done for most other countries of equal importance, but what for two hundred years no single English writer has essayed to do for Iran, viz. to present a full-length and life-size portrait of that kingdom.

Finally, I shall add whatever of variety or incident may be possible to a text that might otherwise prove somewhat solid of substance, by describing the wayfarer's life in the East and the ever-fresh, if seldom momentous, incidents of travel.

It ought not to be difficult to interest Englishmen in the Persian people.[2] They have the same lineage as ourselves. Three thousand years ago their forefathers left the uplands of that mysterious Aryan home from which our ancestral stock had already gone forth, and the locality of which is still


[page 6]

a frequent, if also the most futile, battlefield of science.[3] They were the first of the Indo-European family to embrace a purely monotheistic faith. Amongst them appeared Zarathustra, or Zoroaster, the second in date of the great religious teachers of the East, if, indeed, he ever appeared at all.[4] Thence sprang the ennobling creed of Ormuzd and Ahriman. Then the Avesta took shape, and there was kindled the fire that, all but extinguished on its parent altars, still lights a subdued but steadfast flame in the rich and comfortable exile of Bombay.

As we descend the stately flight of Persian history we encounter many a name familiar to us from childhood. Dismissing the legendary as appertaining to a region of myth more nebulous in the case of Iran than of almost any country, we are confronted, with the illustrious figures of Cyrus, Darius, and Xerxes, whose handwriting still echoes their fame from the halls where they ruled and feasted. A succession of meteoric phenomena, the wonder or the scourge of humanity, an Alexander, a Jenghiz Khan, a Timur, a Nadir Shah, pass, at different epochs, in a trail of fire and blood across the scene. The direst day of the later Roman Commonwealth was when the legions of Crassus were strewn on the plain of Carrhae. Twice did a Roman Caesar surrender to a Persian or semi-Persian conqueror; when the Emperor Valerian bowed his neck beneath the heel of Shapur I.; and when the Emperor Romanus Diogenes fell a prisoner to the Seljuk Alp Arslan, the Great Lion. The death in battle of a third, the renowned Julian, was a triumph more precious than a battlefield to the second Shapur. Twice also, in the days of the famous Chosroes, or Nushirwan, and again under his grandson, the second Chosroes or Parviz, the borders of Iran were extended to the Mediterranean, and the terror of her


[page 7]

arms to the walls of Byzantium. Then fell the sword of Omar and the devouring flame of the Koran. In the ensuing ages great names — Avicenna (Abu-ibn-Sena), Firdusi, Omar-el-Khayam, Sadi, and Hafiz — adorned her literary annals, and have left her a legacy of imperishable renown. Finally a native dynasty and a naturalised religion appeared; and the name of Shah Abbas the Great is to this hour associated with anything that is durable or grandiose during the last three centuries of Persian history. A record of inferior names, of internecine conflict and international struggle, in the course of which Russia and England enter upon the scene, brings us down to the present time, when a dominion, greatly contracted, but withal much consolidated, acknowledges a Turkish dynasty, and parades before the world the now familiar figure of Nasr-ed-Din Shah. If Persia had no other claim to respect, at least a continuous national history for 2,500 years is a distinction which few countries can exhibit.

There is, further, in the special connection of Persia with this nation at different epochs, and more especially during the present century, a claim upon Englishmen's attention which no student of his country's history should be willing to ignore. As long ago as the reign of Edward I. an accredited plenipotentiary was deputed from Great Britain to the court of the Mongol sovereign Arghun, in whose dominions Persia was included. Nearly three centuries later an envoy bore letters from Queen Elizabeth to the second Sefavi monarch. An ambassador from Charles I. reached Persia only to die. In the sixteenth and again in the seventeenth centuries gallant attempts were made by British agents to establish a trade with Persia by the north of Europe and the Caspian. Between the two periods the growing maritime ascendency of Great Britain had opened to her first a share, and presently the control, of the commerce of the Persian Gulf. Finally, with the dawn of the present century, emerged a policy of close Anglo-Persian relationship, which, though twice suspended by diplomatic rupture, and once by war, has remained in existence ever since; which has given birth to a few deservedly great reputations; and which, though it has been signalised by many follies and by some shame, by spasms of prodigal concern succeeded by intervals of unreasoning apathy, has yet bound the two nations in a closer bond of political interest than unites this country with any other independent sovereignty in Asia.


[page 8]

The memorials of many of these ages, the handiwork of some of these men, will come under notice in the narrative to which I shall presently turn. My journey was divided into four portions, each of which will be found to possess a historical interest or a political importance, as well as physical idiosyncrasies, of its own. They will deal respectively with the north-east, the central, and the south-west provinces of Persia, and with the maritime highway on the south, the thread upon which will be strung whatever of information I have been able to collect, either with regard to the regions actually traversed or to those bordering thereupon, being supplied by the description of my own travels, which consisted of (1) a ride of 850 miles through the frontier province of Khorasan and thence to the capital, Teheran; (2) the more familiar journey of 800 miles, also on horseback, from Teheran to Bushire; (3) the ascent of the Shat-el-Arab and the Karun River; and (4) the navigation of the Persian Gulf.

In the first case I shall conduct my readers to the last remaining possession of the once mighty principality of Khorasan — a dominion that embraced Merv, extended to Khiva, and included Herat and Kandahar, and was laved by the Oxus. Though shorn of its high estate, this province, fortified by savage mountains and inaccessible ravines, interspersed with plains that sustain the relics of famous capitals, and possessing one city at least of world-wide renown, will be found to present many problems of undiminished and imperial interest. For hundreds of years it has been the battle-ground of races and the prey of a rapine less merciful than sustained war. More persons have probably died a violent death in Khorasan than in any other territory of equal size in Asia. There, moreover, at this moment, on the north and east, the eagles are again gathered together, and in the barracks of Transcaspia and the council-tents of Turkestan is being debated the destiny of Meshed.

While treating of this portion of my journey it will be both natural and necessary to the scope of these volumes that I should give the latest information about the adjacent provinces or districts; information the bulk of which was derived from inquiries made by myself while in the neighbourhood, and the whole of which has been supervised by the most competent authorities. This will apply to the Perso-Afghan border and Seistan question on the east, where a political crisis is


[page 9]

always possible and sometimes acute, and where the Indian Frontier question, emerges as a formidable factor in the situation; to the maritime provinces of Persia on the Caspian, where such an amazing difference of natural conditions exists that they might be mistaken for the antipodes, instead of a physical continuation of Persian soil; and to the north-western and western provinces, containing great cities, an alien and divided population, and indestructible remains of antiquity. Similarly, when I come to the southern parts of the country, information will be forthcoming about those more distant and little known provinces in the southeast and south-west, which have held out the longest against the centralising tendencies of the age, and which still, in some sort, exhibit an image of the nomad turbulence that was once a uniform characteristic of Iranian society.

Resuming my journey at Teheran the opportunity will await us of seeing something of a court whose splendour is said to have formerly rivalled that of the Great Mogul, of a Government which is still, with the exception of China, the most Oriental in the East, and of a city which unites the unswerving characteristics of an Asiatic capital with the borrowed trappings of Europe. Thence the high road — only ninety miles of which is a road in any known sense of the word — will lead us across the successive partitions of the great plateau, possessing a mean elevation of 4,000 to 5,000 feet above the sea, that occupies the heart of Persia; and whose manifold mountain ridges intervene, like the teeth of a saw, between the northern and southern seas. In the plains of greater or less extent lying at their base we shall find, in the shape of large but ruined cities, the visible records of faded magnificence, of unabashed misrule, and of internal decay. Kum, from behind its curtain of fanaticism and mystery, will reveal the glitter of the golden domes that overhang the resting-place of saints and the sepulchre of kings. Isfahan, with its wreck of fallen palaces, its acres of wasted pleasaunce, its storeyed bridges that once rang beneath the tread of a population numbered at 650,000, will tell a tale of deeper pathos, although in its shrill and jostling marts we may still observe evidence of mercantile activity and a prospering international trade. Shiraz, which once re-echoed the blithe anacreontics of Hafiz, and the more demure philosophy of Sadi, preserves and cherishes the poets' graves; but its merry gardens, its dancing fountains, and its butterfly


[page 10]

existence have gone the way of the singers who sang their praises, and are now only a shadow and a lament. In this neighbourhood, and in eloquent juxtaposition to these piles of modern ruin, occur at intervals the relics of a grander imagination and a more ancient past. Here on the plain still stands the white marble mausoleum that, in all probability, once held the gold coffin and the corpse of Cyrus. At no great distance the rifled sepulchre of Darius gapes from its chiselled hollow in the scarp of a vertical cliff. Opposite the princely platform of Persepolis lifts its dwindling columns, and amid piles of débris displays the sculptured handiwork that graced the palace of Xerxes and the halls of Artaxerxes.

I shall not be reproached if I linger awhile amid these renowned, and often commemorated, relics of the past. They show us that, just as mediaeval Persia was far removed from modern Persia in its pageantry and wealth, so ancient Persia — the Persia of Herodotus and Xenophon — was immeasurably superior to mediaeval Persia in its attributes, and is even now more respectable in its ruin. Though in dealing with these ancient and historic monuments I shall not recapitulate architectural or topographical details, which can be found better displayed in other and more technical works, I shall yet avail myself of the latest scientific knowledge and research, having no sympathy with those who rush through a country that has elicited the services of profound and famous writers, and who think the ignorant jottings of a tourist's notebook good enough to supersede the labours of a long line of scholars and men of science. A historian of travel who possesses any self-respect will thankfully profit by their researches, in the spirit of the seventeenth century editor of Tavernier, who wrote that 'he was sufficiently imbued in his intellectuals with all due knowledge, of sciences, languages, and geography, and precedent travellers' maps and books, without all which common travellers cannot conceive so soon and so orderly, nor reap so much benefit for themselves or others.' At the same time he will endeavour, by the exercise of personal observation and of honest criticism, to give an independent account of what has passed before his own eyes.

In the extreme south-west I shall invite attention to a part of the country where nature has been lavish of gifts that man has alternately blessed and despised; where navigable rivers flow through plains once enriched with a superb vegetation, though


[page 11]

now relapsed into stony wastes; and where great engineering works, enduring memorials of a hydraulic ingenuity, and a public-spirited zeal, to which later centuries afford no parallel, now raise their shattered piers amid a waste of untended waters and uncultivated lands. There great cities once adorned the river banks; great palaces reared their colonnades and halls upon the summit of elevated mounds; great kings, a Cyrus, a Darius, an Alexander, a Shapur, either swept past on the stormy tide of conquest, or paused to taste the splendid luxury of repose. Here I shall halt to notice the newly revived sparks of industry and trade, which the present generation should not pass without fanning into a livelier flame. This romantic region abuts upon one still more famous in the annals of the past. Its borders are washed by the broad estuary down which the Euphrates and Tigris roll their commingled waters to the Gulf. Here we are in a land of equal honour in sacred legend and profane history. We may sail past the traditional Garden of Eden to the mysterious site where, amid colossal mounds of pottery and brick, the alphabet of Nebuchadnezzar speaks loudly from the ruins of sculptured palaces, of terraced temples, and Babylonian towers, where Daniel prophesied, where Israel wept, where Alexander perished. We are on the river threshold of Busrah, the Balsorah of Sinbad the Sailor, that Arab Columbus of an earlier age. We may fringe the soaring arch of Ctesiphon and descry on the horizon the minarets and palm trees of Baghdad.

Finally, skirting in a vessel the southern and maritime borders of Persia, I shall ask attention to a country and a sea little known at home, to warring Arab tribes and piratical professions, to seaports, now dead and deserted, whose fame once sounded through Europe; to waters that have been ploughed by the rival argosies of Portugal, Holland, and Great Britain. If I am there tempted to unravel some few of the threads that have been woven into a web of history, intensely personal to our own country and race, I shall also be able to show that Great Britain sustains, in a less acquisitive and martial age, the prestige which she gained at the dawn of her career of Asiatic conquest, and that the British name is still on these distant waters a synonym for order and freedom.

These will provide what I may call the pictorial aspects of my narrative; mingled with the normal and yet uncommon episodes


[page 12]

of travel in the East, they may win a hearing even from the desultory reader. Nor shall I despair of arousing his concern when I turn from a past, however eventful, to a present, however degenerate and sad. A country that possesses no railways is ipso facto the possessor of a great charm. Here may still in many parts be found a people retaining the indigenous customs and modes of Asiatic life, and as yet unawakened to the summons that is beating at their doors. Fifty years hence the outlying towns of Persia may have taken on some of the varnish of the capital, and have lost their peculiar individuality of combined dignity and decay. But for the present Persia is of the East, most Eastern; and though the Persian nobleman may ride in a Russian brougham, the Persian merchant carry a French watch, and the Persian peasant wear a Manchester blouse, yet the heart of the nation is unregenerate, and is fanatically (and not always unfortunately) attached to the ancient order of things. We may still re-echo the words of the philosophic Chardin: —

That it is not in Asia as in our Europe, where there are frequent changes more or less in the forms of things, as the habits, buildings, gardenings and the like. In the East they are constant in all things. The habits are at this day in the same manner as in the precedent ages; so that one may reasonably believe that in that part of the world the exterior forms of things (as their manners and customs) are the same now as they were 2,000 years since, except in such changes as may have been introduced by religion, which are nevertheless very inconsiderable.

And here let me. endeavour in some sort to explain to others what I am sometimes conscious of having only imperfectly explained to myself, viz. the wonderful and incalculable fascination of the East. Mr. Stanley in one of his letters spoke of the mysterious Soudan fever which drew Gordon and many another brave spirit to perish in the dim recesses of Africa, and which will require how many more human hecatombs before its appetite be appeased? Just such another, though a less perilous contagion is that which tempts the traveller into Asia, makes him regardless of the petty restraints of distance and time, animated only by a burning desire to go on. Perhaps it is that in the wide landscape, in the plains stretching without break to mountains, and the mountains succeeded by plains, in the routes that are without roads, in the roads that are without banks or ditches, in


[page 13]

the unhampered choice both of means of progression and of pace, there is a joyous revulsion from the sterile conventionality of life and locomotion at home. Something, too, must be set down to the gratified spirit of self-dependence, which legions of domestics have not availed to subdue, and to the love of adventure, which not even the nineteenth century can extinguish. Or is it that in the East, and amid scenes where life and its environment have not varied for thousands of years, where nomad Abrahams still wander with their flocks and herds, where Rebecca still dips her water skin at the well, where savage forays perpetuate the homeless miseries of Job, western man casts off the slough of an artificial civilisation, and feels that he is mixing again with his ancestral stock, and breathing the atmosphere that nurtured his kind?

Upon the vivid and never failing contrast between the picture and the furniture of existence in the East and West, as an element of attraction, it is needless to enlarge. The most casual visitor to the true East is no stranger to its strange intensity. Countries which have no ports or quays, no railways or stations, no high-roads or streets (in our sense of the term), no inns or hotels, no bedsteads or tables or chairs, but where traveller is sufficiently equipped so long as he is provided with saddle and some soap, are severed by a sufficiently wide gap from our own to appeal to the most glutted thirst for novelty. Do we ever escape from the fascination of a turban, or the mystery of the shrouded apparitions that pass for women in the dusty alleys? How new to us is a landscape where there are no hedgerows or timber, no meadows or fields; where in the brilliant atmosphere minute objects can be distinguished for many miles,[5] where the cities are not swathed in smoke, and the level roofs are not broken by shafts or chimneys. How mute and overpowering the silence that prevails over the lone expanse, so different from the innumerable rural sounds that strike upon the ear at home. And how grateful a climate where fogs and vapours never strangle, but where the sun strikes with straight lance from the zenith.

In no Oriental country that I have seen is the chasm of exterior divergence between Oriental and European scenery more abrupt than in Persia. It is difficult to bring home to English


[page 14]

readers, whose ideas of nature are drawn exclusively from the West, the extremity of the contrast that meets the eye. Mountains in Europe are for the most part blue or purple in colour; in Persia they are flame-red, or umber, or funereal drab. Fields in Europe, when not decked with the green of grass or crops, are crimson with upturned mould. In Persia they are only distinguishable from the brown desert by the dry beds of the irrigation ditches. A typical English village consists of detached and often picturesque cottages, half hidden amid venerable trees. A typical Persian village is a cluster of filthy mud huts, whose outline is a crude combination of the perpendicular and the horizontal, huddled within the protection of a decayed mud wall. Outside the Caspian provinces and a few mountain valleys there is not a forest, and barely a wood in Persia that is worthy of the name. One may travel for days without seeing a blade of grass. Rivers do not roll between trim banks, nor do brooks babble over stones. Either you are stopped by a foaming torrent, or you barely moisten your horse's fetlocks in fording a pitiful thread.

For my own part — so normal and blunted after a while do these sensations become — I find a more abiding charm in the contrast existing, not between the lives of the East and West, but in the elements and conditions of Oriental life itself. It is a contrast equally visible in the inanimate and in the human world. Extensive plains are suddenly terminated, almost without slope or undulation, by gaunt and forbidding peaks. A drear and colourless desolation in winter is succeeded by riotous, though ephemeral, verdure and a thousand tints of flowers in the spring. Even in the green and cultivated spots, the moment we leave the charmed circle of water distribution the stark desert recommences, and the transition is as awful as from life to death. An entrancing warmth by day is expiated in the autumn and winter months by biting cold at night and in the hours immediately preceding sunrise. Nature seems to revel in striking the extreme chords upon her miraculous and inexhaustible gamut of sound.

And how faithfully do the cities and people respond to the suggestion that is always eloquent around them. Majestic ruins that tell of a populous and mighty past rear their heads amid deserted wastes and vagabond tents. Tiny and ill-


[page 15]

nurtured children grow up into robust men. Conversely, female beauty in early youth is followed by a premature decay and ugliness beyond words. Just as from a distance a town surrounded by its orchards looks a gem of beauty, but shrinks upon nearer approach into a collection of clay hovels; and just as in the exterior of these houses, consisting of blank and unsightly walls of mud, there is no hint of the flower-beds and tanks, of the taste and comeliness that sometimes prevail within, so does the human exterior tell a contradictory tale of its inmate. Splendide mendux might be taken as the motto of Persian character. The finest domestic virtues co-exist with barbarity and supreme indifference to suffering. Elegance of deportment is compatible with a coarseness amounting to bestiality. The same individual is at different moments haughty and cringing. A creditable acquaintance with the standards of civilisation does not prevent gross fanaticism and superstition. Accomplished manners and a more than Parisian polish cover a truly superb faculty for lying and almost scientific imposture. The most scandalous corruption is combined with a scrupulous regard for specified precepts of the moral law. Religion is alternately stringent and lax, inspiring at one moment the bigot's rage, at the next the agnostic's indifference. Government is both patriarchal and Machiavellian — patriarchal in its simplicity of structure, Machiavellian in its finished ingenuity of wrong doing. Life is both magnificent and squalid; the people at once dèspicable and noble; the panorama at the same time an enchantment and a fraud.

I desire before concluding to say a few words about the literature to which the study of Persia has given birth, more especially the literature of discovery and travel. Few countries so sparsely visited have been responsible for so ample a bibliography. The reason is obvious. To each new-comer the comparative rarity of his experience has been conceded as the excuse for a volume. In the category of these productions are to be found works as painstaking and meritorious as ever passed through the press. Nor is their value in any degree diminished, it is, on the contrary, enhanced by the fact that the list of which I speak includes some of the most worthless rubbish that ever blundered into print. I shall hope shortly to publish in a supplementary volume as complete a bibliography of Persian history and travel as my own studies and existing sources of information have enabled me to


[page 16]

compile; but I append here a table which I have drawn up, as the result of personal reading, of the names of all such travellers, within my knowledge, as have, since the beginning of the tenth century, added to our geographical or historical acquaintance with Persia by themselves visiting, and writing about the country, and whose compositions are, with few exceptions, accessible to the public. To the name of each traveller I affix the date, not of the publication of his work — since that appears to me to be but an illusory guide — but of his own visit to Persia or residence in that country. And when I add that the collection of these figures has involved reference in every instance, with barely an exception, to the original work of the author, sometimes far from easy to procure, and that the cases are few in which I have not myself perused the work in question, it will, I think, be conceded that such a catalogue, the first of the kind that has ever been compiled with reference to Persia, is the result of no mean labour. In the following tables I include no writer whose work was not, originally written, or has not subsequently been translated, in a European tongue: —

900-100 A.D.

1000-1100 A.D.

1100-1200 A.D.

1200-1300 A.D.

Ali Abul Hasan Masudi, 913-5

Abu Ishak el Istakhri

Nasiri Khosru, 1035-50

Edrisi, circ. 1150

Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, 1160-73

Yakut, circ. 1180-1229

Friar William de Rubruquis, 1253

 

 

1300-1500 A.D.

1500-1600 A.D.

1600-1700 A.D.

Marino Sanuto, 1300-6

Friar Odoricus di Pordenone, circ. 1325

Ibn Batutah, circ. 1330

Friar B. Pegolotti, circ. 1340

Friar Jovanni di Marignoli, circ. 1350

Don Ruy Gonzalez di Clavijo, 1404-5

Abdur Rezak, 1441-58

Nicolo Conti, 1418-44

Athanasius Nikitin, 1470

Josafa Barbaro, 1474

Ambrosio Contarini, 1474-5

Hieronimo di Santo Stefano, 1494-9

Ludovico di Varthema (Ludovicus Wertomannus), 1504

Anonymous Merchant, 1507-20

Giovanni Angiolello, 1510

Antonio Tenreiro, 1529

Gabriel de Luetz, 1546-50

Sidi Ali, 1556

Factors and captains of (British) Muscovy Trading Company, viz.: Anthony Jenkinson, Richard Chenie, Arthur Edwards, Laurence Chapman, Lionel Plumtree, Christopher Burrough, 1562-80

Cesare Frederico, 1563

V. de Blanc, circ. 1570

Vincentio d'Alessandri, 1571

John Newberry, 1581-5

Ralph Fitch, 1583-5

J. H. van Liuschoten, 1583-9

C. Lambert, 1598

Antonio di Govea, 1598

Sir Anthony and Sir Robert Sherley, 1599-1627

G. Mainwaring, 1599-1600

John Cartwright, Preacher, 1600

'Don Juan de Persia,' circ. 1600

Sir John Mildenhall, 1600-6

S. K. Zalonkémeny, 1602

Pedro Teixeira. 1604

Père Paul Simon, 1607

Joseph Salbancke, 1609

Fray Gaspar de San Bernardino, 1611

John Crowther and Richard Steele, 1615-6

Thomas Coryate, 1616

Pietro della Valle, 1616-23

Don Garcias de Silva y Figueroa, 1618

Gilles Hobbs, 1619-20

Nicholas Hemm, 1623

Sir Thomas Herbert, 1627-8

Père Pacifique de Provins, 1628


[page 17]

1600-1700 A.D.

1700-1800 A.D.

Père Gabriel de Chinon, 1628-50

J. B. Tavernier, 1629-75

Adam Olearius, 1637-8

J. A. de Mandelslo, 1638-40

Heer Basting, 1645

Père Rigourdi, 1650

Don Pedro Sebastiano Cubero, circ. 1650

Père Alexandre de Rhodes, 1656-60

Père Manuel Godinho, 1663

Père Angelo de la Brosse, 1664-78

J. de Thévenot, 1664-7

Sir J. Chardin, 1665-77

A. Daulier-Deslandes, 1665

H. de Jager, circ. 1665

John Struys, 1671-2

F. Petis de la Croix, 1674-6

John Fryer, 1676-7

Père S. N. Sanson, 1683

Eng. Von Kaempfer, 1684-8

Père Villot, 1689-90

Giov. Franc. Gemelli-Careri, 1694

Père de la Maze, 1698

F. C. Schillinger, 1699

Capt. A. Hamilton, circ. 1700-20

J. P. de Tournefort, 1701

Cornelius Le Brun, 1703-4

Père Krusinski, 1705-25

John Bell, of Antermory, 1716-7

Basil Batatzes, 1716-30

Dourry Effendi, 1720

Père Bachoud, 1722

Capt. P. H. Bruce, 1722-3

Père Leandro di S. Cecilia, 1735-6

J. Otter, 1737-9

'Two English Gentlemen,' 1739

Abdul Kerim, 1741

Père Bazin, 1741-7

Jonas Hanway, 1743-8

Père Desvignes, 1744

Dr. J. Cook, 1747

Bartholomew Plaisted, 1750

Lieut. E. B. Ives, 1758

Carsten Niebuhr, 1761-5

S. G. Gmélin, 1771-2

R. Hablizt, 1773-4

Abr. Parsons, 1775

G. Forster, 1783-4

Comte de Ferrières-Sauveboeuf, 1784-5

P. S. Pallas, 1785

W. Franklin, 1786-7

Sir H. Jones (Brydges), 1786, 1808-11

Abbé de Beauchamps, 1787

John Taylor, 1790

G. A. Olivier, 1796

John Jackson, 1797

 

1800-1891 A.D.

Sir J. Malcolm, 1800-10

J. Scott Waring, 1802

P. Amédée Jaubert, 1805-6

Col. A. de Bontems, 1807-9

P. A. de Gardanne, 1807

Capt. Truilhier, 1807-9

A. Depré, 1807-9

P. Tancoigne, 1807-9

Col. Trézel, 1807-9

J. P. Morier, 1808-9, 1811-5

Capt. W. P. Grant, 1809

Sir H. Pottinger and Capt. Christie, 1810

Gen W. Monteith, 1810-31

Sir J. Macdonald Kinneir, 1810-30

Sir W. Ouseley, 1811-2

W. Price, 1811-2

Rev. H. Martyn, 1811-2

J. B. Rousseau, 1812

Col. G. Drouville, 1812-3

M. Freygan, 1812

J. S. Buckingham, 1816

Lieut. W. Heude, 1817

M. von Kotzebue, 1817

Col. J. Johnson, 1817

Sir R. Ker Porter, 1818-20

Lieut. T. Lumsden, 1819-20

P. Gordon, 1820

C. J. Rich, 1820-1

J. B. Fraser, 1821-34

Hon. G. Keppel, 1824

M. A'Court, 1826

(Sir) J. E. Alexander, 1826

Capt. R. Mignan, 1826-30

T. B. Armstrong, 1838-9

Th. Alcock, 1828-9

C. Bélanger, 1829

E. Smith and H. G. Dwight, 1829

A. N. Groves, 1829

E. Ménétries, 1830

Capt. A. Conolly, 1830

Sergeant Gibbons, 1831

Dr. J. Wolff, 1831-44

G. Fowler, 1831-6

J. S. Stocqueler, 1831-2

(Sir) A. Burnes, 1832

Lal Mohan, 1832

Lieut. T. S. Powell, 1833-4

Major Heidenstamm, 1834

Baron Th. Korff, 1834-5

Rev. J. Perkins, 1834-42

(Sir) H. Rawlinson, 1834-60

Col. W. Stuart, 1835-6

Aucher Eloy, 1835-7

Alex. Chodzko, 1835-40

Gen. F. R. Chesney, 1835-7

W. H. Ainsworth, 1835-40

V. Fontanier, 1835-8

Major D'Arcy Todd, 1836-7

Sir J. McNeill, 1836-8

(Sir) Justin and Lady Sheil, 1836-53

Capt. R. Wilbraham, 1837

Eugène Boré, 1838-40

Haji Abdun Nabi, 1838

Capt. Lemm, 1838-9

Prince A. Soltykoff, 1838-9

Capt. E. Conolly, 1839

Ch. Texier, 1839-40

E. Flandin and P. Coste, 1839-41

Dr. A. Grant, 1840

Baron C. De Bode, 1840-1

(Sir) A. H. Layard, 1840-2

E. L. Mitford, 1840

Comte de Sercey, 1840

Dr. F. Forbes, 1841

G. Osculati, 1841-2

Lieut. W. B. Selby, 1841-2

Dr. G. P. Badger, 1842

W. R. Holmes, 1843-4

N. L. Westergaard, 1843

M. Wagner, 1843

Lieut. R. Leech, 1843

Com. J. F. Jones, 1844-7

J. P. Ferrier, 1845

H. de Hell, 1846-8

Miss Ida Pfeiffer, 1848

Dr. F. A. Buhsé, 1848-9

E. Keith Abbott, 1849-59

Hon. R. Curzon, 1849-52

W. K. Loftus, 1849-52

M. Tchirikoff, 1849-52

R. B. Binning, 1851

J. Berezin, 1851

Czarnotta, 1852-3

H. Garnier, 1852

Conte J. A. de Gobineau, 1855-8

Sir J. Outram, 1857

W. A. Shepherd, 1857

Capt. C. H. Hunt, 1857

Capt. C. Clerk, 1857-73

N. de Khanikoff, 1858

Dr. O. Blau, 1858

E. Duhousset, 1860

R. G. Watson, circ. 1860

J. Osmaston, 1860

M. de Blocquerville, 1860

E. B. Eastwick, 1860-2

Dr. H. Brugsch, 1860-1

J. Ussher, 1861

(Sir) F. Goldsmid, 1861-72

F. de Filippi, 1862

(Sir) Lewis Pelly, 1862-72

Arm. Vambéry, 1862-3

(Sir) O. St. John, 1864-72

Comte J. de Rochechouart, 1864-6

D. W. Marsh, 1864

F. Méchin, 1865

Viscount Pollington, 1865

Dr. C. Haussknecht, 1865-9

Dr. J. E. Polak, 1865-82

Major B. Lovett, 1866-81

C. J. Wills, 1866-81

A. H. Mounsey, 1866-7

Col. E. C. Ross, 1867-90

D. W. Freshfield, 1867

G. Melgunof, 1868

Rev. E. L. Cutts, 1870

Col. Euan Smith, 1870-2

J. Bassett, 1871-85

W. Brittlebank, 1872

Baron Max von Thielmann, 1872

Capt. H. C. Marsh, 1872

Dr. H. W. Bellew, 1872

Dr. G. Rozario, 1872

W. T. Blanford, 1872

Col. Val. Baker and Capt. W. Gill, 1873

P. Ogorodnikof, 1874

Capt. Hon. G. Napier, 1874

F. Stolze and F. C. Andreas, 1874-81

A. Rivadeneyra, 1874-5

(Sir) C. MacGregor, 1876

H. Ballantine, 1875

T. S. Anderson, 1875-6

A. Arnold, 1875

Dr. E. Tietze, 1875

E. A. Floyer, 1876-7

Sir R. Murdoch Smith, 1876


[page 18]

1800-1891 A.D.

Capt. Puschin, 1877

Mme. C. Serena, 1877-78

K. D. Kiach, 1878

Dr. G. Radde. 1879-80

Gen. Grodekoff, 1880

Gen. Petrusevitch, 1880

Gen. A. H. Schindler, 1877-91

G. Riederer. 1879-81

A. Laessoe, 1880

Col. C. E. Stewart, 1880-91

E. O'Donovan, 1880

A. Condie-Stephen, 1881-5

M. and J. Dieulafoy, 1881-6

E. Stack, 1881

Gen. Gasteiger Khan, 1881

(Col) H. L. Wells, 1881-91

E. Orsolle, 1882

H. Moser, 1883

S. G. W. Benjamin, 1883-5

A. Riley, 1884

Col. M. S. Bell, 1884

Capt. R. H. Jennings, 1884-5

Fr. Houssay, 1885

A. Nikolsky, 1885

J. R. Preece, 1885

Hedin Sven, 1885

J. D. Rees, 1885

Dr. A. Rodler, 1885

Capt. A. C. Yate, 1885

G. Bouvalot, 1886

T. Stevens, 1886

H. Binder, 1886

Col. A. Le Messurier, 1887

Lieut. R. E. Galindo, 1887

Lieut. H. B. Vaughan, 1888-91

J. T. Bent, 1888

H. de Windt, 1888

M. von Proskowetz, 1888

Comte de Sabran, 1888

E. G. Browne, 1888

Capt. F. R. Maunsell, 1888

H. F. B. Lynch, 1889

Dr. P. F. Traubenberg, 1889

Author, 1889-90

Major H. O. Sawyer, 1890

Mrs. Bishop (Miss Isabella Bird), 1890

A few remarks about some of the names occurring in the above tables may not be out of place, whether as explaining their sequence in order of time, or as facilitating a classification in order of merit. In the early centuries immediately succeeding the Mussulman conquest, we have but few records of Persian travel, though we may be grateful that the piety of some pilgrims belonging to various persuasions, such as Rabbi Benjamin, the Spanish Jew; Ibn Batutah, the Moor of Tangier; and the Catholic Friars William de Rubruquis and Odoricus di Pordenone, impelled them to perambulate much of the East. Almost simultaneously with these the great figure of Marco Polo passes, none too slowly, across the stage. At the latter end of the fifteenth century, the commercial pre-eminence of Venice is attested by the appearance upon the scene of a number of Venetian merchants or grandees; just as a century later the expanding mercantile ambitions of England are represented by a similar batch of British pioneers, opening up trade routes respectively in the North and South. An example already set in the fifteenth century by the Spanish envoy Don Ruy di Clavijo — who kept an invaluable record of the mission upon which he was sent by Henry III. of Castile to the Court of Timur at Samarkand — is followed in the seventeenth century by the ambassadors who flocked to the capital of the illustrious Shah Abbas of Isfahan from the crowned heads of Europe. The brothers Sherley, and Sir Thomas Herbert, who accompanied Sir Dodmore Cotton, Ambassador from Charles I., and wrote by far the most amusing work that has ever been published on Persia, represent the British point of view. Don Garcias de Silva, deputed by Philip III., is the official mouthpiece of Spain; Adam Olearius keeps the record of the Embassy from the Duke of


[page 19]

Holstein; to the Capuchin Père Pacifique de Provins we must refer for the standpoint of France; Kaempfer, the Westphalian, went out of Persia as Secretary to the Embassy sent by Charles XI. of Sweden. The same, or seventeenth century, is the great era at once of Persian grandeur and of foreign additions to the literature of travel. A succession of instructed voyagers, drawn to the country either by commercial interests or by a taste for exploration, succeed each other with great rapidity upon the scene, and have bequeathed to us, as a record alike of their own industry, and of the opportunities that were placed at their disposal by a Court consistently favourable to foreign intercourse, a number of works, almost monumental in character, dealing with every aspect of the national life, and enriched with elaborate, if not always accurate, copper-plate engravings. In their pages we find not merely a contemporary record of the habits and customs of the Persian people, and of the pomp and pageantry of the Sefavi kings, but the first attempt to give a minute and illustrated description of the great ruins at Persepolis and other places, which already attracted the concern, while suggesting ludicrous reins to the fancy, of the literati of Europe. Pietro della Valle, a Roman of good family, and the husband of a Nestorian lady whom he wedded at Baghdad, but lost by death while in Persia, though pilloried by Gibbon as intolerably prolix and vain, is the first in date of this voluminous school of authors, prolixity and vanity being pardonable vices in a writer who lifts for our gaze the dim curtains of the past. He is succeeded by Jean Baptiste Tavernier, the well-known French jeweller, who included the Court of the Grand Sophy (as the Persian monarch was then called in Europe from a misadaptation of the name of the dynasty), as well as that of the Great Mogul, within the range of his businesslike peregrinations; by Chardin, clarum et venerabile nomen, a French Protestant, and also a jeweller, who, after writing his magnum opus on Persia, retired in later life to England, upon the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, and died a Knight and Alderman of the City of London; by Thévenot and Daulier-Deslandes, also Frenchmen; by Sanson, a French Missionary; by Dr. Fryer, surgeon to the East India Company, who is only less quaint and comical than Herbert; and by Cornelius Le Brun, the Dutchman, who was always ready with his measuring rod and pencil, and while freely denouncing the


[page 20]

errors of his predecessors, bequeathed a scarcely inferior stock for the critical delectation of his successors.

The next or eighteenth century was one of political storm in Persia; a condition of affairs unfavourable to travel or research, and represented by a proportionate shrinkage in the number and contributions of foreign writers. Nevertheless in the works of John Bell of Antermory, who acted as surgeon to a Russian embassy from Peter the Great to Shah Sultan Husein, the last of the Sefavi monarchs; of Krusinski, who in the same reign was Procurator of the Jesuits at Isfahan, and of other Roman Catholic priests; of Otter, who travelled through Persia while Nadir Shah was absent on his famous march against India; and most of all, of Jonas Hanway, the intelligent and philanthropic London merchant, who attempted a revival of the impossible project of a British Caspian trade — we have presented to us pictures, no less lurid in detail than vivid in outline, of the horrors attending an epoch of anarchy and bloodshed. Towards the latter part of the same century, G. Forster, the first overland traveller by Afghanistan and Persia from Hindustan to England, adds greatly to geographical knowledge by his adventurous journey in the North; while in the South the liberal-minded and popular régime of Kerim Khan Zend, who ruled as Vekil or Regent at Shiraz, is pourtrayed to us by Ensign Franklin of the Anglo-Indian army, and by Carsten Niebuhr, fresh from his great journeys in the Arabian peninsula. In the same period Gmélin and Olivier sustain the credit respectively of Russia and France.

Turning the corner of the nineteenth century, we cross the threshold of an epoch when the avenues of entry to Persia having been reopened by European diplomacy, a stream of travellers has followed in the wake of plenipotentiaries, ministers, and envoys, both classes devoting themselves with equal assiduity to the literary record of their experiences. The two missions of Sir John Malcolm in 1800 and 1810, resulted in two works from his own pen: the 'History of Persia,' which, though written before the scientific spirit had pervaded the historical school, has yet remained the standard English work on the subject, and his 'Sketches of Persia' (published anonymously), one of the most delightful compositions ever penned; in the Geographical Memoir of Captain Macdonald, afterwards Sir J. Macdonald Kinneir, and British Minister in Persia, which for


[page 21]

some time enshrined the corpus of available geographical knowledge about the country; and in the journeys and explorations of several English or Indian officers, notably Grant, Pottinger, Christie, and Monteith. Almost simultaneously, the French Mission of General Gardanne, the emissary of Napoleon, carried with it a train of emulous writers, amongst whom we may notice the names of Truilhier, Trézel, Tancoigne, and Dupré, the latter being responsible for the best book. Sir Harford Jones, in 1809, penned the record of his own energy and misfortunes, and was accompanied by Morier, who on this occasion, and again two years later, when returning in a similar capacity with Sir Gore Ouseley, utilised his opportunity to publish two works of considerable authority and careful research. No mission ever had more plentiful historians than that of Ouseley, for, in addition to Morier's second work, its record was written by Sir W. Ouseley, brother to the ambassador, and a great Oriental scholar, and by W. Price. In 1817, Kotzebue penned the narrative of the Russian Embassy of Count Yermoloff. In 1835, Colonel Stuart came out as secretary to Sir Henry Ellis, and left an interesting picture of the administration of Mohammed Shah. Later, Sir Justin Sheil, British Minister, assisted his wife in the compilation of a serviceable and informing work. The Comte de Gobineau utilised a diplomatic residence at Teheran in the interests of France to issue more than one learned volume; while the junior branches of the various legations have been creditably represented by the Baron de Bode, secretary to the Russian Legation, who described an interesting journey to Bakhtiari Land in 1840-1; by Eastwick, who filled an analogous position in the British Legation twenty years later; and by M. Barbier de Meynard, whose translations and annotations of Oriental writers have placed him in the front rank of French scholars.

Attracted by the increasing noise that Persia was making in the Western world, a number of English travellers of independent means selected that country, from the first decade of the century onwards, as the arena of geographical or archaeological research, and of subsequent literary enterprise. Scott Waring, Buckingham, Sir R. Ker Porter, and J. Baillie Fraser, belong to this class in the first half of the century, the last-named having found in Persia a literary mine which was not exhausted until he had given several admirable books of travel, as well as a number of romances, to the world. Another class of writers has been


[page 22]

furnished by the Indian civil and military services, officers belonging to both of which have taken Persia on their way to or from England; the most conspicuous among their names being, in the military department, those of Colonel Johnson, Captain Arthur Conolly (afterwards murdered at Bokhara), and Sir Alexander Burnes, the subsequent victim of the tragedy of Kabul; and in the civil department, R. B. Binning, who, in 1851, assisted by an uncommon familiarity with the Persian language, wrote the last, really good book that has been written on Persia, and E. Stack, who, in 1881, threw the graces of independent thought and a fascinating style over the novel area of his explorations. In the middle part of the century, and at intervals since, distinct additions to our store of knowledge have been provided by the English and American missionaries, who have selected Persia as the scene of their labours, whether with the Nestorian Christians on the northeast frontier, or with the Armenians in several of the larger cities. In the same period a few other names stand forth from the ranks with conspicuous pre-eminence. The first of these is Major (now Sir Henry) Rawlinson, who to the merit of his own topographical researches, when employed as an officer in the service of Mohammed Shah, superadded, a political knowledge and grasp that subsequently made him British Minister at Teheran, and in later times the political historian of Anglo-Persian relations, and an archaeological acumen that revealed to him the dark riddles of the Cuneiform alphabet, and have elevated him to the front rank of Oriental scholars. Sir H. Layard, a not inferior name, also most fortunately devoted to a portion of the Persian dominions those gifts of insight and of style that have rendered him famous; whilst among the officers of other nationalities who have been employed in Persia, the Frenchman Ferrier is conspicuous for his valuable and scholarly work. France has also had the credit of sending to Persia the expeditions of Texier, of Flandin and Coste, and, in later years, of Dieulafoy, whose researches or discoveries, supported by ample funds, have resulted in the production of splendid volumes, illustrated on the most sumptuous scale. In 1859 the Geographical Society of St. Petersburg deputed M. de Khanikoff, who applied to the study of Persian topography the spirit of scientific scholarship somewhat marred by political prepossessions. And if, during the same epoch, Great Britain has neither commissioned nor endowed similar inquiry — a department in which she appears to


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be unpardonably slack — at least the political undertakings with which the British Government has charged itself, have resulted in the labours and writings of Sir F. Goldsmid, and of his able band of collaborators in the services of the Telegraph and Boundary Commissions. A useful history of Persia within the compass of a single volume, has been published by Mr. Clements Markham, while the history of the first half of the present century has been carefully compiled by Mr. R. G. Watson. The field of Persian history, however, as a whole, is one that still calls for the enterprise of some English student, combining the rare gifts of familiarity with Oriental tongues, historical knowledge, and classical erudition. In Germany, Spiegel, Justi, Nöldeke and Gutschmid have worthily divided the role. I should add that by far the best and most accurate account of Persia, within the limit of 100 pages, that I have ever seen, occurs in the monumental work of the Frenchman Elisée Reclus.[6] During the last thirty years the north-east portion of Persia has been brought more closely under our view by the labours of a succession of competent explorers; Khanikoff, the Russian, already mentioned; Colonel Valentine Baker and Captain Gill, the former of whom displayed a rare intuition of Central Asian politics; Sir C. MacGregor, whose impetuous patriotism was reflected in his unpolished but masculine style; and E. O'Donovan, the 'Daily News' correspondent, who penetrated to Merv and afterwards perished in the Soudan, and whose literary accomplishments equal those of any other writer on Persia. All of these have since died.

In the same period Messrs. Stolze and Andreas have thrown much light upon Persian commerce, industry, administration, and resources; and General Houtum Schindler, whom I shall so frequently have occasion to quote, upon almost every branch of topography, archaeology, and general knowledge. Dr. Wills, who was for many years Doctor to the Indo-European Telegraph Establishment, has given us a series of vivid and entertaining representations of life and customs in modern Iran. Mr. Benjamin, the first American minister to Persia, is the author of the last work in English on the country; but his observations on manners and arts, which are interesting, are handicapped by a general inaccuracy that renders his book of little value.[7] Madame Dieulafoy's portly


[page 24]

volume is superbly illustrated; and there is entertainment, as well as instruction, in her pages. Another lady, Mrs. Bishop, has just published a volume on her travels among the Bakhtiaris and Kurds, containing much novel and interesting information.

In the above long list of eminent writers and authorities, it would be invidious and perhaps impertinent to attempt too minute a discrimination on the ground of merit. I have already named the majority of those who either by faithful reproduction of what they saw with their own eyes in interesting or troublous times, or by patient research, have added to the sum total of our knowledge of Persia. A few of these, by virtue of deeper insight or a wider range of observation, deserve promotion to the highest rank.

These are, in my judgment, Chardin, Tavernier,[8] Hanway, Malcolm, Morier, Ouseley, Baillie Fraser, and Rawlinson. Of the trio whose works have for so long formed the basis of English ideas about Persia, viz., Morier, Ouseley, and Fraser, the first named, by his story of Haji Baba, even more than by his travels, has gained the firmest hold of the public ear. An equal rank is, in my opinion, deserved by Fraser, for his broad acquaintance with and faithful portraiture of every aspect of modern Persian life, and by Ouseley, for the amazing erudition which renders his ponderous tomes at once the delight and the despair of scholars, and which did not admit of their publication till the lapse of a full decade after the events which they describe. Of the older travellers the palm will be conceded, nemine contradicente, to the French Huguenot and English Knight, Chardin. He is apt to exaggerate,


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and he cannot invariably be relied upon; but he is always painstaking, frequently ingenious, and not seldom profound. The second class I have already filled with a goodly array of names. There are others who might well have been, and should perhaps still be, included under the same heading, were it not that the romantic atmosphere of the East has proved too much for their critical equilibrium and has swept them away on gusts of sentiment, now lifting them to giddy heights of rhetoric, now plunging them into woeful depths of bathos. Of the early travellers John Struys, a Dutchman, made the widest excursions into these fairy fields. In the present century he has been ably seconded by Sir R. Ker Porter, who, though a most diligent enquirer, has diminished the appreciation arising from careful plans and excellent drawings by a turgid pomposity of style that is alternately exasperating and ludicrous. It is when they contemplate the majesty of Nature, or the pathos of rain, that these rhapsodists are impelled to their greatest efforts; and on such occasions a Howling Dervish might learn something from their transports. Of the class of writers, daily receiving fresh and enthusiastic recruits, who rush through a country, either not having read what has been written by better men before, or reading it only in order to plagiarise and reproduce it as their own, and who misunderstand, misspell, and misinterpret everywhere as they go, I will say nothing. They too have fastened upon Persia. But the aids to such compilation as theirs are here less readily forthcoming than elsewhere; some considerable exertion must be endured; there are no railroads to ease the body, while great folios must be read to supply the place of mind; and altogether the kingdom of the Shah does not promise the best of spoils. Neither would I waste one drop of ink in rescuing any such from a salutary oblivion.


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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-


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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-


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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 —


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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,


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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


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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


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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


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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


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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]


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Chapter 3

FROM LONDON TO ASHKABAD

I to the Orient from the drooping West,

Making the wind my post-horse, still unfold

The acts commenced on this ball of earth.

SHAKESPEARE, Induction to Henry IV., Part II.

IT was in the latter part of September 1889 that I left Paris by the new Orient express which, after leaving Pesth, runs viâ Belgrade, Sofia, and Adrianople to Constantinople. Through Servia, Bulgaria, and Turkey the pace was little better than a crawl, but nevertheless the terminus was reached in time. There can be no doubt that the journey, which now takes sixty-nine and a half hours, and which I have again made since under similarly irritating conditions, could without difficulty be accelerated by at least six or eight hours, a suggestion which it seems useless to commend to the directors of the lines concerned. The discomforts of arrival at Constantinople and departure therefrom are well known, and have tested the patience of many travellers. But the horrors of the boat-landing, which could be assuaged by bribes, are as nothing compared with those of the Customs examination, which is now pursued with a merciless incivility that only Turkish officials can display, at the newly opened railway station at Stambul. I was the bearer of a courier's passport and was met by an Embassy kavass at the station. But notwithstanding these evidences of respectability I was detained there for an hour and a quarter, my boxes were ruthlessly overhauled, my stores, accumulated and carefully packed for Persian travel, were broken into, and a box containing a few watches which I was taking out as small gifts in return for civilities in Persia, having been pounced upon, was hailed as triumphant evidence of a sinister disguise, and was immediately mulcted by a duty. If this system, or rather the manner in which it is enforced, be maintained, travellers are more likely to be repelled from Constantinople than attracted to it by the overland route.

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At Pera a happy accident revealed to me the fact that my friend Professor Vambéry was lodging in the same hotel, having come to the city at the invitation of the Sultan as the head of a Hungarian Commission to inquire into the historical and literary treasures stored in the palaces of Stambul. I enjoyed with him a long and interesting conversation on the journey that I was about to make, and parts of which he had undertaken himself nearly thirty years before under conditions far less agreeable than those which await the modern traveller. Persia itself has not appreciably moved in the interval, but its neighbours have; and the presence of the Cossack sentry where the Turkoman raided and the Tartar reigned has multiplied tenfold the absorbing interest of the situation.

It being necessary for me to reach Batum by a certain day in order to make the desired connection with my steamer at Baku, and no passenger boat being about to leave the Golden Horn for that destination, I procured a passage upon a boat flying the English flag and belonging to Messrs. Armstrong, Mitchell, and Co., of Newcastle, one of that new class of steamers of which several now plough the waves of the Black Sea, familiarly known as tank-steamers, and specially constructed for the transport of petroleum oil from Batum. There is a fleet of about thirty of these vessels, of which most have been built in England and over twenty are in English hands, and which ply between Batum and London, Liverpool, Venice, Trieste, Hamburg, Rotterdam, Antwerp, and other ports of the Continent. To India, China, and Japan, with which a large export trade has suddenly sprung up, the oil is carried, not in tank-steamers, but in cases ready for distribution throughout the country. The tank-steamer consists of a series of detached iron tanks, into which the oil is pumped straight from the reservoirs at Batum, whither it has been conveyed in tank-cars by the railway from Baku. Certain of these are old cargo boats converted; but every day improvements are being effected in the designs of new vessels, some of which, to hold 4,000 tons, have lately been built, and of which larger types may be expected in the future. The 'Lux,' in which I was a passenger, was now empty, but was making her way to Batum to take on board a new cargo, of which she could accommodate over 2,000 tons. These boats, though not constructed for passenger traffic, present this advantage to the traveller in a hurry, that they do not touch,

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as do nearly all the passenger steamers, at the Turkish ports of Ineboli, Sinope, Samsun, and Trebizond, but ply direct to Batum, which at the easy rate of nine knots can be reached in less than three days from Constantinople.

I was at Batum for five days about a year before, detained by one of those tremendous storms for which the Euxine has always been famous (we all remember, though we may be excused from quoting, Byron's celebrated, if unsavoury, rhyme upon that sea),[44] but little expected so soon again to behold its beautiful but unattractive features. In the year's interval I found that immense progress had been made by the Russians in the development and strengthening of the place. It was only eleven years since, by the Treaty of Berlin, they had first gained a footing in Batum; and only three and a half years since, in violation of that instrument, they had unceremoniously annexed what had, till then, been nominally a free port. Batum is now a large and increasing town, with an estimated population (though accurate statistics, as is to be expected in Russia, are not forthcoming) of 30,000 persons,[45] of whom probably one-third are Russians, and the remainder a motley congeries of Turks, Georgians, Circassians, Mingrelians, Persians, Armenians, Greeks, Levantines, Jews, English, Germans, French, Austrians, and, indeed, every nationality in Europe. The town has that inchoate and adventitious appearance which is ordinarily associated with a new American settlement in the Far West. Palatial buildings alternate with hovels, and broad streets terminate in quagmires and dust-heaps. The sanitary conditions of the place are abominable, and the bulk of the dwelling-houses are flimsily and wretchedly constructed. During the hot season of the year 50 per cent. of the labouring population are said to be disabled by sickness, and few residents

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escape the malarial contagion of the neighbourhood, which, after one or two years' sojourn, commonly asserts itself in physical inertia or decline.

There are several hotels, mostly kept by Frenchmen, of which the best is the Hôtel de France. Here, and at the Hôtel Impérial, the better class of the population and the Russian officers meet to take their meals and to consume the hours not spent on business in such limited conversational relaxation as the stupor of life at Batum admits of. There are no interests or occupations, or even amusements, in the town outside the ordinary official or mercantile routine. The talk soon reverts to 'shop;' and oil, which is the staple commodity of business transactions, fills the same place in conversation also. There is little to tempt the resident into the surrounding country, surpassingly beautiful though it be. Sport is only pursued with much labour, and, if at a distance, expense. There are not sufficient roads to furnish any variety of rides. The heat during the greater part of the year in the middle of the day is excessive, and rain is usually falling. It is the auri sacra fames alone that has attracted so large a population to this uncanny spot. Fortunes can be and have been made with startling rapidity; and there are few of the residents who do not look forward to an early flight, with lined pockets, and a resolute intention never to set foot in Batum again.

Military necessities dictated to Russia the occupation of the only decent port on the eastern coast of the Black Sea; but petroleum, as I have indicated, has made Batum, and petroleum is its life blood. All along the recesses of the bay, and on the flat and feverish fringe of soil which separates it from the splendid wooded background of hills, are to be seen the clustered reservoirs and premises of the various firms engaged in this lucrative trade.[46] Over 5,000 tank-cars run between Baku and Batum, the largest owners being Messrs. Nobel and Rothschild, the former of whom, with the enterprise for which they have long been notorious, have procured a concession for a pipe line over the difficult Suram mountain on the railway line nearer Tiflis;[47] so that their tank cars, bringing the oil from the refineries

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at Baku, can pass it on here to similar cars waiting to transport it to Batum, thereby escaping the extra mileage, the wear and tear of rolling stock, and the consumption of time on the extraordinarily steep gradients between.

Bradshaw's Continental Railway Guide, in the few lines which it devotes to Batum, says that 'no custom duties are levied here.' I should like the writer of that paragraph to make the sea-journey to Batum, and to repeat this confident assurance to the polite but inexorable Russian official who will board his vessel before he is permitted to land. The only way by which the severity of that individual can be in any degree relaxed is by taking, as far as possible, an old or second-hand instead of a new travelling equipment.

The extent of the foreign trade which is now conducted with Batum may be judged by the fact that, in 1889, 417 foreign, i.e. non-Russian, steamers entered the port, of which 214 were British, representing a registered tonnage of 268,781 out of 480,212 tons. The total of petroleum exported in 1889 was 649,085 tons, with a value of 3,023,300l., as compared with 450,326 tons, with a value of 1,724,446l., in the preceding year. In 1889 the export to India, China, and Japan, of which I have spoken, and the figures of which were infinitesimal in 1887, rose to 935,822l., a total which suggests to England the urgent necessity of developing, if possible, her own sources of supply in Beluchistan, India, and Burmah. In Russian hands the port of Batum, hitherto not a particularly good one, except for the great depth of water close up to the shore, is being rapidly improved. A mole had been built on the inner side of the north breakwater during the past year, and is to be fortified by a turret at the end; piles were being sunk all round the shore-line, which will be fitted with a stone quay, and it is ultimately intended to carry forward an additional breakwater from the lighthouse on the south till it overlaps the pier on the north. The entire cost of these harbour improvements is estimated at about half a million sterling, which will be borne by the Imperial Government. Lately (October, 1891) it has been stated in the press that the trading port is to be transferred to Poti, where great docks will be constructed, while Batum will remain a military and naval establishment, and an arsenal. But I doubt this.

Strategical requirements are, indeed, far from being neglected

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at Batum. They are being advanced with a strenuousness and a purpose that sufficiently indicate the value set by Russia upon this maritime key to her Caucasian base. Five large forts — some of them not yet completed — command the shore line, and are already mounted with over twenty guns of heavy calibre. The principal battery, in the centre of the town, immediately overlooking the harbour, contains twelve guns of, it is said, from eighteen to twenty-two tons each. All strangers, and even Russian civilians, are strictly excluded from its precincts. Practice was proceeding, on the day that I left, at canvas targets moored out at sea. Higher up on the side or summits of the first range of hills behind the harbour, four other batteries are being, or have been constructed, armed, for the most part, with mortars. The permanent garrison of Batum is three battalions, kept at their mobilized strength of 1,000 men each. At the time of my visit four other infantry battalions were in the immediate neighbourhood, engaged in constructing a military road into the interior up a valley where it will be masked from marine attack by the intervening hills. These details will show that Russia is keenly alive to the importance of her new acquisition; and that, should a naval armament ever steam up from the Bosphorus with hostile intent, she is not likely to be caught napping at Batum. An interesting commentary is thus afforded upon the complacent puerilities about Batum that were the commonplaces of a certain class of English politicians at the time of the Berlin Congress in 1878.

Nothing can exceed the beauty of the line of railroad from Batum to Tiflis. Leaving Batum on the south, it describes a semicircle round the town on the outside, and follows the coast on the north for a distance of thirty miles in the direction of Poti before it plunges inland into the valley of the Rion, that ancient waterway of the Phasis, up which sped the adventurous keel of the 'Argo.' The vegetation is almost tropical in its luxuriance; maize is planted everywhere in the low lands; and the hills are wrapped from foot to crown in a sumptuous forest mantle. At every station, where are sidings, long lines of tank-cars stored with oil crawl by like an army of gigantic armour-plated caterpillars, and disappear down the stretch of rails just vacated. Each portentous insect is laden with a wealth to which that of the Golden Fleece was nothing, and which attracts to the Phasis many a modern 'Argo' that would have struck Jason with

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even greater consternation than the magic of the Colchian princess. As the line ascends, clinging closely to the bed of the stream almost to its source in the watershed that separates the Caspian and Black Sea drainage, the scenery becomes more imposing. The mountains climb to an airier height, and the train creeps tortuously through solemn gorges and magnificent glens. The station platforms are crowded with wild Georgian urchins — true sons of the mountains — anxious to exchange for a few kopecks long strings of chestnuts or bunches of miniature grapes. Stately bearded figures, close pinched at the waist by the tightly fitting tcherkess or Circassian pelisse, and wearing a curled lambskin bonnet, tall leather boots, and a small armoury of damascened weapons, attend the arrival and departure of the trains with military regularity, and survey the scene with stalwart composure.

The railroad from Batum to Tiflis, a distance of about 220 miles, or at least from Poti to Tiflis, has now been open for many years; but the Russians have for some time been engaged upon extensive alterations upon a section of the line between the stations of Rion and Michaelovo, where the existing rails climb the steep and laborious gradients of the Suram mountain at a height of 3,000 feet above the sea. The alterations involve not only the piercing of a tunnel three miles long through the mountain, but the entire realignment, at a more practicable level, of the railroad for a distance of several miles, an undertaking which necessitates the construction of new bridges and viaducts, as well as an immense amount of cutting, stonework, and embankment. A large number of workmen were engaged upon this task when I passed a year before. In the interim a great advance had been made. The spring of 1890 was named as the period when the works would be finished, but it was not till October that the tunnel was opened, after the Russian fashion, with a religious service; nor did that mean the completion of the whole undertaking. The Russian Government is putting itself to an enormous outlay in this quarter, a fact which illustrates the importance attached by it not only to secure, but to easy and rapid rail communication in the Caucasus.[48] The works struck me as being conducted on a large and worthy scale, and as being marked by great strength and solidity. The Suram Tunnel is remarkable

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as surpassing all European tunnels in the dimensions of its profile. The St. Gothard Tunnel has a section of only sixty square metres, but that of the Suram Tunnel is ninety metres. Perhaps it is the expense thus incurred that accounts for the heavy charge for passenger traffic from Batum to Baku. A first-class ticket costs 47½ roubles, for a distance of 560 miles — that is, at the rate of over 2d. a mile. The locomotives between Batum and Baku are entirely propelled by residual naphtha, or astatki, as it is called, driven in the form of a fine spray into the furnace. Over the Suram mountain a double Fairlie engine pulls in front, while a second pushes and puffs behind. I found that the time consumed in getting to Baku was three hours longer than formerly. Upon inquiring the reason, I was told that the railway used to belong to a company, but has since been purchased by the State. To those who know the ways of the Russian Government this was quite enough.

Tiflis is too well known to travellers to deserve mention. Those only who are unacquainted with the East are likely to go into ecstasies over its modest, though perhaps singular attractions, among which Orientalism plays every year a less and less distinguished part. The town was in some excitement over an agricultural and industrial exhibition, the first ever held in the Caucasus, which had just been opened in a series of wooden pavilions on an open space outside the town. Here were collected specimens of the agriculture, horticulture, viticulture, pisciculture, and arboriculture, as well as of the textile fabrics and manufacturing industries of the Caucasus, together with objects from Central Asia and Transcaspia. The local manufactures, whether in metals or textiles, were varied and interesting, but the general level of the exhibition did not rise above that of an agricultural show in an English county town; and the grounds appeared to be visited quite as much for the sake of the bands and refreshment booths as for more business-like objects.

The Hôtel de Londres at Tiflis is perhaps the most wonderful rendezvous of varied personalities that is to be found in the East. Situated on the dividing line between Europe and Asia, and on the high road to the remote Orient, almost every pilgrim to or from those fascinating regions halts for a while, within its hospitable walls. Here the outgoing traveller takes his last taste of civilisation before he plunges into the unknown. Here, too, the returning wanderer enjoys, very likely for the first

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time for months, the luxury of sheets, and forgets his hardships over the congratulatory glass of champagne. Here, for instance, at the time of my visit, were collected a young French vicomte, fresh from the slaughter of ovis poli in the Tian Shan Mountains upon the Mongolian frontier; a high official of the Anglo-European Telegraph Department in Persia; an Irish engineer employed on the Transcaspian Railway; the Polish contractor who built the famous wooden bridge over the Oxus; two English sportsmen fresh from a hunting expedition amid the glaciers of the Caucasus; as well as Russians, Armenians, and the polyglot crowd that is always to be found upon the fringe of civilisation. Dragomans, who have accompanied eminent travellers and have left their names in well-known books, loiter about the doorway and present their travel-worn letters of recommendation. Clearly, as I write at home, can I recollect the emotions of anticipation, half hesitating and half confident, with which I have more than once started from the threshold of the Hôtel de Londres; no less than the satisfaction with which, my purpose accomplished, I have at a later date re-entered its doors.

After three days' stay I was not sorry to leave Tiflis, the more so as some enterprising Tiflite took advantage of my parting moments at the station to relieve me of a porte-monnaie, containing 10l. in roubles. Considering, however, that the hour when the train starts is about midnight, and that the voyager seldom gets off without a wait of nearly two hours in the midst of a packed and constitutionally predatory crowd, I regarded myself as having purchased at a reasonable price the privilege of departure, and turned my back without annoyance upon the amenities of the West.

Baku, with its chimneys and cisterns and refineries, with its acres of rails outside the station covered with tank-cars, its grimy naphtha-besprinkled streets, its sky-high telegraph poles and rattling tramcars, its shops for every article under the sun, its Persian ruins and its modern one-storeyed houses, its shabby conglomeration of peoples, its inky harbour, its canopy of smoke, and its all-pervading smells — Baku, larger, more pungent, and less inviting than ever, was reached on the evening of the day after I had left Tiflis. The population is now estimated at no less than 90,000, a growth which is almost wholly that of the last fifteen years, and is the exclusive creation of the petroleum

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industry. When I inquired the basis of this calculation, the reply was given that it was only an approximate census; and that, when asking for accurate or official statistics, I was surely forgetting in what country I was travelling. I remember once being told in Russia that the only really scientific table of statistics which the Government had issued for some years was one relating to the consumption of vodka and its effect upon the national mortality. The population was divided into three classes: the moderate drinkers, the excessive drinkers, and the total abstainers; and it was triumphantly demonstrated by the returns that the first named were rewarded with the longest span of life; a result which was as warmly welcomed by the Excise Department as it was acceptable to the consuming public. The story, se non è vero, è ben trovato.

From Baku to Uzun Ada I crossed the Caspian in the same English-built boat, the 'Bariatinski,' in which I had made the passage last year. Though now an old vessel, she is still one of the best of the Caucasus and Mercury Company's fleet. The total number of their steamers plying between the different ports of the Caspian is fifteen, and they are in receipt of a large annual subsidy from the State for the conveyance of mails and troops, and also for the use of their boats for transport in case of war. One of these steamers sails from Baku to Uzun Ada twice a week — on Wednesdays and Fridays, leaving at 5 P.M. We had a beautiful passage, the Caspian having exhausted its humours after a storm of ten days' duration; and, after a long steam up the serpentine channel framed in yellow sand hills, reached Uzun Ada at 2.30 the next afternoon.

General Annenkoff was residing at Uzun Ada at the time, and extended to me his customary hospitality, talking with enthusiasm of the present and future of his railway, and expounding his well-known ideas of a Russo-Indian railway and an Anglo-Franco-Russian alliance. Subsequently, at an improvised entertainment, he drank courteously to the health of the English visitor, who, if he did not altogether share these roseate views, had, at any rate, on a previous occasion shown his willingness to do justice to the Transcaspian Railway, and honour to the policy of its promoters. Uzun Ada appeared to me to have somewhat extended its scanty and unstable dimensions during the past year;[49] and the piers and surrounding sand were literally

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packed with bales of cotton waiting for shipment. The General hoped to be able to undertake the extension from Samarkand to Tashkent, which, he said, had been finally sanctioned, in the forthcoming summer;[50] and at no distant date to effect a junction with the projected Omsk-Tomsk line through Siberia to Vladivostock. Nor in the dim future had he renounced his pet project of a Merv-Penjdeh-Herat-Kandahar diversion, which should bind the East and West in friendly fusion.

At Uzun Ada the number of native passengers waiting to take tickets at the single small window of the ticket office — Uzbegs from Bokhara, Sarts from Samarkand and Tashkent, Chinese Mohammedans from Kulja, Turkomans, and even Afghans, returning from pilgrimages to Mecca or other sacred shrines — was so great that it was not till two hours after the quoted time that the train steamed out of the station. It appeared to be difficult to persuade these inveterate Orientals either to regard the price of a ticket as a fixed quantity or to comprehend the French system of the queue. They fought and jostled each other at the tiny opening; and when the ticket distributor named the price, in true Asiatic fashion they offered about half the sum in the expectation of a leisurely haggle and a possible bargain.

A cloudless sun on the following morning showed me again the staring waste of the Kara Kum and the crumpled mountain gorges of the Kuren Dagh. Great improvement was noticeable at most of the railway stations — more trees, more water, greater general comfort. We passed Geok Tepe at 11.30 A.M., and I had time to pay a flying visit to the ruins of the famous fortress which I have described at length in my previous work. The solidly-built walls of rammed clay appear to dwindle very little, and, unless artificially levelled, should be visible for at least a century. It has since been announced (November 1890) that a new use is to be made of Geok Tepe. A penal settlement is to be established here, and a large prison erected for convicts from the Caucasus sentenced to hard labour, whose constitution is unequal to the rigour of Siberia. Russian convicts at work amid a native population by whom, only ten years ago, Russian prisoners in battle were being put to death, will be a dramatic accessory thoroughly in keeping with the surroundings. Two hours behind

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our time (having made no effort to pick up arrears), and nineteen hours after leaving Uzun Ada, we steamed into the station of Ashkabad (literally 'abode of love'), the capital of Transcaspia, situated 300 miles from the Caspian. Here I was to leave the train, and here was to commence the long ride of 2,000 miles which lay in front of me before my programme of Persian travel was exhausted. I watched the noisy departure of the locomotive with the feelings of one who is saying good-bye to an old and faithful friend.


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Chapter 4

TRANSCASPIA

I bear the tread of pioneers

Of nations yet to be,

The first low wash of waves where soon

Shall roll a human sea.

 

The rudiments of Empire here

Are plastic yet and warm,

The chaos of a mighty world

Is rounding into form.

J. G. WHITTIER, On an Eagle's Quill.

BEFORE proceeding with the record of my travels, I propose in a short chapter to give the latest information concerning the Transcaspian Railway and Transcaspia, so as to bring the narrative of its progress as nearly as possible up to the present time. Such readers as wish to tread immediately upon Persian soil will omit this chapter. In my former work, 'Russia in Central Asia,' I carried the history of the railroad as far as the autumn of 1889. Later writers have discoursed upon the subject, but have added little to our store of knowledge.[51] I think I may claim to be almost the only Englishman who has on two separate occasions journeyed over the line; and the information supplied in this chapter must therefore be regarded as complementary to that contained in the afore-mentioned volume. Nor can the subject be considered as alien to a work professedly dealing with Persia and the Persian Question seeing that for nearly 300 miles of its length General Annenkoff's railway runs parallel and in close proximity to the Persian frontier, that its existence has already had a considerable, and is likely to have an even greater, influence upon the politics and trade of the important Persian province of Khorasan, and that the only side from which the railway, viewed strategically, is open to danger is by attack from the Persian border mountains

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on the south. Some of these subjects will require additional treatment in later chapters. I will here limit myself to the engineering, political, and commercial advances which have been made since I first visited Transcaspia.

Uzun Ada is now served not only by the bi-weekly service of the Caucasus and Mercury Company from Baku, but also by other steamers trading from the same port and by a weekly steamer from Astrakhan, started during 1889.[52] The route viâ Tsaritsin and Astrakhan is now, therefore, the shortest and most expeditious route from England to Central Asia; whilst, even if a direct steamer be not found leaving Astrakhan for Uzun Ada, the regular service, which descends the West coast of the Caspian to Baku and then crosses over, will convey the traveller to Transcaspia as quickly as the Transcaucasian route. In the coming winter I heard that daily boats were to ply to and from Baku. All these facts tended to show the increasing use that was being made both by passenger and goods traffic of the Transcaspian line.

At the time of my visit the much-debated question of shifting the railway terminus from Uzun Ada to Krasnovodsk had not yet been settled, though a special commission from St. Petersburg, which was sent independently and contrary to the wishes of General Annenkoff, reported shortly afterwards in favour of the change, which has consequently been authorised by the Ministry of War. There could be little doubt that this must be the ultimate solution, Krasnovodsk being recommended by its superior depth of water (twenty to twenty-five feet instead of only twelve to fourteen feet), by its more abundant, or, at any rate, less infinitesimal fresh-water supply, and by the shorter crossing to Baku. In view, moreover, of the certain commercial development and the probable military requirements of the Transcaspian Railway, and of the extension of the Caspian mercantile marine already produced by the growth of Baku, and likely to be much increased if the port of Petrofsk (like Baku, a deep-water harbour) were connected by rail with the European system, it was almost absurd either to suppose or to contend that the Asiatic port and

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terminus could be permanently fixed in a shallow bay, commonly frozen over in winter, and presenting no advantages for the storage or embarkation of merchandise or for the debarkation of troops. General Annenkoff, however, had all the affection for Uzan Ada that a parent feels for a single and sickly child, and his attitude assured me that he would fight against the change with all the energy of desperation. He asked me of what good were twenty-four feet of water when the only vessels that were required were those with a draught of fourteen feet; where could be seen better piers than the wooden erections at Uzun Ada; and, when I pointed to the bales of cotton strewn pell-mell in every direction and awaiting shipment, where could more ample space be found than in their present resting-place? The only valid arguments against the change appeared to me to be the capital that had already been sunk in Uzun Ada, and the cost of the additional fifty-three miles of railway that will be required, entailing a corresponding increase in freight charges. Such an increase, however, will probably be more than counterbalanced for traders by the reduced cost of transport to Baku, which stands at 10 kopecks a poud from Uzun Ada, but might, it is said, be reduced to 5 kopecks a poud from Krasnovodsk. The deviation of the line, as decided upon, will start from the station of Mullah Kari, thirty-two miles from Uzun Ada, and will run to Krasnovodsk, a distance of eighty-five miles.

Between the stations of Bala Ishem and Kazanjik, I heard of a realignment of the railroad for a distance of sixty miles; but, having passed over this portion of the line in the night, I cannot say whether this description was correct, or whether the rails were merely relaid. The naphtha wells of Bala Ishem, to which a Décauville railway was originally laid, have ceased to be worked; the cost of production, in the absence of any refineries on the east coast of the Caspian, being greater than that of transport from the stills of Baku.

At Kizil Arvat, 160 miles from Uzuu Ada, a large workshop had been fitted up, at a cost of 50,000l., by an English engineer resident in St. Petersburg, for the repair and, it was said, the manufacture of locomotives, and for the general mechanical requirements of the line. He was expressly prohibited from employing foreign materials or workmen. These works, when completed, would give permanent employment to 600 men. The buildings were already illuminated

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by the electric light, which was also to be found at Amu Daria and with which it was proposed before long, by means of accumulators, to light the passenger waggons. A railway train lit by the electric light and speeding through the sand-deserts of Central Asia, would add one more to the many startling contrasts in which this extraordinary region abounds. On the further parts of the line the stations were now completed, and the temporary structures which I had noticed in 1888 had been replaced by neat buildings in brick or stone. A good deal of money had been spent during the past year in constructing new bridges and culverts to carry off the unpremeditated but disastrous torrents that sweep down after sudden rains from the Persian mountains. But, nevertheless, thirty miles of rail near Kizil Arvat, the ever vulnerable spot, had again been destroyed during a storm in July; and the danger is one against which, as in the far more serious case of the Bolan Railway in Beluchistan, it will always be difficult to guard altogether. M. Bielinski, the polish contractor, who built the big wooden bridge over the Oxus and the smaller bridges over the Tejend and Murghab, was a traveller by the same boat as myself, having received a contract to replace the wooden bridge over the Tejend by an iron fabric at a cost of 30,0001. A similar change was next contemplated at the same cost over the Murghab at Merv. It does not appear, however, that either of these changes has been carried into effect, though a new girder bridge has been erected across the Zerafshan at Kara Kul. The great wooden bridge over the Oxus at Charjui (which, it will be remembered, was a marvel of cheapness, having been constructed in the space of 100 days for 30,000l.) had again broken down a few months before, as it must continue to do when any great strain of uncommon flood or shifting channel is directed against it. But it appears, on the whole, to be better adapted to the situation than would any more costly substitute; whilst, by frequent repairs and, if necessary, extensions in order to accommodate the vagabond humours of the river, it may continue to serve all essential purposes. The channel, I have since heard, has shifted more than half a mile to the eastwards, and the bridge has had to be extended to keep it company.

Not much advance had been made in the interim with the problem of the navigation of the Oxus above Charjui. The two barges which were built for the carriage either of cargo or of

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troops could not, owing to the sinuous channel, be towed up stream by the two steamers, the 'Czar' and 'Czaritsa.' Furthermore, at that time the normal period consumed by the steamers in reaching Kerki, a distance of only 140 miles, was a week. This seems, however, to have been since reduced, in the case of the up-stream journey, to four days, and of the downstream journey to three days, the boats in neither case proceeding by night. Further improvements will be required before the river navigation can be of much commercial value in transporting merchandise to or from Afghanistan; whilst it will be still longer before, as a strategical auxiliary, it adds much to the offensive strength of Russia in Central Asia.

As regards Merv, and the heroic measures that I found in progress a year before for the resuscitation of the Merv Oasis by the reconstruction of the Sultan Bund across the Murghab, thirty-five miles above modern Merv, and the irrigation of the property which is administered out of the private purse of the Czar, I heard disparaging remarks, which threw doubt upon the ultimate success of the undertaking. It was said that the Murghab was found not to hold sufficient water to admit of irrigation or canalisation on any largely extended scale; while the evaporation from the lake above the dam was expected to exhaust the bulk of its contents. On the other hand, an English Engineer officer, visiting the works not long afterwards, was, I believe, most favourably impressed both with the skill and with the work already accomplished by Col. Kozoll-Poklefski, the engineer;[53] and the latter gentleman was understood to have no doubts about the success of his scheme.[54] That there must, however, be some uncertainty as to the results is, I think, clear from the conflicting

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figures of cultivable area which have from time to time been officially presented by the Russian authorities. First it was said that 800,000 acres would be irrigated and fertilised; then the figures fell to 300,000 acres; and the descending scale has even touched at its lowest point, the humble total of 18,000 acres. The last-named estimate is probably as much below the mark as the others are above it. Nor, if the work be properly carried out, does there appear to be any reason why considerable results should not be attained; inasmuch as in the Middle Ages and down to a century ago, when the forerunner of the new dam was destroyed in war by the Bokhariots, it was owing to this and similar irrigation works that the district of Merv won a repute for splendid fertility unequalled in the East. Should a large extent of ground be successfully reclaimed, it will of course admit of a greatly augmented population, M. Poklefski being of opinion that the entire oasis would support a total of 1,000,000 inhabitants. One hundred families of Dungans (Chinese Mohammedans) and Taranchis (Turki Mohammedans) from Kulja have been transported to Merv as an experiment in colonisation; and it is said that several hundred more families (presumably European) have been engaged as settlers on the Czar's estate. The only other tract where irrigation, followed, it is hoped, by colonisation, is to be undertaken on a large scale, is on the right bank of the Amu Daria, between that river and the Zerafshan, where the Russian Government is reported to be negotiating with the Amir of Bokhara for the cutting of a canal from the Oxus.

Recent figures of the rolling stock now on the Transcaspian Railway differ slightly; but the following totals may be regarded as approximately correct. There are from 120 to 130 locomotives upon the entire line, and a total of over 2,000 waggons, trucks, and cars of every description. The number of cistern-cars for the transport of water or petroleum is said now to be 150. These figures show that improvement is being made; although the standard that is required alike by commercial and military considerations has not yet been reached. General Annenkoff's passion for economy and a plausible balance-sheet, though excellent in their way, have somewhat retarded the proper development of the railway.

A triple wire runs parallel to the line from the Caspian to Samarkand, whence it is continued to Tashkent; whilst branch

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wires conduct from Kizil Arvat to Bujnurd, and thence to Chikishliar and Astrabad, from Karibent to Sarakhs, from Merv to Takhta Bazaar (Penjdeh), from Charjui to Khiva, from Bokhara station to Bokhara town, and, I was informed, from Charjui to the advanced post of Kerki on the Oxus. Elsewhere it has been reported that the service in the latter case is performed by pigeon-post. The question of connecting the Russian wires from their advanced point at Sarakhs or Takhta Bazaar with those of India viâ Afghanistan, touching Herat and Kandahar on the way, and thereby of providing an alternative overland telegraphic route from Europe to India, is one that has suggested itself to certain English and Indian authorities. But, apart from the advisability of the project, which is open to question, the circumstances are not at present such as would be favourable to its execution.

On the occasion of my first visit to Transcaspia in 1888, the duration of the journey from Uzun Ada to Samarkand — a distance of 900 miles — was seventy-two hours. This has now been reduced for the passenger and postal trains, which run two or three times a week, according to the season, to a little over sixty hours, of which ten are consumed in stoppages. Slower trains, mixed passenger and merchandise, circulate every day, and occupy about fifteen hours longer in the transit. Refreshment cars of moderate but serviceable quality are now attached to the trains, and have replaced the stationary buffets, except at the larger stations.

The figures of receipts and cost of working of the Transcaspian Railway, which are sometimes officially published, sometimes communicated by General Annenkoff to newspaper correspondents, and sometimes gleaned from private sources, are unfortunately as conflicting as the different estimates which have at various times been derived from the same variety of sources of the original cost of construction. The working expenses of 1887 showed an excess of 40,000l. above the receipts; those of 1888 an excess of 30,000l. A deficit in the balance-sheet of the same amount was expected in 1889; but the 'Novoe Vremya' has published the total of working expenses in that year as 241,731l., and declared that the receipts were 7,000l. in excess. General Annenkoff, however, gave me much more ambitious figures at Uzun Ada. The budget of M. Vishnegradski, the singularly able

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Russian Minister of Finance, who himself visited Transcaspia in the autumn of 1890, returned the working cost of the Transcaspian Railway and Oxus Flotilla combined in 1889 as 287,235l., figures which are not irreconcilable with those above quoted from the 'Novoe Vremya.' On the other hand, the same Minister's estimate for 1890 contained an addition of 120,447l. to the figures of 1889, or a total of 407,682l. for the combined charges of railway and flotilla during that year. I have since heard that a surplus of 29,000l. is claimed for 1890.[55]

About one fact there can be no doubt — viz. that the goods traffic upon the railway is enormously on the increase, and that it will reach infinitely greater proportions still. The total traffic weight of goods carried upon the railway in 1889 was 21,741,880 pouds, or 350,675 tons; out of which Central Asian indigenous product and raw material amounted to 9,069,081 pouds, or 146,275 tons. In the same year the value of manufactured goods and sugar imported by the railway into Transcaspia, Bokhara, and Turkestan was 94 per cent. higher than in 1888; while the value of exports conducted thereby from Central Asia to Russia, and consisting of cotton, wool, silk, dried fruits, and grain, increased 127 per cent. Of the goods thus conveyed by far the most remarkable, and an as yet unexhausted, rise has been that in exports of cotton from the ever-spreading Asiatic plantations. In 1888 the amount so carried was 1,213,274 pouds, or 19,655 tons,[56] in 1889 it was 2,200,000 pouds, or 35,484 tons; in January 1890 it was 252,760 pouds, or 4,077 tons (of which 193,229 pouds, or 3,116 tons, came from Bokhara); figures which indicate a much higher monthly average than in the preceding year, even although they do not quite come up to General Annenkoff's confident expectation, which he confessed to myself, of a total of 4,000,000 pouds in the whole year. In June, however, more than a quarter of a million pouds were reported to be lying on the piers at Uzun Ada waiting for shipment, while the railway was said to be bringing up some 20,000 pouds daily. The receipts for the first five months of 1890 were also said, largely in consequence of this increased export, to be larger by more than 50,000l. than in the

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corresponding period of 1889. Afghan merchants were further declared, for the first time since the completion of the railway, to have established direct relations with it by the despatch of several hundred bales of cotton to Charjui.[57]

The great mercantile use made of the railway, and the stream of goods traffic pouring towards it from all points of the compass, have necessitated a thorough Custom-house organisation in Transcaspia. This has been constituted on the basis, familiar in Russian practice, of exclusion, so far as possible, of foreign competition, preferential treatment of subject populations, and protection of home products and manufactures. The chief Custom-house is at Uzun Ada, but posts are also established at Kizil Arvat, Ashkabad, Artik, Kaahka, Dushak, Tejend, Sarakhs, Merv, Yuletan, and Takhta Bazaar. An ad valorem duty of 2½ per cent. is levied at Uzun Ada on all foreign goods imported by sea. A similar duty, calculated at local market prices, is also levied on all goods of European, Persian, or Indian origin, brought by land into Transcaspia, whether for local consumption or in transit to Bokhara, Khiva, or Turkestan. All such goods, if exported from Uzun Ada to European Russia or the Caucasus, are further liable to an ad valorem duty of 5 per cent. (the duty previously levied being returned). On the other hand, goods from Bokhara, Khiva, and Turkomania, for European Russia or the Caucasus, are allowed to pass through Uzun Ada free of duty. Similarly, all Persian goods in transit to Europe are passed duty free if forwarded by Ashkabad or other stations of the Transcaspian Railway.

These facts, as well as everything that I saw or heard on my second visit, tend to bear out my previous conclusions as to the immense commercial future that lies before the Transcaspian Railway. Skirting or traversing countries of great though inadequately developed resources, commanding the export and import traffic of Transcaspia, Khorasan, Bokhara, North Afghanistan, and Russian Turkestan, conveying to those countries the exclusive productions of Russia, and taking away from them in return the cotton and silk and wool and tissues

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and furs of the East, it will in a few years' time be the artery of the whole of Central Asia, along which the life-blood of half a continent will throb, commingling the already half-amalgamated strains of East and West. This railway is a far more potent weapon to Russia in her subjugation of Asia than half a dozen Geok Tepes or a dozen Panjdehs. It marks a complete and bloodless absorption. Great credit must be allowed to General Annenkoff for the inexhaustible energy with which he has worked for this consummation.

Touching the facilities of the line for English travellers, I heard that less objection is now raised to the appearance of strangers than was formerly the case, though this appeared to be a general belief rather than an induction from recorded cases. So great, however, is the traffic upon the line that a stranger might conceivably travel along it unobserved. He would, however, of course, be liable to be warned off or sent back if he could not produce a special permit from St. Petersburg. It is possible, as time goes on, that the stringency of these regulations may be relaxed. Nevertheless, the experience of subsequent English travellers upon the railway, including a lady, was not a favourable one. They were treated with some discourtesy and suspicion, the First Secretary of a British Legation being actually brought, upon a fictitious charge, before a Russian police court at Samarkand. These amenities were, I subsequently heard, intended as a reply to my own too truthful description of Russian affairs and policy in Central Asia.[58]

I have already spoken of the Mullah Kari-Krasnovodsk extension, now sanctioned. The suggested branch from Charjui to Kerki along the left bank of the Amu Daria, which was a good deal talked about at the time of the Afghan war scare in the spring of 1889, has since disappeared from view, and will probably not

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again be heard of till forward operations are contemplated. On the other hand, the extension from the present terminus at Samarkand to Tashkent, which I previously predicted as probable, has emerged into clearer perspective; and General Annenkoff hoped to be able to start work upon it in May 1890.[59] It has since been announced that the Czar has given his approval to the scheme drawn up by a special commission for the great Siberian Railway, debouching upon the Pacific at Vladivostock, which is to be 4,785 miles in length, to occupy ten years in construction, and to cost a sum variously estimated at from twenty-five to forty millions sterling.[60] Should the scheme be carried out, it cannot be long before the Transcaspian Railway, prolonged by then to Tashkent, will be carried forward till it joins the Siberian trunk line and completes the circle with European Russia. The point of junction is said to have been fixed at Omsk. In Transcaspia itself a branch line is talked of from Karibent on the Tejend to Sarakhs. This would take Russia eighty miles nearer to Herat.

Casting our eyes back upon Europe, where the Caucasian railway system is the indispensable corollary and complement of the Transcaspian Railway, we find that after many delays the Vladikavkas-Petrofsk line is said once again to have received the Imperial sanction;[61] although other voices are heard recommending a junction with the Central Russian lines

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and the Volga at the same time by a rail to Petrofsk from Tsaritsin. Simultaneously a commission has been entrusted with the task of reporting upon the feasibility of a tunnel through the main range of the Caucasus from Vladikavkas or some neighbouring point to a station on the Batum-Tiflis line.[62] Surveys are also being made for a line from Adji-Kabul on the Batum-Baku line to Astara on the Persian frontier. The fact that all these rival projects are at the same moment on the tapis is an indication of the importance most wisely attached by Russia to the improvement of her direct communications between European Russia and the Caspian; since any military operations undertaken upon the eastern side of the latter sea must depend for their reinforcements and supplies almost wholly upon correspondence with the West.

While in Transcaspia I penned the following words to the 'Times' newspaper: 'My ears have been, as usual, assailed with stories of the intrigues and scandals, the drinking, gambling, and other vices, that, unknown to the authorities at home, are said to prevail in Russian military circles in Transcaspia. So persistent and, it may be added, so consistent are these tales that they must contain a large percentage of truth. Young men who have committed indiscretions, or lost money, or taken to bad habits in European Russia are banished to a temporary purgatory in Central Asia, in forgetfulness of the fact that the painful tedium of life in those regions is an incentive rather than a deterrent to repetitions of the old offence. Accordingly, every Russian station in Central Asia is rife with gossip and scandal. Every prominent man has a host of enemies who would stick at nothing in order to pull him down. An outward show of discipline masks acute discontent, evil tempers, and ill-regulated habits. Much must be forgiven in consideration of the frightful climate and the utterly odious life. But it is questionable whether a Power so represented in Central Asia is one whose moral prestige is likely to remain in the ascendant, or whether its forces, if directed against an enemy, might not be found to have been weakened by the long-existing canker.'

These remarks, which were not lightly or unadvisedly written,

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caused, I believe, some offence; but how true they were appeared only a few months afterwards in an explosion of scandal, wrongdoing, and intrigue, which shook the society of Transcaspia to its foundations, and was not terminated until there had been a complete and radical reconstruction in the personnel of the Government. Into the story itself, which is an unattractive one, I will not enter. The upshot of the entire matter was that General Kuropatkin is now Governor-General of Transcaspia in the place of General Kemaroff, and that Colonel Alikhanoff has been removed from his important and responsible post at Merv, and has been placed at the disposal of the military authorities of the Caucasus. Simultaneously M. Tcharikoff, the accomplished representative of Russia at the Court of Bokhara, has been succeeded by my friend M. Lessar, of Afghan Boundary fame, and till recently Russian Consul-General in Liverpool. Further to the east, General Rosenbach no longer rules as Governor-General at Tashkent, but has been replaced by General Vrevsky, formerly head of the police at Odessa. General Annenkoff did not escape in the universal wave of slander and denunciation, but appears so far to have triumphed over his accusers.[63]

These changes, the effect of which cannot fail to be considerable, have been synchronous with the long-contemplated reconstruction of the Transcaspian Government. An official decree was promulgated in St. Petersburg on March 29, 1890, organising a separate administration for the Government of Transcaspia. Henceforward the latter post is, except in certain particulars, relieved from dependence upon the Government of the Caucasus, and enjoys a limited independence, analogous to that which prevails in Turkestan, including the privilege of direct correspondence with the Foreign Office at St. Petersburg. This is a change that has long been discussed, if not anticipated, and that is thoroughly justified by the increasing political weight and individuality of Transcaspia. Simultaneously the four Khans of Merv, whom I described in my previous book, have been deprived of administrative functions over their fellow tribesmen, while retaining their pensions of 120l. a year for life. Their place has been taken by Russian officers. No more striking

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evidence could be given of the successful disintegration of old tribal ties, customs, and traditions among the conquered Turkomans, who, little more than ten years ago, were fighting like fiends against those whom they now humbly follow and serve.

More significant even than the new form given to the Government of Transcaspia is the character and personality of the new Governor. In place of a quiet and unwarlike professor, who was happier when labelling his insects than when reviewing his men, we have the right-hand man and alter ego of Skobeleff, and the first soldier and strategist in Central Asia. Born in 1848, Kuropatkin entered the Turkestan army at the age of eighteen, and, among other operations, was present at the siege and subsequent capture of Samarkand. Having passed out first from the Staff College in 1874, he spent a year in Algeria, where he joined the French expedition to the Great Sahara, and wrote his first work upon the campaign. He then returned to Central Asia, and was on Skobeleff's staff during the war with Khokand, in which he was wounded and received the Cross of St. George. In 1876 he was sent on a special mission to negotiate a treaty with Yakub Beg of Kashgar (as a counterblast to the British Mission of Forsyth), and made this the subject of his second work. In the Russo-Turkish war he was Chief of the Staff to Skobeleff, and at its close was appointed head of the Asiatic section of the General Staff; while occupying which post he wrote a third work on the recent war. In 1879 he again returned to Central Asia, in command of the Turkestan Rifle Battalion, and in the following year executed a brilliant march at the head of a column across the Turkoman desert in order to join Skobeleff at Geok Tepe, arriving in time to lead one of the three divisions to the assault. Since then he has been the chief adviser of the War Office in St. Petersburg on all questions of Central Asian administration or strategy, and now returns in the prime of life to the highest command in a country of which he knows more than any living Russian general. His strategical abilities and reputation for courage render his appointment one of extreme significance. Nor can it be forgotten that he is the author of the famous secret memorandum upon the invasion of India by Russian troops, which is generally accepted in Russian military circles as embodying the most orthodox and feasible scheme of advance, and to which I shall have occasion to refer in later chapters. General

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Kuropatkin has already (1891) inaugurated quite a new reign in Transcaspia, and military exercise and movement are the order of the day. His salary is 1,400l. a year, and 800l. allowances, a reduction of 600l. upon the pay of Komaroff. M. Lessar is better acquainted, perhaps, than any living Russian with the Central Asian and frontier questions on their English as well as their Russian side. General Vrevsky is understood to be a man of action. His predecessor, General Rosenbach, was a man of peace. In the coincidence, therefore, of these three appointments, Englishmen have reasonable cause for believing, not that the Central Asian question is necessarily about to enter upon a new or violent stage, but that the interests of Russia in those regions are likely to be safeguarded with uncommon vigilance. Since writing these words I have heard that General Kuropatkin has at the same time given a taste of his quality and initiated his régime by ordering the expulsion of all foreigners from Transcaspia, including the one Englishman whom I have before mentioned.

It cannot indeed escape our notice that Russia is with much prudence utilising a period of peace and repose for the systematic consolidation of her position in her new territories. The strain of conquest was great, and produced a temporary dislocation of force. The crisis of 1885 found her, relatively, even less prepared for advance than ourselves. In the intervening five years, however, she has made great and invaluable strides, while the still incomplete character of many of the undertakings to which I have referred is an evidence that her ambitions fall as yet far short of realisation. Sweeping our eye in retrospect over the entire stage from the Black Sea to the Oxus, we note the piercing of the Suram Tunnel and consequent addition to the utility of the Transcaucasian Railway; the contemplated lines from the north of the Caucasus, to the south at Tiflis, or to the Caspian at Petrofsk; the steady enlargement of the Caspian marine; the change of railway terminus to Krasnovodsk; the increase of rolling stock and mechanical improvements on the Transcaspian line; the emancipation of the Transcaspian Government, and still further dissolution of tribal cohesion among the Turkomans; the construction of new barracks at Merv, Amu Daria, Kerki, and other places, and of military cantonments at various spots, notably Sheikh Junaid, near Kara Tepe, on the Afghan frontier; the appointment of Russian officers and non-

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commissioned officers to the Bokharan army;[64] and the contemplated railway extensions to Sarakhs and Tashkent. Each of these steps in itself would be important; but their combination, if effectively carried out, as there is every reason to suppose will before long be the case, will place Russia in a position almost incredibly superior to that which she occupied in 1885. At the same time she is introducing compulsory education for her Asiatic subjects in Russian schools, and is applying to Transcaspia the strict passport system of European Russia. If we take a leap over the intervening five hundred miles, which are described as Afghanistan on the map, and observe what is being done on the Indian side of that mysterious middle ground, we shall find as great cause for satisfaction on our own part as may the Russians on theirs. Either side is busy with preparations. But preparations for war have a tendency to prolong peace; and experience seems to show that two equally well-prepared countries are much less likely to fight than two ill-prepared ones, or than two countries of which the better prepared is burning to profit by the backwardness of the less.

If I were asked again at this time to cast a horoscope of the immediate political future in Central Asia (for extended prophecy would be absurd), I should reply that the omens are still those of peace.[65] Time seems to strengthen the conviction on both sides that a collision could not be confined to a small area or to a brief period of time, but that it must have far-reaching consequences which none can foresee. The notoriously peaceful proclivities of the reigning Czar are a potent factor in the situation, but one upon which in the unsettled state of Russian society it is unsafe to depend too implicitly; although it may be hoped that the same instincts will be developed in his eldest son, who recently toured through the Indian dominions of the Queen. Afghanistan remains as it has now been for half a century, the key of the situation. If Russia continues to respect alike her own plighted word and the boundaries of her neighbours, the Cossack and the Sepoy may remain friends, at a distance, for some time to come.


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Chapter 5

FROM ASHKABAD TO KUCHAN

Wild warriors of the turquoise hills.

T. MOORE, Veiled Prophet of Khorasan.

AT the station at Ashkabad I was accosted by a Persian servant whom Colonel Stewart had been kind enough to send out to meet me from the British Consulate at Meshed. The camp, which he had also despatched, was, I understood, awaiting my arrival somewhere on the Persian side of the frontier, over thirty miles distant. The Russian authorities at Meshed being reluctant to give permission to English subjects resident in Persia to cross the border into Russian Transcaspia, my future attendants were unable to meet me at Ashkabad; but the Persian, to whom the restriction did not apply, had been despatched thither to guide me to the frontier. Unfortunately, neither of us spoke any tongue that was intelligible to the other, and an intermediary was equally difficult to find. I drove to the Governor-General's house through suffocating volumes of dust, only to discover that General Komaroff had left the day before, and that my previous year's acquaintance with him would stand me in no stead. The Colonel commanding in his absence, whom I next sought, and who was without instructions as regards myself, expressed a desire to telegraph to St. Petersburg for information, and in the meantime suggested that I might with advantage devote a few days to the charms of Ashkabad. As I knew from former experience that these were of the most meagre description, consisting only of a common native bazaar, several Russian shops, the houses inhabited by the Russian civil and military officials, and the military cantonments — planted down on a flat and featureless desert, and wrapped up in a perpetual whirl-wind of dust[66] — I declined the invitation and expressed my desire


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to proceed at once. As this intention appeared to be incompatible with any concealed design to spy out the land, I was permitted to depart, although I received no assistance or offer of assistance in the dilemma in which I was placed as regards my arrangements. The fact is, the Russian military authorities do not very much care about seeing Englishmen at Ashkabad, and have on more than one occasion shown an incivility rare in so polite a people.

Having at last entered into communications with my Persian, through the medium of two intervening parties, and having spent some hours in rearranging my baggage and transferring it to mules, I started forth an hour before sundown, intending to drive in a droshky to the mountains, and to ride the remaining distance on a horse which had been brought for me by the Persian. A misunderstand, arising from the too numerous necessary links in our chain of conversation, resulted in my baggage being lost for the night, in the Persian having to walk fifteen miles, and myself being compelled to ride entirely alone to the frontier at midnight, and there to wander about till by good fortune I struck the encampment at 1 A.M.

The road upon which I travelled, and which I shall now describe, is one of great importance, inasmuch as it provides Russia with a private way of entry into the coveted province of Khorasan. Immediately after her subjugation of the Turkomans in 1881, she set to work to consolidate her position upon the Persian border and to utilise the advantages which conquest had given her over her weak and timid neighbour on the south. A strategical ascendency she already possessed by virtue of her newly acquired territories, and of a border treaty which she proceeded forthwith to conclude with Persia, and which placed the crest of the mountains as well as the command of the principal water-supplies in her hands.[67] General Annenkoff's railway promised her a commercial superiority not less assured, provided that her merchandise could easily and securely pass across the border. Existing communications between the Turkoman Atek (literally, 'skirt' of the mountains) and Khorasan were none of the best, and had been all but closed by the savage forays of the border clans. It was for the purpose of opening up a new, secure, and direct line of connection that a military chaussée was presently commenced from Ashkabad to the frontier, the Persians undertaking at the


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same time to co-operate in the amicable enterprise by constructing a similar road upon their side of the boundary which should meet the Russian road, and eventually link Ashkabad by a carriageable highway with Kuchan and Meshed. The Persian section of the road was entrusted to General Gasteiger Khan, an Austrian Engineer officer in the service of the Shah. Before the close of 1888 the Russian section, thirty miles in length, had reached the frontier; but the Persian, it is needless to add, had scarcely been commended and showed no signs of progress. Irritated at this delay, and at the advantage presumed to have been gained by Great Britain in the Karun Concession of 1888, Russia now put on the screw at the Persian Court; and, among the stipulations of a secret agreement which has not been divulged, insisted upon the immediate completion of the Ashkabad-Kuchan road. The Shah did not relish the injunction, but was powerless to resist. General Gasteiger Khan was relieved of his office, it being variously alleged that he had quarrelled with the Governor-General of Khorasan, and that he had been found secretly corresponding with the Russians; and the contract was entrusted to the Malek-et-Tajar or Head of the Merchants' Guild at Meshed, who undertook to complete the work in a year at a cost of 13,000l., receiving in return a concession of the rest-houses, wells, and collection of tolls along the route. This was the situation when I travelled upon the road in the beginning of October 1889.

Leaving Ashkabad in a southerly direction, the road strikes across the plain towards the mountains. It is of uniform width, twenty-five feet, and, although near the town it was full of holes, yet the gradients, even in the steepest parts, are such as to render it easily available for the passage of artillery. At a distance of eight miles it reaches the foot of the hills and then winds up a lateral valley parallel to the axis of the main range of the Kopet Dagh. Later on an ascent in zigzags commences, leading, at a distance of fifteen miles, into a narrow mountain gorge, at whose bottom is a stony torrent bed, empty when I passed it, but evidently liable to a sudden rush of water in times of melting snow or flood. It must be economy rather than any practical object that has induced the Russians to cross and recross this torrent-bed, not by bridges, but by a rough stone causeway built through the channel itself, and already in many places broken up and swept away. A second series of zigzags leads, at about the


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twenty-fifth mile, into a desolate upland valley, across which the road runs in a dreary line until, again passing into the hills, it reaches the Russian village of Baj Girha (literally, 'Takers of the Tolls'), previously known as Andan, at about one mile beyond which the crest is mounted that marks the boundary between Russian and Persian territory. Neither on the road nor at the frontier were there any Russian soldiers, though the Chief of the Staff at Ashkabad had presented me with an order for passing any that I might encounter. The fact is, Russia can afford to leave this portion of her Asiatic frontier absolutely unguarded, aggression from Persia being out of the question, and none but Russians or natives going the other way. Near the end of the road, however, and at a short distance from the frontier, I found a large rectangular stone building in course of construction, which is, I believe, to serve the purposes of a guard- and rest-house combined. The Persian Baj Girha, where there is a Custom-house at which dues are levied on caravans from Ashkabad, is a small village of mud


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huts, clinging to the hill side, at about two miles from the frontier down a valley; and here it was that, stumbling along on foot with my bridle on my arm, I fortunately struck my camp. A glorious moon, idealising the gaunt and sombre landscape, had cheered my solitary ride and guided me to my destination. There was not an atom of verdure on the brown bleak hills; and not a sign or sound of life on the road except a rare caravan moving with music of camel-bells through the silence.

The mountain range through which I had been passing, in whose spurs and branches I spent another two days before reaching Kuchan, and in whose rugged eastern ramifications I was to wander for the ten days following, is the eastern prolongation of the great Elburz range that runs like a mighty rock wall along the entire northern border of Persia. Connected with the Caucasian system upon the west, it follows at distances varying from ten to thirty miles the south coast line of the Caspian, throwing up on its way the prodigious peak of Demavend (19,400 ft.), until, temporarily arrested in the valley of the Gurgan beyond Astrabad, it assumes a new lease of vigour in the knotted mountain ridges that stand one behind the other like infantry files, with an axis pointing from north-west to south-east, in the middle district between the Turkoman plains and the northern skirts of the Great Persian Desert. Further on the connection is as distinct with the misnamed Paropamisan range above Herat, itself a western continuation of the tremendous Hindu Kush. In the region under examination, the border ranges on the north are known by the names of the Kuren Dagh and Kopet Dagh, whilst the main and still higher inland ridge, enclosing the valley of the Atrek on the south, bears the successive names of Ala Dagh and Binalud Kuh. The upland valleys concealed between these parallel barriers have an average elevation of 4,000 feet, and are dominated by peaks that claim an altitude of from 8,000 to 11,000 feet. It is said that in Khorasan alone there are not less than sixteen summits which answer to this description. Nothing can exceed the bleak sterility of their outward form. Unredeemed by any verdure but a stunted and scanty growth of juniper, watered by few springs, and with little, or no soil upon the slopes, the grey limestone tells with frank and forbidding effrontery its remote geological tale. It was not out of keeping with the chill and savage character of these hills that until the last decade they were


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the chosen haunt of rapine and murder, the Turkoman man-hunters sweeping down like a flame through their sullen gorges, and falling with sword and musket upon the villages and flocks that presumed to survive their repeated devastations.

It was said, when the Russians began to build the Ashkabad-Kuchan road, that they contemplated in the future laying upon it a line of rails — whether a railroad or a steam tramway — that should facilitate their connection with Meshed. As has been pointed out to me, however, by an English Engineer officer who has inspected the work, such cannot possibly be the case, the zigzags by which the ridges are surmounted being of a character with which, in their present condition, no railroad in the world could grapple; while the same may be said of many of the angles on the Persian section of the road between Baj Girha and Kuchan. It would be easy enough to lay a line of rails from Kuchan to Meshed, where the track would run upon a level plain. But no purpose would be served by such an outlay; and it is more probable, as will be pointed out later on, that, if Meshed is to be brought into correspondence with the Russian railway system, it will be from the opposite direction.

From Baj Girha there are two short marches, viâ Durbadam and Imam Kuli, to Kuchan. The distance is said to be 12 farsakhs, nominally 48 miles. I reckon the stages, however, from Ashkabad as follows :

Miles

Ashkabad to Baj Girha

30

Baj Girha to Persian Do.

2

Persian Do. to Imam Kuli

21

Imam Kuli to Kuchan

23

Total

76

Between the frontier and Kuchan, the present camel and mule track does not follow precisely the same line as will the chaussée.

The latter, it is understood, will make a détour by Aughaz, and will avoid other steep or difficult places. Nevertheless, I kept continually striking upon the incomplete works, small segments of the road being finished, others only marked out, and others again in the hands of the workmen. I met some hundreds of these in batches,[68] blasting the rocks, or building unsubstantial bridges, which will probably be destroyed by the first flood. A German engineer had been engaged to infuse


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a little science into the proceedings, but he died a month later; and if native engineering talent has since been thought sufficient, it is a poor look-out for the durability of the undertaking. The labourers I saw at work were engaged in the most leisurely fashion; and if the Malek-et-Tajar completes his contract in double the time specified I shall be very much surprised.

Passing down the valley in a south-easterly direction from Baj Girha, the present route leads through stony hills and glens that reminded me strangely of the forlorn belt of country in Palestine that is crossed between Jerusalem and Samaria. A little further we entered a narrow defile, which was so steep that I was obliged to dismount and lead down my horse. Small watch-towers perched like eyries on the cliff tops, and a rudely constructed wall of stones built across the ravine, were reminders of the not yet forgotten days of Turkoman forays. At the end of the gorge we emerged upon a small circular plain, in which the village of Durbadam takes advantage of the presence of a mountain stream, deriving therefrom both its raison d'être and wherewithal of life. A square enclosure with high mud walls and projecting towers at the angles was a sight with which I was to become daily if not hourly familiar later on, and which was an elementary obligation of tactics imposed by the Turkomans, upon every village within a hundred miles of their border. At Durbadam (14 miles) I spread a carpet in an orchard and lunched.

Following the gorge by which the river Sharek enters the valley, and where the new road will cross the stream several times, and will be very liable to demolition by floods, we came into more open country, and passed the first of two villages known as Imam Kuli on the left. Hearing sounds of lamentation proceeding from a miserable hovel, and observing a circle of women and children weeping and bewailing outside, I went up and found that one of the natives of the village, a husband and a father, had been killed by a fall of rock, while blasting on the new roadway, in the gorge which I had just quitted. The dead body, naked, but covered with a sheet, lay with its feet in the doorway. I gave the poor creatures a few krans, as they looked miserably poor. Outside the village I passed a shallow gravelly trench dug by the roadside, where, amid a little cluster of stony mounds, the hapless victim was about to be laid to rest. At 3 P.M., in a wider opening of the valley, dignified by occasional clumps of poplar, I reached the main


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village of Imam Kuli, built, as are all these Persian mountain villages, in tiers upon the hill side — a series of squalid mud terraces pierced by low holes for doorways. The headman of the village offered me his house, but I preferred the prospect of cold in a tent to the certainty of fleas indoors. Here I was met by a messenger from the Ilkhani or Chief of Kuchan, whose capital I was to visit on the morrow, and who had been apprised of my arrival. The emissary, an old gentleman with white beard most imperfectly dyed with henna, inquired at what hour I proposed to arrive at Kuchan, as his master wished to give me a befitting reception outside the town. I gave him the rendezvous at noon. He suggested that I should spend an entire day at Imam Kuli — a solicitude on my behalf which I found to be due to his own reluctance to make the return journey to Kuchan with sufficient speed to anticipate my arrival. I replied that the irresistible attractions of Kuchan drew me on.

As I started at seven o clock the next morning, a party of pilgrims for Meshed, who had come from Resht, viâ Uzun Ada and Ashkabad,[69] passed out of the village on donkey back in front of me, singing loudly in praise of Ali and Husein, and other saints of the Shiah calendar. I followed the main road out of the valley, and then struck off to the south-west, taking a short cut over a rolling range of hills which constitute the watershed between the streams that drain north to the Atek and those that drain south to Kuchan. In a ravine on the left could be discerned the small villages of Kelat-i-Shah Mohammed, watered by a kanat or underground aqueduct, and further on Kelat-i-Mullammamud (Mullah Mahmud?). There was no contrast of colour on the barren hills, even though they now became lower and more undulating, while their flanks had in parts been ploughed for grain. The landscape might have been draped in khaki, that excellent but unlovely material with which we clothe our soldiers in torrid climes. Zobaran (15 miles), though the name signifies plenty, did not by its appearance betray that it enjoyed plenty of anything but stones and dust. However, a tiny rill of clear water fed a


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small pool and watered a few straggling poplars and willows. The two remaining farsakhs to Kuchan were full farsakhs, and it was a little past noon when I arrived. For three-quarters of an hour beforehand I had seen the town and its orchards and vineyards lying far below in the midst of a broad valley, like a footprint of red mould upon a sandy floor. The limits of the highly cultivated ground around the town were distinctly marked; and it was as though some giant, stepping over the earth, had planted one big foot in this desolate hollow of the world's surface, which had straightway burgeoned and blossomed under the magic touch. On the north and south the valley was confined by rolling ranges which stretched away towards Shirwan in the west and eastwards in the direction of Meshed. Within about two miles of the town, and at the last swell of the hill before descending into the plain, I struck the main road again, and galloped briskly towards the walls. About a mile therefrom a bridge with a single high arch and no attempt at a parapet spanned the then waterless channel of the Atrek.[70] A flock of goats was standing in the dried-up bed, and sipping the little remaining moisture in a few stagnant pools. A few dusty poplars fringed the banks of the vanished stream. On the other side vegetation was general and even prolific. Orchards of peaches, mulberry, apricot, and pomegranate were yellowing under the fall of the year. The enclosures were thickly planted with vines straggling in irregular double rows with broad deep irrigation trenches for the water between, and presenting an appearance very unlike the trim precision of the vineyards of Bordeaux. The industrial energy of Kuchan seems to be specially devoted to the manufacture of wine, and in a scarcely less degree to its consumption, a genial immunity which the Shiah Mahometans have never been slow to claim for themselves from the stern asceticism of the Sunni dogma.

By this time I was in much surprised to have met no carriage or deputation from the Khan, in view of the recognised reception given to strangers at Persian seats of government, and of the


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preparations of the previous day.[71] I remembered that when Colonel Baker came to Kuchan in 1873, in the time of the same Ilkhani, he was treated with a similar scant ceremony on his arrival, the reason being that the Khan was sleeping off the effects of a heavy debauch the night before. As these orgies were said to be of constant occurrence, it was extremely likely that the same plea might be forthcoming for the failure to receive me now. However, I was sufficiently versed in Oriental etiquette to know that in matters of ceremony a foreigner is taken at his own estimation, and that any failure to vindicate his titular importance is ascribed not to modesty but to weakness.[72] Accordingly I halted outside the walls of the town, which I declined to enter under such auspices, and sent on my Afghan sergeant and one of the Turkoman sowars[73] to the house of the Khan, to say that I had arrived at the hour agreed upon, and was surprised at the indignity of being compelled to halt in a caravanserai outside the walls. In about ten minutes there was a clatter of hoofs; eight or ten horsemen galloped up; and a somewhat dilapidated single brougham, drawn by two grey steeds, on one of which was mounted a postilion, rumbled up to the door. The leader explained that the Khan was very much distressed at my legitimate annoyance; that he had intended to meet me as arranged, but that the messenger from Imam Kuli, the old fellow with the skewbald beard, had named one o clock as the hour of my arrival. He begged I would forgive the mistake and accept a house which he had prepared for me. My wounded dignity having received this balsam, I mounted the vehicle; my horse was led before; my escort came behind; and the Khan's cavaliers galloped in front, clearing a way through the streets and bazaars with astonishing rapidity.

Entering the town by a low gateway with earthen towers in the earthen wall, we jolted along a number of narrow and tortuous lanes, and at length pulled up at a house which, I was informed, the Khan had furnished and placed at my disposal. Three excellent rooms, carpeted and with whitewashed walls, relieved by shallow niches, looked out on a


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little open court, in the centre of which was a circular basin and fountain, surrounded by flower-beds — the normal interior of every Persian mansion. A Russian samovar simmered on the table, and some cane-bottomed chairs (which a Persian nobleman invariably keeps for European visitors) stood around. The entire garden wall of the principal room was one large window frame, filled, according to the prevailing Persian fashion, with little pieces of stained glass prettily set in a species of wooden lattice. The second apartment, intended as a bedroom, contained a small iron stove of Persian manufacture; and the niches in the walls were completely covered with Russian pictures of a character that we associate either with tradesmen's advertisements at Christmas time or with the special issues of illustrated newspapers — viz. brilliantly coloured pictures of the Russian Royal Family, and fanciful portraits of black-haired houris with gorgeous necklaces and bare necks and arms. There were no less than four large pictures of the Czar and Czarina, and a coloured print of the principal


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sovereigns of the world, with the Czar, quite double the size of the rest, in the centre; and the old Emperor of Germany and the Emperor of Austria, of size No. 2, on his right and left. Queen Victoria, in a red silk dress, occupied the central position in a row of the third dimension, Along with these embellishments were nailed up a number of brightly coloured and gilded chromos of religious subjects, such as the Virgin Mary, Christ, and different saints of the Greek calendar, contrasting curiously with the uniformed royalties and the smiling coquettes. The decorations of the room sufficiently indicated the foreign influences to which the Khan is most amenable, and must originally have been devised for guests of another nationality than my own. Huge trays laden with pink and white sweetmeats now arrived from the Khan, who renewed his apologies, asked when I would come to see him, and inquired whether I would be willing to remit the punishment of the red-bearded emissary from Imam Kuli on the ground that, being a Kurd, he had imperfectly understood the explanations of my interpreter. I named five o clock as the hour of meeting, and gladly acquiesced in the pardon of the offender.

And now, having arrived at Kuchan, let me, before proceeding further, give some idea of the character and inhabitants of this important frontier province, and of the personality of the Kurdish chieftain whose guest I was, and whom I was about to interview.

Three hundred years ago the north-eastern border of Persia was as subject to Tartar inroads as, till ten years ago, it was to the alamans of the Akhal Tekkes. Collecting in the desert on the north, they burst through the mountain gorges and defiles, burnt, harried, massacred, plundered, and retired with as much swiftness and as great impunity as they had come. It was characteristic of the dispositions of a great monarch that, recognising the inability of so timid a people as the Persians successfully to resist the invaders themselves, Shah Abbas looked elsewhere for his frontier garrison. Just as he transported an entire Armenian community from his north-west provinces to Isfahan, in order to teach trade and attract prosperity to his newly founded capital, so he now transferred an entire community of warlike Kurdish tribesmen from the same quarter, and planted them in the mountainous glens and uplands of Khorasan. By this judicious act he served a double purpose; for he both


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fortified his position in the east and relieved himself of the insecurity arising from the bloody feuds and divisions of the Kurdish clans in the west.[74] The expatriated tribes were the Shahdillu, Zaferanlu, Kaiwanlu, and Amanlu; and it is said that while the transplantation of 40,000 families was originally contemplated by Abbas, the resistance of several of the chieftains reduced the number actually moved to 15,000 families.[75] Settled in the mountains and valleys between Astrabad and Chinaran, they held their new territories free from revenue or tribute, on the feudal ground of military service, being responsible for the safety of the frontier and for the provision of mounted troops to the army of the King. The great richness of Kuchan accounted for a money tribute being subsequently demanded from its ruler as well. Bujnurd, as a poorer district, was not mulcted in more than a nominal annual present from its chief to the sovereign. The independent position, no less than the hereditary instincts of the new-comers, soon led to the acquisition by their chieftains of great power and much importance. Of these, Kuchan from an early date acquired the superiority, and the title of Ilkhani (i.e. Lord of the Ils or Clans) was bestowed upon its ruler, either in recognition of his pre-eminence or, as some say, in order to make him personally answerable to the central authority for the good behaviour of the whole. Nevertheless, the Kurdish settlers were constantly either in veiled or open rebellion; and although Nadir Shah attempted to conciliate them by marrying a daughter of the Ilkhani, they took advantage of his absence in India again to assert their independence. At this he was so infuriated that, vowing their complete extermination, he marched against Kuchan, and was already outside its walls when, in 1747, he was murdered in his tent. Again in the present century Kuchan was in open rebellion against Fath Ali Shah; and when Burnes was there in 1832 the town had just fallen, after a protracted siege, to the army of Abbas Mirza, the heir apparent, whose artillery was directed by British officers. The experiences of the present Ilkhani, which I shall presently relate, have shown that under the reigning Shah rebellion is a more precarious experiment; and


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during the last twenty years and more, especially since the advent of the Russians on the north, and the consequent disappearance of the particular necessity to which the Kurds owed both their position and their power, the strength of the latter and the authority of their chieftains have very sensibly declined.

Of the five Kurdish states originally settled in Khorasan, three alone — Kuchan, Bujnurd, and Deregez — now remain. Of a simple, if rude and independent, character when first they entered the country, their turbulent existence and the opportunities of plunder which they enjoyed soon exercised a deteriorating influence upon the morale of the colonists; and travellers who visited them during the days of Turkoman border warfare, and saw both parties at work, reported that there was very little to choose between the methods of the two. Both raided, pillaged, and massacred whenever they had a chance. A Turkoman was always fair game to a Kurd, and a Kurd to a Turkoman; and if we have heard more of the awful results of the Tekkes' devastations in Persia than of the return compliments paid by the Kurds to the Atek, it is probably because no curious stranger ever dared to penetrate the Turkoman desert, while a hundred eyes have witnessed the desolated villages and hamlets of Khorasan. In appearance the Kurds are easily distinguishable from the Persians, both in physiognomy and dress. They are a fine masculine race, with open countenances, strongly marked and well-shaped features, sometimes fair complexions, and untrimmed beards and hair. They have adopted the principal articles of Persian costume, but they wear rough sheepskin bonnets (instead of the smug kolah or the small egg-shell felt cap) and long sheepskin coats or poshtins. Until quite recently they were distinguished for their tribal cohesion and attachment to their chiefs, whom they were ready to support at any time in an insurrection against the central power.

The title of Ilkhani has always been hereditary in one family, though nominally subject to the ratification of the Shah. The Persian Government has, on occasions, tried the experiment of appointing its own officials; but this has invariably led to rebellion and the compulsory withdrawal of the intruder. Till the accession, or rather till the assertion in the last twenty-five years of the authority, of the present Shah, the Kurds have uniformly regarded the Kajar dynasty as an alien


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usurpation. They were the subjects of their own rulers, but not of the Persian monarch. The Ilkhanis dispensed law and justice in their own name, without reference to Teheran, and even wielded the power of life and death. An incident, however, which had occurred just before my arrival in Kuchan will better indicate than any words the change that has taken place. The Vizier or Deputy-Governor of Kuchan, one Ramzan Khan, had been shot by a would-be assassin in pursuit of personal revenge. Though the injured man had not died, the Ilkhani, without any reference to Teheran, put the attempted murderer to death, it was said with horrible tortures. This was regarded by the Shah as an unwarrantable encroachment upon his own prerogative; and I have no doubt that the old Ilkhani did not escape without paying a substantial indemnity.

The pedigree of the Ilkhani's family is as follows: The first chief of whom I find record was Mohammed Husein Khan, who resided at Shirwan towards the close of the last century. His son, Amir Gunah Khan, moved to Kuchan in the early years of this century, and was engaged in frequent conflict with the Turkomans. About 1815 he was deposed by his son, Reza Kuli Khan, who must have ruled for the greater part of fifty years. He was Ilkhani when Fraser visited Kuchan (which he called Kabushan or Cochoon, Kuchan being a contraction of the longer name) in 1822, and was described by him as a man of good and honourable character, but of no great courage or talents, although he succeeded for long in remaining more or less independent of the sovereign power. Taking advantage of his absence upon one occasion, Fath Ali Shah, who was as ambitious of military aggrandisement as he was personally timid and unwarlike, advanced against Kuchan, but failed to take the town, and was obliged to conclude a truce and withdraw. Later, as I have shown, the place was successfully captured by Abbas Mirza, and Reza Kuli Khan was compelled to acknowledge his subjection. Sent as a prisoner first to Teheran and afterwards to Tabriz, he died of chagrin on the way at Mianeh.[76] His son, Sam Khan, was made ruler in his place. The present Ilkhani was a younger son, and told me that he succeeded his elder brother twenty-four years ago.

Amir Husein Khan, my host, who also bears the grandiloquent titles of Amir el Omrah (i.e. Lord of Lords) and Shuja-ed-Dowleh


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(i.e. Boldness of the Empire, a title conferred upon him by the Shah), has, during his life of over sixty years, enjoyed a somewhat checkered existence. In early days he took part in the campaign against Herat in 1856-7, and in the Persian expedition against Merv that had such disastrous consequences in 1860. Vain, ambitious, and inordinately proud, he was unwise enough, after succeeding to the chieftainship, to incur the enmity of the Governor-General of Khorasan. Summoned to Meshed to render account, he declined to obey, and held out till a Persian army, sent to chastise him, arrived within sight of Kuchan, when a compromise was arrived at, and the Ilkhani was left in possession on payment of a fine to the Shah which I have heard variously named as 3,000l. and 7,000l. Again, however, he was either guilty or was suspected of rebellion, and on this second occasion was summoned to Teheran, deposed and imprisoned, his son being made Ilkhani in his stead. After a short time, probably in return for a second and larger ransom, he was released and reinstated, and has since remained in undisturbed possession, having learnt quite enough of the present Shah to find that rebellion, even on the part of a Warden of the Marches, no longer pays. Though the deterioration of his Kurdish clansmen, arising from a long period of peace, and the weakening of his own position consequent upon the strength of the present Shah, and upon the centralisation introduced in all parts of the kingdom by the electric telegraph, have shorn the Khan of much of his ancient prestige, he is still one of the most powerful vassals of the Persian crown, and, apart from his own personality, is interesting as perhaps the last survival of a vanishing order.

With his eldest son, Abul Hasan Khan, now about thirty-six years of age, he has long been upon the worst of terms. The latter was once Governor of Shirwan, the second town of the principality, but was deposed and imprisoned by his father. He now resides at Chinaran, where he enjoys a fixed revenue by order of the Shah, and had lately married a daughter of the Vizier of Khorasan. It is not certain, however, whether he will succeed the old Ilkhani, as he is subject to fits of madness, in one of which he was said to have beaten his former wife, a Turkoman woman, to death; and, moreover, he inherits in full measure the parental addiction to drink.

It is, I fear, as a drunkard that the old chief is best known to


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English readers and has been commemorated by English writers. During the past twenty years he has been visited and interviewed by several Englishmen: by Colonel Valentine Baker in 1873, Captain Napier in 1874, Sir C. MacGregor in 1875, and Edmund O'Donovan in 1880;[77] and by most of these authorities was found either drinking or drunk, or slowly recovering from the effects of drink, Kuchan being noted for its white wine, and the Khan having a partiality besides for brandy, arrack, and any spirit that is sufficiently potent. General Grodekoff, who was despatched to Khorasan in disguise in 1880 by General Skobeleff, with the knowledge of the Shah, in order to purchase supplies for the Russian army then operating against the Tekke Turkomans in Transcaspia, was well aware beforehand of the propensities of the Kurdish chieftain, and in his official account of the mission entrusted to him very candidly avows the steps by which he sought to ingratiate himself with his too convivial host: —

Knowing that he was fond of liquor, we placed several bottles of wine, liqueurs, and vodka before him; and in a very short time the Shuja had drunk several glasses of different wines, and then called in his singers and musicians. The men who came with him, his surgeon, and his favourites, Vali Khan and Ramzan Khan, drank themselves stupid, and a regular orgy began. Next day I went to see the Amir, and presented my documents to him. Bottles were already standing before him, and he explained that he was recovering from his intoxication. During our conversation he repeatedly partook of brandy, opium, hashish, and wine, and by noon was quite drunk. In the evening of the same day he invited us to a European supper, and again got intoxicated to the last degree.

In the negotiations that followed, General Grodekoff was alternately impressed by the astuteness of the Ilkhani and disgusted by his habits. Once his editor writes: —

A three days' sojourn in his society showed Colonel Grodekoff that the Amir was very much in possession of all his faculties; that he was not to be deceived by our giving ourselves out as commission agents; and that, although he was a drunkard, still he saw and remembered everything.


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But on another occasion: —

To carry on business with him was more than difficult. One had to drink with him, to listen to his drunken speeches, to be present at his orgies, and still to be on one's guard not to show signs of disgust which, would at once have called forth the anger of the barbarian. Truly the world has produced few such brutes, as Colonel Grodekoff expressed himself in a telegram to General Skobeleff.

It would appear, however, that the Khan has only perpetuated himself, and bequeathed to the estimable son whom I have before named, a taste which he had himself inherited from his father; for when Fraser was the guest of Reza Kuli Khan in 1822 he relates that he saw 'the Khan and the whole court dead drunk.' There is a certain fine continuity, therefore, in the family proceedings.

It may be imagined that, knowing as much as I did about Amir Husein Khan, my familiarity with whose antecedents would probably have caused a severe shock to the old gentleman had he been aware of it, I looked forward with some anxiety to my interview. Donning my frock coat, which I confess looked somewhat incongruous beneath a Terai hat, and my goloshes, and attended by as large a retinue of my own servants as I could muster,[78] I followed the escort of six persons who had been sent by the Khan to conduct me to his palace hard by. The facade over the entrance gateway was in the form of a triple arch filled with elegant bas-reliefs in white plaster, made after the fashion of an Italian villa, behind which a neat little kiosque rose above the roof. Passing through the gateway, which was filled with guards, I was conducted to the left into a large open court, about twice as long as it was broad, the lower end of which was divided into flower-beds, while above the middle was a hauz, one of those large tanks common to every Persian house of any pretensions, and so cunningly constructed that the, water just laps over the stone brim and trickles down into a channel outside. On the pavement beyond were standing some thirty individuals with their backs turned to the tank and their faces towards the upper end, where I could see into an elevated aiwan or reception chamber, separated


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from the court by a latticed window, the central panels of which were thrown open. Entering a small room in the right-hand corner, I left my goloshes, and was ushered into the central apartment of the daïs, which contained only two inlaid tables down the middle, positively laden with coloured glass candelabra, vases, and curios, and an iron bedstead with a mattress in the corner. The glass baubles represent an incomprehensible but very widely spread taste among the Persians of the upper classes, while the bedstead was doubtless introduced as a crowning evidence of successfully assimilated civilisation. In the centre of this audience chamber at the back was a recessed apartment, where the Khan was seated at a table, and whence he rose to welcome me. While he was dictating to the interpreter the customary opening civilities, and during our subsequent interviews, which lasted fully two hours, I had abundant opportunity to become acquainted with his features and deportment.

In appearance the Shuja is striking, but the reverse of handsome. There was a photograph of him hanging in the house where he entertained me, which I subsequently begged of him, and a reproduction of which adorns the accompanying page. He was careful to explain that, having been taken by a Persian artist, the likeness entirely failed to do him justice, a criticism which I am bound to endorse, as, though an ugly, he was in no sense a forbidding-looking man, but wore an air both of authority and of intelligence. Though over sixty years of age, his beard and hair were jet black, the result, I imagine, of dye. He had strongly marked features and a very sallow complexion. He was dressed in a black cloth coat and trousers, with diamond buckles, and a diamond-hilted sword, a black sheepskin kolah or hat pressed low down on to his ears,[79] white cotton gloves and stockings, and patent leather shoes. Being very short-sighted, he wore colossal blue spectacles over his eyes. When speaking,


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his manner and locution were those of one habituated to command. In parleying with the interpreter he showed great animation, and when calling for his kalian (the Persian water-pipe or narghileh), or issuing an order, his utterance was an imperious growl. At his left hand sat a Seyid (i.e. descendant of the Prophet) in a green turban and prodigious khelat of dark blue colour, who occasionally interpolated remarks when appealed to, and generally acted the part of an echo to his master. One of the younger sons of the Khan, a boy of fourteen, was also present, and a mirza or secretary was afterwards called in, who understood a few words of French. A group of attendants stood at a little distance, and ran to and fro with kalians, tea, coffee, and ices.

In the two conversations which I enjoyed with the Khan — for he returned my visit early on the following morning — he said many quaint and characteristic things which I shall not here repeat at full length, but the bulk of which may advisably be condensed. I soon found that I was dealing with a man who, whatever his common delinquencies, was in full possession of his faculties upon the present occasion, and who had an acute and questioning mind. He occasionally displayed an ignorance that in a European would be puerile; but this mixture of childishness and sagacity is characteristic of the Oriental intelligence, and is natural to a state of life where mental development is crushed by restricted surroundings and by a total lack of general experience.

In reply to my question, he could not tell me how many subjects he possessed, because they were never counted. But there were 40,000 houses under his rule (I am afraid a great exaggeration), and each house paid one toman (six shillings) in taxation (a greater still), and each house supplied an armed soldier (the greatest of all). They were very good soldiers, and would fight anybody. This gave me the opportunity I desired of sounding the old gentleman about Russia and his Russian proclivities. I observed that Khorasan was a very rich country, and that it was sometimes said that the Russians wanted to take it.

'How should they take it?' he said.

'In the same way that they have already taken Akhal Tekke,' he replied.

'No, that is out of the question! The people will fight for it. They will all gather together and fight for Meshed. They

are good


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soldiers. We are not sour milk that the Russians should swallow us down.[80] We have a wall of men; a wall of men is stronger than a wall of stones.'

While treating this asseveration with becoming respect, I fear that I was uncharitable enough at this juncture to remember not only the mural decorations of the house which I had so recently quitted, but a certain passage that occurred in a letter written by this same vehement old patriot to the Russian, Grodekoff, only ten years before, in which he had remarked: 'There is only one Jesus, on whom were poured out all divine blessings, so that he should come from heaven and create such a people as the Russians.' Changing the subject, I inquired what the Khan thought about railways in Persia. Though he had never seen a railroad in his life, he surprised me by advocating their introduction everywhere into the country, and wondered why they were not begun. He was aware that Queen Victoria had reigned over fifty years and had recently celebrated her jubilee. He could not understand the niggardly policy of the Amir of Afghanistan in refusing to allow strangers to enter his dominions, and was unwilling to believe that it was more difficult to penetrate to Herat than to Kuchan. The narrow range of his knowledge, however, transpired when I told him that eight days were required to go from London to America, and he immediately asked if the distance was 80 farsakhs, i.e. 320 miles, arguing from the maximum distance of a day's land march in Persia.[81]

Very characteristic too, and in strict accordance with the practice of his family (his father, Reza Kuli Khan, put the same questions to Fraser, and the Ilkhani himself had repeated them seventeen years before my visit to Baker), were his interrogations as to my object and motive in travelling. 'Why do you come to Kuchan? What do you want? Do the English Government pay


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you to travel? How much do they pay you? If not they, then who pays you?' The taste for travel and gratuitous thirst for knowledge are emotions quite incomprehensible to the Oriental mind.[82]

I had great difficulty also in explaining to him my own profession and the position of my family. Parliament he had never heard of; and when I told him that I was a member of the great mejilis (council), he replied, 'Are you a soldier?' The status or rank of an English nobleman conveyed nothing to him; but he put the pertinent questions, 'Has your father many soldiers?' and 'Who made him governor of his property?' He was positively amazed at a tenure of the same estates lasting over 800 years, but replied, in the spirit of Mr. Hardcastle in 'She Stoops to Conquer,'[83] and with a Conservatism which I could not fail to admire, that Ferenghistan was a great country because of its antiquity; age, as he said, meaning authority.

Acting in unconscious imitation of Fraser, who, nearly seventy years before, had presented a silver hunting watch to the father of my host, I endeavoured to make some little recognition of the hospitality of which I was the recipient by offering the Ilkhani a watch, the hours and minutes upon the face of which were marked not by a revolving hand, but by numerals appearing on a disc. He was vastly interested in this novelty; but as he could not understand the figures, which did not correspond with the Roman numerals on watches which he had previously seen or possessed, I had to draw up a table with the ordinary numerals from 1 to 60 and their Roman equivalents, to which his secretary appended a Persian translation. Having accepted the watch, the Shuja somewhat staggered me by inquiring how much it had cost. I attributed this question, which in a European would have implied impertinent curiosity, to the Oriental desire to make a return of as nearly as possible equivalent value to the donor, the notorious character of the Ilkhani for stinginess rendering it certain that he


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would not give a farthing in excess. What the quality or worth of his return gift may have been I never discovered; because, although he brought a bundle with him on his valedictory visit the next day, which I afterwards heard contained an intended present of carpets or embroidery, he failed to offer it to me, and it was said to have been purloined by some of his servants.

Such were the main incidents of my intercourse with the old chief of Kuchan. I am glad to be able, if not to contradict the versions of his character and accomplishments that have been given by my predecessors, at least to depict another and more favourable side of his nature. I note that on Sir C. MacGregor in 1875 he left the same impression of dignified manners and considerable intelligence. In the evening I had an opportunity both of becoming acquainted with the Persian cuisine and of testing the quality of the Khan's own kitchen. A dinner that would have fed a regiment was brought ready cooked from his house to that which he was pleased to call mine, and deposited in dishes upon the floor of the room. There were soup, chickens cooked in no less than three different ways, leg of lamb, mutton ragoüt, excellent kabobs, a Persian omelette, three gigantic platters of rice, two of them containing the famous Persian chilau or plain boiled rice, the third a pilau, or rice mixed with meat and currants,[84] and other dishes for which I cannot find a name. The cooking of such as I tried was excellent, and the rice especially was prepared in a manner that no Parisian artist could emulate. For drink there was Kuchan wine, which I thought extremely nasty, sour milk, which is equally distasteful to the untrained palate, and native sherbet, which, though little else than iced sugar and water, is a most agreeable and refreshing beverage. Delicately carved and transparent pear-wood spoons from Abadeb floated in the sherbet-bowl. Lastly there were piles of grapes. I more than


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once afterwards partook of a Persian dinner, and thought the fare, though excessive in quantity, better than in any of the other Oriental countries whose native styles I have tested.

While at Kuchan I rode out to inspect the town and its environs. I was informed that it now contains 12,000 inhabitants, but cannot help regarding this as an exaggerated estimate. The walls, of which I made the tour and which, along with the ditch, were constructed by the father and grandfather of the present Ilkhani, have never been repaired since their bombardment by the siege train of Abbas Mirza, and have been still further reduced by frequent shocks of earthquake since, notably one in 1872. Indeed, MacGregor in 1875 said the town was such a mass of ruins that he felt absolved from giving any description of it. The old ramparts are now in many places no more than shapeless heaps of mud. Outside the town are a large number of brick-kilns, and several ice-houses with lofty mud cones, built in beehive fashion over a pit in which the ice is stored. I was also taken to an extensive garden or orchard belonging to the Khan, the interior of which, ten or twelve acres in extent, was planted with vines, and avenues of apple, pear, apricot, pomegranate, mulberry, peach, plum, and quince. In the centre was a raised platform of beaten clay about a foot high, on which the Shah's pavilion was pitched when he stopped here on his second journey to Meshed in 1883, and where the Khan sometimes camps out when there is danger of earthquakes. Outside the town are also pointed out an elevated plateau known as Takht-i-Shah (i.e. Throne of the King), where Fath Ali Shah's tents were pitched in his expedition against Kuchan; and a hill called Nadir Tepe, at a distance of a mile and a half from the walls, where Nadir Shah met his fate in June 1747.

The only building in Kuchan, in addition to the palace, that lifts its head above the horizontal level of the dusty roofs or is of the least importance, is a mosque with a dome and two stunted minarets, one of these having a wooden gallery at the top from which is given the summons to prayer. As the Shiah Mahometans do not allow unbelievers to enter even the gateways of their mosques, combining a peculiar fanaticism in this respect with excess of laxity in others, neither here nor elsewhere was I able to do more than gaze through the Arabic archway into the inner court.

I am sorry that it was not till later that I read Fraser's account


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of his visit to Kuchan in 1822; because I should have liked to ascertain the whereabouts of the fragments, described by him, of a magnificent Koran which had been brought by some of the Kuchan soldiers of Nadir Shah from the grave of Timur at Samarkand. Seventy years ago about sixty of these pages, ten to twelve feet long by seven to eight feet broad, and covered with beautiful calligraphy, were seen by Fraser lying upon a shelf in an imamzadeh, or saint's tomb.

While at Kuchan I also visited the native bazaars. They are of the usual Oriental character — long alleys roofed over with timbers meeting above in an arch, and covered with mud and faggots to keep out the glare. I stopped in the cotton bazaar, where I saw a number of shops stocked with what were evidently European printed calicoes and cottons, and asked where they came from. 'Russia,' was the reply. Every piece bore the name of a Russian firm. I asked if there were any English goods sold in the bazaar. In reply some Turkey red was produced, and also some striped cotton-stuff. Neither, however, bore any English mark, and the vendor could not say where they came from. At length was produced some calico bearing the stamp of a Bombay manufacturer, and doubtless made of Indian cotton. I asked how it was that it was worth while to import goods from such a distance. The answer was that, though the price was high, yet the quality, which was not equalled in other wares, created a demand. All the glass, hardware, and crockery in the bazaar were Russian. So was the sugar. I was told that most of the tea came from India viâ Bunder Abbas and Meshed, but that some also came from Russia. Russian interests, political as well as commercial, are indeed well looked after at Kuchan, for the Russians keep a paid agent in the town. The export trade, which is principally in cotton and skins, is in the hands of Armenians, whose commercial aptitudes place much of the trade of Persia in their control. The proximity of Kuchan to Ashkabad, and the easy and secure communication between the two places, are alone sufficient to account for the Russian preponderance. The town is connected by a single (Persian) telegraphic wire with Meshed on the one hand, and Bujnurd, thirty miles lower down the Atrek valley, on the other. There connection is established with the Russian wires at Kizil Arvat. Kuchan is also served by a weekly Russian post from Ashkabad, carried by mounted Turkomans, who ride viâ Kuchan to Meshed.


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Before I leave Kuchan I may furnish a few details of the district and government of which it is the capital. Bounded by the district of Bujnurd on the north-west, it extends as far as Radkan on the road to Meshed, a total length of nearly sixty miles, its breadth from north to south being a little less, and being about equally divided between the mountain ranges and uplands in which I had been journeying from the frontier and the Kuchan valley itself, which is fifteen miles in average width, and stretches without physical interruption to Meshed. The Shah Jehan mountains, which enclose it on the south, rise behind the town of Kuchan, which is 3,800 feet above the sea, to a peak of 10,000 feet. There is no more fertile or better watered tract in the whole of North Persia than the Kuchan valley. Under irrigation it gives a hundred-fold return of grain; and its cereal productiveness entitles it to be termed the granary of Khorasan. Skobeleff knew very well what he was about when he despatched Grodekoff to buy forage for his horses and camels from the Shuja-ed-Dowleh; and the Russians of to-day also know very well what they are doing in planting themselves within easy reach and in strategical command of a district which would feed a large army and dominate the whole of Khorasan. The population of the principality consists mainly of Zaferanlu Kurds, but contains also some Geraili Turks and a few Persians. Its total has been variously estimated at from 90,000 to 200,000 souls, the lower figure being, it is needless to add, nearer the probable mark. The income of the Ilkhani is derived partly from duties on houses and shops in the towns and on cultivated lands outside, partly from the revenues of his own private property. Out of it he is required to defray the charges of his cavalry contingent, who are well mounted and armed with guns, but whose numbers, which formerly stood at 1,000, had, I was informed (perhaps in consideration of the altered condition on the frontier), been reduced to 500.

SUPPLEMENTARY ROUTES FROM KUCHAN

KUCHAN TO MESHED (viâ Jafirabad, Shurcha, Radkan, Chinaxan, Gunabad, Kasimabad, 93 miles). — J. B. Fraser (1822), Journey into Khorasan, cap. xxii.; (Sir) A. Burnes (1832), Travels into Bokhara, vol. iii. pp. 74-5; Captain Hon. G. Napier (1874), Journal of the R.G.S., vol. xlvi. pp. 79-87 and 151-3; E. O'Donovan (1880), The Merv Oasis, vol. i. cap. xxviii.

KUCHAN TO SEBZEWAR (69 miles). — E. O'Donovan.(1880), The Merv Oasis, vol. i. p. 437.


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KUCHAN TO ASTRADAD (viâ Shirwan, Bujnurd, and the Gurgan). — J. B. Fraser (1823), Journey into Khorasan, caps. xxiii.-iv., and (1831) A Winter's Journey, vol. ii. Letters xii., xiii.; (Sir) A. Burnes (1832), Travels into Bokhara, vol. iii. pp. 86-101.

KUCHAN TO SHAHRUD (viâ Shirwan, Bujnurd, Semulghan, Jajarm, and Bostam). — Colonel Val. Baker (1873), Clouds in the East, caps. xvi., xvii.; Captain Hon. G. Napier (1874), Journal of the R.G.S., vol. xlvi. pp. 98-113 and 164-5; (Sir) C. MacGregor (1875), Journey through Khorasan, vol. ii. pp. 88-113.

KUCHAN TO DEREGEZ. — Captain Hon. G. Napier (1874), Journal of the R.G.S., vol. xlvi. pp. 88-94 and 158-9.


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Chapter 6

FROM KUCHAN TO KELAT-I-NADIRI

And one a foreground black with stones and slags,

Beyond — a line of heights, and higher

All barred with long white cloud the scornful crags,

And highest snow and fire.

TENNNYSON, The Palace of Art.

FROM Kuchan it was my intention, if possible, to visit the famous frontier stronghold of Kelat-i-Nadiri, the Fort of Nadir Shah, described by previous travellers as one of the most extraordinary natural phenomena in the world, and famous even in this land of mountain fastnesses and impregnable defiles for its inaccessibility and amazing natural strength. Ever since the rumour had been spread, and even circulated in Europe, that Russia coveted this particular possession [a question was asked in the House of Commons in the spring of 1889 as to whether it had not actually been ceded to the Czar], the Persians had looked with a jealous eye upon any intruder, and I accordingly judged it prudent to say nothing of my desire. I had ascertained that it was impossible for me to fortify myself before starting with a special permit from the Shah, the latter not having as yet returned to Teheran from Europe, and the British Minister not being at the capital, in order to approach the sovereign's representatives. Nor in any case should I have solicited such permission, knowing that if granted it would at once have been treated as a precedent by the Russians for demanding a similar concession, which might in the case of their emissary have meant something very different from the visit of so innocent a traveller as myself. I was still less willing to telegraph for leave to the Governor-General of Khorasan at Meshed, because I doubted his ability to grant it, and felt certain that my footsteps would at once be dogged by spies, if I was not actually turned back. The Persians are so extravagantly suspicious of foreigners, and particularly of such as sketch, or ask questions, or measure, or


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pull instruments out of their pockets, that no successful exploration would ever be undertaken if they were to be forewarned of the traveller's intention. I determined, therefore, to take no one into my counsels, but to announce that I was going to Meshed and might possibly diverge on the way to hunt in the mountains; my secret resolve being to strike across country by whatever route I could find,[85] and ascertain for myself whether it was possible for a single individual, unexpected and unannounced, to penetrate into Kelat.

I had the greatest difficulty in eluding the vigilance of the Ilkhani, who was not only full of curiosity as to my movements, but also insisted upon my travelling in his brand-new Russian victoria as far as Meshed, threatening to return me the silver watch if I would not accept the loan of his vehicle. It was in vain that I said that I preferred to ride. 'You will have plenty of riding later on,' was the reply. Or that I wanted to stop at the villages en route. 'So can the carriage,' was the rejoinder. Finally I compromised by accepting the victoria, with the intention of sending it back at the end of the first stage; and concluded by a most ceremonious departure from Kuchan. The Khan walked with me through the streets, holding me by the hand, and deposited me in the vehicle, which was of Moscow build and of the newest and most elegant description (I fell to wondering from whom the present had come), and to which were harnessed four grey horses with postilions. With mounted gholams clearing a way in front and attendants walking by the side, the victoria, with myself inside it, rolled slowly out of the town.

The first part of my route lay along the highway to Meshed; as, in order to avoid suspicion, I had decided upon pursuing it as far as Radkan, on the outskirts of the Shuja's government, and forty miles from his city. The road runs across an almost dead level, although at about twenty miles from Kuchan it crosses the watershed between the Atrek and Keshef Rud drainage. It was unmetalled, in bad repair, and reflected no credit on the engineer who had constructed it. My postilions, as a rule, preferred to drive over the open plain, for the road was frequently intersected by irrigation trenches of a foot or more in depth, which


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caused excruciating scrunches to the springs of the light victoria. For the first ten miles the country, though at this season destitute of verdure, was richly cultivated, every square yard being turned by the plough. Wrapped up in a shroud of dust, I could scarcely see a yard in front. At intervals on either side of the plain occurred small mud villages, clinging to the shade of tiny clumps of trees, which owed their existence to some stray watercourse or to a happily unchoked kanat.[86] Of these villages we passed in


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succession Fathiabad, two miles from Kuchan; Sarkhan, seven miles; Jafirabad, a collection of low cubical domes, fifteen miles, and Dashtabad. Black goats'-hair tents scattered here and there showed that not all the Kurds had taken to sedentary life, but that some retained their nomad instincts; while an occasional deserted village marked the site of a destroyed kanat or exhausted spring. At Kelata,[87] about twenty-two miles from Kuchan, I dismissed the victoria, with instructions to go home on the morrow; and mounting my horse, and leaving the high road to Meshed and the telegraph poles on the right, continued for another eight miles on the level to Chamgir, a small village some way short of Radkan. As we rode along the plain, now quite destitute of vegetation, a lovely lake of water, the creature of the Eastern mirage, trembled and glittered on the horizon, and ever receded while we advanced. Towards evening the north-east hills, on which the declining sun shone with full orb, acquired a startling glory with tints of rose and coral; the opposite range, plunged in the shadow, was suffused with an opaline vapour that temporarily endowed it with almost ethereal beauty. Presently they both relapsed, the one into a russet brown, the other into a cold and ashen grey. I camped in an orchard outside the village.

At one of the hamlets which we had passed during the day I saw a decidedly primitive manner of threshing barley straw. A threshing-floor was prepared of trodden earth outside the walls, and upon this the straw was spread out; while a long wooden cylinder or roller, armed with big wooden spikes, like the barrel of a colossal musical box, and drawn by bullocks, was driven slowly round and round over the heaps. The result was that the straw was chopped up into small pieces, which constitute the kah, or fodder, that is the common food of horses and mules in Persia. This mode of threshing and the implement employed are as old and unalterable as are most of the habits and utensils of the East. It is described at length by Chardin over two hundred years ago,[88] and by even earlier travellers, and will doubtless be visible in remote hamlets two hundred years hence.


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It is impossible to tire of the interest and humours of camp life. The traveller arrives first on his superior mount, and selects a favourable spot, beneath the protection of trees, and if possible near to running water. Stretching himself at full length upon an outspread carpet, he enjoys the luxury of relaxation and repose. The villagers crowd round and stare. Some firewood and forage are bought for a few coppers. A flame is soon crackling and blazing; the samovar puffs out its grateful steam; and an excellent cup of tea proves to be the best beverage in the world. By this time the remainder of the camp has arrived. The horses are unsaddled by their grooms, currycombed, wrapped in thick felts from ears to tail, picketed, and fed from nosebags containing grass and chopped straw. The tents and beds and cooking utensils and baggage are pulled with a crash from the backs of the mules, who, relieved of their burdens, immediately seek the nearest tree to scratch their hinder parts, and then incontinently lie down, and kicking their heels in the air, do their ineffectual best to turn a somersault in the dust. Meanwhile the cook is hard at work on one side scooping a hole in the ground, into which he transfers the already lighted fuel, and over which he props an iron grid. On the other side the tent-pegs are driven in; the tent soon rises, and, extended on his couch, the traveller recalls the incidents of the day, tries to summon up resolution to write his diary, and awaits the crowning consolation of dinner. By 8.30 or 9 P.M. all is still save the tinkle of the mule bells and an occasional sneeze from the horses; for at five next morning the forward movement must again begin.

And here, before I proceed further, let me introduce to my readers, for the purposes of this chapter only, the names and individuality of my attendants, who will appear several times within its pages. Their leader was Ramzan Ali Khan, an Afghan of Persian extraction (i.e. a descendant of a Persian ancestor who had accompanied either Nadir Shah or Ahmed Shah Durani into Afghanistan in the previous century, and had settled there), himself a duffadar, or sergeant, in the Indian Corps of Guides, who are recruited on the north-west border of India very largely from these sources, and whose members are commonly employed upon frontier expeditions or foreign service. Ramzan Ali had accompanied General Maclean, the British Consul-General at Meshed, from India, and was a fine


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specimen of the Asiatic. Courageous and resourceful, a good horseman, with the manners of a perfect gentleman, he entertained a profound conviction that there was no people in the world like the English. Colonel Stewart, then acting as substitute for General Maclean at Meshed, had kindly given me the loan of his personal servant, Gregory, an Armenian of Julfa, who, knowing English fairly well, and Persian thoroughly, proved himself a most efficient interpreter,[89]

and also of his cook. He had, moreover, sent as a personal escort two of the Turkoman sowars, or horsemen, a small contingent of whom are kept by the Indian Government at Meshed, and are employed as a private mounted post between that city and Herat. They are chiefly Sarik Turkomans of Penjdeh, who threw in their lot with Great Britain before the Russian advance of 1885, and have preferred to


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maintain this allegiance rather than join the conquerors, whom they cordially dislike. I present upon the accompanying page a portrait of Nobad Geldi, the senior of these Turkomans, which I took with my 'Kodak' at Imam Kuli. He rode a white Turkoman horse, whose tail was dyed with henna, and which, though of unprepossessing appearance, could always go both faster and longer than any other animal in the caravan. Its favourite pace was the peculiar amble or run which the Turkomans teach their horses, and which it performed with its hind legs very wide apart. The Persians look upon this idiosyncrasy as a good sign in a horse, proving that it is not knock-kneed, and call an animal thus gifted asp shulwari gushad — i.e. 'a horse with broad trowsers.' Riding behind him, I never failed to be tickled at the paces of Nobad Geldi's red-tailed charger, and used to amuse both myself and him by taking him off, as he was ambling along, with my photographic camera. Finally, the only other servant whom I need mention was the Persian groom, Shukurullah, who had met me


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at Ashkabad, and of whom it was impossible to say whether he was more willing or more stolid.

I will give my diary for the ensuing week according to each day's march, as the information may conceivably be useful to a later traveller following the same line.

October 15. — Starting at 7 A.M., we reached Radkan (seven miles), a largish village of 400 to 500 houses and superb orchards, inhabited by Kaiwanlu Kurds, at 8.30. Away to the right I could discern Saidan (or Saidabad), a village on the road to Meshed; and the curious tower, or Mil-i-Radkan, one of those lofty circular structures, evidently dating from the times that succeeded the Arab conquest of Persia, but whose exact purpose has never clearly been ascertained. Its exterior consists of fluted brick columns, round the summit of which, beneath the conical roof, ran a gigantic Kufic inscription in blue tiles. The interior originally contained three storeys, which have fallen in and disappeared. O'Donovan, who carefully examined the structure,[90] says it could neither have been a dwelling nor a tomb. Why not the latter he does not state; and good authorities have regarded it as the mausoleum of one of the Tartar rulers of Khorasan, although the theory that it was designed as a watchtower is also worthy of consideration. Colonel Stewart conjectures that it was intended for a hunting-tower.[91] It is a curious fact that a somewhat similar tower is to be seen near another village, also bearing the name of Radkan, on the road between Astrabad and Gez; from which we may infer that the name, which is neither modern Persian nor Turkish, contains some reference to the object of the building.


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Halting outside the village, I sent Ramzan Ali to hire a guide to lead us to Kelat, having heard from an Afghan trader at Kuchan that there was a track from here across the mountains. A man was found who, for three krans, offered to conduct us to Pushtah, six farsakhs. Further he had never been, but another guide would be procurable there. As we were waiting outside the walls in some fields that formed part of the vakf or endowment of the shrine of Imam Reza at Meshed, the leading personage of Radkan — a green-turbaned seyid who administered the domain — came out with a posse of townsfolk behind him to inspect some tobacco with which the ground had been planted. He loudly expressed his dissatisfaction with the crop, and his intention to sow wheat another year. We started again at ten. It was a long wearisome ride to Pushtah, for the sun was piercingly hot, and a brisk wind sprang up and blew the desert into suffocating whirlwinds of dust. At about ten miles from Radkan the track passed into the first fold of the foot hills on the north side of the plain, and then struck boldly up a dried torrent bed to a higher plateau, the first of a series of similar terraces between the main range and the Meshed valley. There were no villages, water, or vegetation in this arid desert. At twenty miles from Radkan we came to a kind of circular crater with ragged walls, at the extreme end of which, under a rock once crowned by a fort, nestled the village of Shiri[92] by the side of a genuine stream. Skirting this and continuing to the north, we now passed on to a second and higher terrace that stretched for several miles to the base of the Hazar Musjid,[93] or main range. Dotted at intervals along its length could be seen the villages of Girri, Pushan, and Ardokh. We camped at the village of Pushtah, on the southern side of this plateau, six good farsakhs from Radkan. On the plain outside was a very large encampment of Kurd nomads, with black many-peaked tents, and innumerable flocks.

October 16. — Started at 6.45 A.M. We marched straight across the plain to the village of Ardokh (or Ardrakh), two miles, at


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the foot of the mountain range. Here we entered the bed of a broad but empty torrent that clove a winding passage in the wall of rock. Coming, after a mile or more, to a plain where two gorges converged, we followed that to the right, and proceeded up a mountain valley to the village of Oghrah, picturesquely situated upon a rocky slope at its extremity. Here we procured a guide, following whom we plunged into a deep and narrow gorge that cut straight into the heart of the rock wall, as though some Titan's axe had slashed a savage gash in the solid stone. Its walls were absolutely perpendicular, and shaped in parts by the storms of centuries into windy buttresses and towers, while at the bottom brawled a stream, which had hollowed pools in the rock, and up and across the bed of which it was with difficulty that our horses could be persuaded to climb. The formation and the scenery of this magnificent gorge, whose walls were in receding terraces, are a precise reproduction on a miniature scale of the little known but unequalled cañon of the Colorado River, in Arizona. After two hours' marching in this splendid defile, we scaled the right or east side, and followed a line over the mountains in a north-easterly direction, crossing a second sweep of hills, and emerging upon another valley, richly watered both by springs and streams, and tilled by the villagers of Maresh. This was the most remarkable of the mountain villages that I saw. Clinging to the side of the steep rock, its houses were built entirely of stone, rudely quarried and loosely put together, the ruins of an old stone castle frowning from a peak above the whole. It was a sombre-looking place, even in the full blaze of the sunshine. Here we again turned northwards, and after climbing another ridge of hills descended upon yet another valley, commanded by the romantic village of Bolghor. There we halted for the night, having been on the march for nine hours; although, owing to the extraordinarily rugged ground, we had probably not covered more than twenty-four miles.

After we had encamped I heard that the peasant who had guided us in the afternoon had, while returning to his village, been overtaken and soundly thrashed by a Persian sowar. He had, apparently, told my muleteers that he expected this chastisement for showing us the way. But three krans were too tempting a bait to be resisted. One of my men overheard the howls of the poor wretch, and watched the soldier beating


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him; but we neither saw nor heard anymore of the latter. He was probably the solitary representative of the Imperial Government in these parts, and did not care to assert its majesty in the face of a numerous caravan.

October 17. — Undeterred by the fate of his predecessor, another guide was forthcoming this morning. For an hour we were occupied in climbing and descending the ridge immediately to the north of Maresh; and then, facing due northwards, we struck the track from Meshed to Kelat, the passage of which along a deep gorge was marked by telegraph poles and a single wire, so loosely hung that we had frequently to dip our heads in order to avoid being struck in the face. At this point I joined the principal caravan route from Meshed to Kelat-i-Nadiri, which has been followed by most English visitors to the stronghold of Nadir.[94] It runs here through a profound and narrow gorge, whose sides are so close that in places there is only room for a single horseman to pass between.[95] The pass is called Dahaneh-i-Zaupirzan,[96] or Old Woman's Gorge, any peculiarly horrible piece of country in Persia being described, as I shall have reason again to observe later on, by this quaint but in Persia most apposite simile. After an hour's laborious marching, we emerged upon a more open valley, where two roads diverged, to the east and to the west. I was informed that the latter also led to Kelat, but was very rough and almost impassable for horses, and that the other was the easier and more ordinary way. Accordingly we turned our faces towards the sun and struck eastwards along a rolling upland valley, having upon our left hand the main range of the Kara Dagh (Black Mountains), whose splintered limestone crags were dotted on their inferior


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slopes with mountain juniper. At one point of this valley, where an elevation is crossed, a most superb view unrolled itself to the east. In tier after tier the mountain ridges descended towards the basin of the Tejend River (formed by the junction of the Keshef Rud and Heri Rud) and the Turkoman plains; while like a yellow scarf against the sky hung the dim outline of the desert. After pursuing this valley for an hour and a half, we turned sharply to the left and scaled the ridge by a path known as the Dewah Boini, or Camel's Neck, so steep, and alternately so rough and so slippery, that, although on foot ourselves, it was with much difficulty that we could prevail upon our horses to ascend. At the crest we gazed down upon a second valley parallel with that which we had just left — i.e. running from north-west to south-east, in the bottom of which appeared a little hamlet with a ruined fort perched upon a knoll, and beyond this again the larger red-coloured village of Vardeh.

Leaving these villages on our left hand, we struck eastwards, following the telegraph poles in the direction of Kelat, the horizontal ramparts of which we thought we could now discern against the distant sky. At noon, having been in the saddle for over five hours, I stopped for lunch by a rivulet running at the valley bottom, which here deepens into a rocky ravine. At this juncture one of the Turkomans, whom I had left behind to point out our direction to the muleteers, arrived with the news that in scaling the Camel's Neck one of the mules had slipped and rolled down for fifty feet, maiming or breaking its leg. I was not in the least surprised at this intelligence, as there are certain places which even Persian mules cannot attack with impunity, and of which this horrible natural ladder was most assuredly one. We left the poor brute behind to be looked after till our return, and followed the gully down for two miles till at its eastern end we came to the small village and crumbling fort of Baghkhan.

Here the wire turned sharply to the north-east, and an hour was occupied in crossing a rolling hump of hills, at whose further edge a deep ravine disclosed itself below, and a second magnificent panorama burst upon our view. Now we could distinctly see the corrugated battlements of the southern outer wall of Kelat, dipping at the point where is the solitary rift in this portion of their circumference. Beyond to the north fold succeeded fold of lower undulations, until like a sea upon the


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horizon spread the blue band of the Kara Kum (Black Sand), which I had left little more than a week before at Ashkabad. A bee-line due north from where I was standing would have struck the Russian station of Kaahka, on the Transcaspian Railway, from which, or from the neighbouring station of Dushak, a year before my companions and I had lightly and without any preparations contemplated an expedition to Kelat and Meshed, little recking of the appalling stretch of country that intervened. On that occasion we had been stopped by the Russian authorities;[97] and I had since travelled some thousands of miles in order to renew the experiment from the opposite quarter. We now commenced a very steep and prolonged descent, having to lead our horses most of the way, the ravine breaking at times into a sheer precipice upon our left hand. The opposite side of the gorge had sloping sides of coloured clay and marls, above which rose sandstone pinnacles and towers; and as we contemplated the strange and variegated spectacle, it was as though the mountain had been draped for festal purposes in a particoloured skirt with purple and crimson flounces.[98] The defile was alive with partridges, in coveys of from four to eight. They started up with a whirr almost under our feet, but seldom flew more than a hundred yards. Indeed, they seemed to be greater adepts on foot than on the wing, for they scudded up the bare vertical cliffs just like squirrels. At the bottom of the descent we followed the dried-up bed of a torrent till, through a rocky portal, it opened upon the last valley but one before that of Kelat. Here the telegraph poles and track diverged to the right, but as it was now late in the afternoon, and our animals were dead beat we turned to the left, following the course of a plentiful stream that ran down the valley and made it green with chenars (the Oriental plane) and poplars. At the mouth of this valley is a gigantic chenar springing from the base of a rock which contains an imamzadeh or saint's tomb. Its boughs were positively covered with rams' horns, a favourite offering of the pious Mussulman to the distinguished dead, and with other emblems of reverence. After a mile and a half I reached the secluded little village of Issurcha or Ab-i-garm (i.e. hot water), so called from some warm springs which rise near by.


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Realising that my mules, which I had left far behind, would be unlikely to arrive for hours, if indeed they succeeded in coming at all before it was dark, I made up my mind for a night in a Persian hovel. The inhabitants of the Issurcha, however, were by no means glad to see a stranger, and at first declared that they could provide me neither with forage nor with accommodation. After a little delay a villager was found who placed at my disposal an empty mud apartment, in which, with nothing but what I had on me, I made myself as comfortable as I could. Fortunately, about 10.30 P.M. the mules appeared, having found a guide who brought them safely down the mountain.

During the last two days I had, from such natives as we met and interrogated, heard the most conflicting reports of the possibility of entering Kelat. Some declared that any one could go in or come out as he pleased;[99] others that a strict guard was kept at the entrance, and no strangers permitted to pass. The question accordingly presented itself how and in what guise I was to make the attempt. I did not want, after all this trouble, to be turned back. On the other hand, I was reluctant to do anything that, if discovered, might arouse suspicion, or bring discredit upon the English name. I imagine from what I saw later that it would have been possible to ride in at night, though I cannot be sure. I resolved, however, as I had no motive in concealing my intentions, and as they were of the most innocent description, to ride down to the gate, if gate there was, at daylight, and either enter uninterrupted or not at all. My presence, moreover, was likely so soon to become known in the neighbourhood, that disguise or concealment, even if temporarily successful, would be liable to detection in the end.

October 18. — I was called at 4.30 A.M., and started at five in the moonlight, having a rough ride of nearly ten miles before me. Descending the valley of Issurcha to the point where we had entered it on the previous day, we followed the course of the stream, which here turned northwards and plunged into a black and rocky gorge called Derbend-i-Jaur, where we threaded our way between sombre walls in and out of the river bed. The


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moon hung high overhead, and straight in front the Great Bear twinkled solemnly, standing upon his tail. At the exit of the gorge was a ruined and unoccupied fort. The track now broadened into a flat and open valley, across which were drawn segments of a curious rocky ridge which had been burst through by some convulsion of nature, and whose strata were strangely contorted and inclined. Streams of water, impregnated with naphtha, gushed from the mountain side and joined the river channel, from which a flock of wild duck started with a prodigious clamour. The sun rose as we were about half down the valley, and disclosed the southern wall of Kelat on our right hand, a magnificent and lofty rampart of rock, springing from the valley bottom to a height of 700 or 800 feet, as level along the summit as though pared by a plane, but scarred and fluted down its absolutely vertical and impervious sides. Four times I passed to and fro beneath this stupendous barrier, and never failed to think it one of the most astonishing natural phenomena that I have ever seen. Its outer slopes or glacis consist of steep acclivities and shelving spurs, which swell up to it from the plain, and resemble colossal piles of débris that might have been shot from its summit. From the point where they terminate the rock rises sheer and abrupt to its aërial battlements. As this wall encloses Kelat on the south-east side, it does not catch the morning sun, but remains plunged in shadow. In the evening, however, towards sundown, the red sandstone under the descending rays glistens like columns of porphyry and jasper, and the entire rocky rampart seems to be on fire.

In descending the valley, where not a soul was to be seen, I had observed a place ahead of us where the level top of the rocky parapet ended abruptly in a jutting point, and its continuity was evidently broken by some sort of rift or cleft. As we drew nearer this spot, at a distance of about seven miles from the gorge by which we had entered the valley, the sides began to converge and close, until presently they left only the narrowest passage, the bottom of which was filled by the bed of the stream. Following this natural cutting through one or two zigzags, we came in sight of a rocky portal, some twenty yards in width, completely barred by a wall, the only aperture in which consisted of three arches that admitted the stream, and were also the sole gateway for any visitor to Kelat.


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The upper part of the wall above the arches was loopholed and had a parapet, but there was no one upon it and no sign of life or movement. This is the famous Derbend-i-Argawan Shah, or Gate of Argawan, or Arghun Shah, the passage having originally been fortified by that monarch, who was the grandson of Hulaku Khan, and is said to have retired to Kelat after being defeated on one occasion in battle by his uncle, Ahmed Khan.[100] A fine inscription on a smoothed surface of rock upon the right-hand wall of the defile beyond the gate records this act of the sovereign. The present barricade is only a modern

substitute for that which was built by Nadir Shah, and which, I do not doubt, was a far more substantial structure.


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In the fond belief that all my previous fears had been groundless, I put my horse into the bed of the stream, and, accompanied by Ramzan Ali Khan, Gregory, and Shukurullah, also on horseback, rode through the central arch. No one appeared or challenged. I had time upon the other side to note the inscription of Argawan Shah, and to observe a round tower at the summit of an eminence commanding the entrance, and had already advanced about a hundred yards towards the houses of a village that appeared upon either side of the defile, when suddenly a terrific shouting was heard from the gate behind us, and a miserable soldier, still half asleep, and pulling his tattered cotton tunic about his shoulders, came running out, yelling at the top of his voice. Answering cries were heard; and presently there poured out of the wall, which was really a gate-tower and had casements on the inner side, a motley band of half-clad individuals, for the most part in rags, though an occasional button with the Lion and Sun upon it, and one pair of blue trousers with a red stripe, showed that I was in the presence of some of the serbaz or regular infantry of the King of Kings.

As I did not want to begin with a fracas, and as the soldiers were clearly doing their duty, although they had been within an ace of letting me slip through unobserved, I halted and we entered into conversation. At first they were very violent and tried to pull back our horses. But when I represented that I had no intention of going further without leave, they became calmer. I inquired for the officer in command. There did not appear to be such a person. I next asked where was the Khan of Kelat. The reply was given that he was at his village, two miles away. Accordingly I despatched Shukurullah (as a Persian and therefore free from suspicion), with a soldier mounted on the same horse behind him, to the Khan, to tell him who I was, and to request permission to pass through Kelat and out on the other side; or, if this could not be granted on his own responsibility, then to telegraph to Meshed.

While the Persian was away I remained in the rocky gateway conversing with the soldiers. It was bitterly cold, for the sun would not strike the chasm for some hours, so I bought some brushwood and lit a fire. When they heard that I was an Englishman they seemed disposed to be more friendly; for they said that if I had been a Russian they would have shot me


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down as I rode through the gate, though how they could have guessed my nationality when they never saw me, or have shot at all when they were fast asleep, I did not needlessly vex them by asking. They added that a Russian had come to Kelat last year and had beaten a Persian, and been beaten by them, and had then started to come with 300 Turkomans in revenge; but that they had marched out, and the Russian and the Turkomans had marched back again. They also asked me if it was true that the Zil-es-Sultan, the eldest son of the Shah, had put off the Persian costume, donned English dress, and sailed from Bushire for London. I interrogated them about their existence and service at Kelat. They said that the water was very unhealthy, being impregnated with naphtha, and that they suffered from it.[101] They also complained that, though they were to have been relieved in three months, they had already been there for five, and during that time had received no pay. I could not help feeling for the poor wretches, who were about as like what one ordinarily associates with the idea of a soldier as a costermonger's donkey is like the winner of the Derby.

After an hour and a half of tedious waiting, Shukurullah returned with the news that the Khan wished me to telegraph for leave to the Governor-General of Meshed, and that if the answer was favourable I might pass through. This was all that I desired; so I proceeded to write a telegram to Colonel Stewart, asking him to interview the Governor on my behalf and to wire me a reply. There was some difficulty, however, in finding any one to transcribe the message into Persian characters. Few of the lower orders know the Persian alphabet; if they want to write a letter they hire a scribe to do it for them. The solitary scribe of Kelat was reported to be asleep under the influence of opium; but I insisted upon his being severely awakened, and at length he appeared, and spent exactly half an hour in transliterating the despatch which it had taken half a minute to compose. I now proposed to return to my camp, leaving the Persian behind till an answer arrived from Meshed; but Gregory suggested, from a more profound knowledge of the national


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character, that I was not yet out of the wood, and that it would be advisable to wait. So I moved to the other side of the gateway and halted in the sunshine.

In an hour Shukurullah reappeared upon the scene with the news that the telegram had been refused on the plea that the line was broken between Kelat and Meshed. Presently arrived a mounted emissary from the Khan, who was voluble with explanations, and afforded me an interesting insight into Persian character. First he repeated that the wire was broken; but when I replied that if that were the case it was unlikely that the Khan would himself have invited me to use it, he shifted his position and said that the wire, though not broken, was trailing upon the ground. Upon my rejoining that communication was not thereby interrupted, he was ready with the counter plea that the Khan had meant me to telegraph not to Meshed but to Teheran. As there was no wire to Teheran from Kelat except by Meshed, this falsehood was easily exposed; but I confess I was scarcely prepared for the fourth, which immediately replaced it — viz. that the Khan had meant me to telegraph neither to Teheran nor to Meshed, but from Meshed on my return thither. As it was useless bandying words with so accomplished a liar, I resigned the verbal contest, but insisted upon receiving a direct answer or a direct refusal from the Khan to my request to telegraph; and it was agreed that Gregory, as a more befitting ambassador than Shukurullah, should ride back to the village and receive a definite answer to my ultimatum.

All this occurred within 100 yards of the gate of Argawan Shah on the outer side. As I was giving final instructions to Gregory, the Persian, who had remounted, suddenly clapped spurs to his horse, and disappeared like lightning through the archway, shouting to the guard not to let any one through. When Gregory arrived a few seconds later he was refused the passage. There was nothing more to be done; and thus ignobly ended my attempt to penetrate to the interior of Kelat-i-Nadiri! Shukurullah now told me that when he took the telegram to the office the clerk was about to accept it, when the Khan's son came in and said that his father absolutely forbade any message to be sent at all. I had heard a good deal of Persian artfulness before entering the country, but had scarcely expected so artistic a sample within the first fortnight; and I do not know


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whether I was more incensed at the treatment I had received or tickled at the illustration it afforded of Oriental tactics.

The most amusing episode, however, was yet to come; for on arriving at Meshed three days later I found the Governor-General in a great state of excitement, having been informed by the faithful Khan that the new British Vice-Consul had appeared at Kelat with an armed retinue, had tried to force a passage, and had drawn his sword upon the guard! The latter had gallantly performed their duty and had expelled the intruder.

October 19. — Before I left the neighbourhood I determined to make one more effort to see the interior of Kelat. I knew from MacGregor's book that, besides the two main entrances of Argawan Shah and Nafta, there were other pathways by which it could be entered; and at Ab-i-Garm a hunter was found who said that he knew one of these very well, but was afraid to conduct me himself. He had a nephew, however, who would act as his substitute, and would appear in the morning. I need hardly say that at the appointed hour the nephew was not forthcoming. That my presence in the vicinity of Kelat was beginning to be regarded with some suspicion, was evident both from this and from an incident which occurred that evening. As I was discussing plans in the mud hovel with Ramzan Ali and Gregory, I heard a scratching in the roof overhead, and, looking up, detected a man, who, it appeared, had come from Kelat, with his ear to a hole in the rafters, eaves-dropping. As no guide was procurable, I decided to go without one. I had noticed in riding down the valley to Kelat that there was one place where the otherwise unbroken parapet of the southern wall dipped, and formed a V-shaped indentation, which seemed to be accessible from below by one of the sloping natural buttresses that swell up against it from the plain. Any future visitor to Kelat who has read this description will not fail to recognise the spot, about halfway down the valley. I was called at 3.30 A.M., the mules were laden, and we all moved out of Issurcha at 4.30 on a black cold morning. Sending the camp on to Vardeh from the Derbend-i-Jaur, I rode down the valley for the last time, and leaving my horse at the foot of the hills began the climb. It did not take long to mount the stony skirts, though the slope was very steep; and I easily arrived below the craggy battlements. Here the rock, the natural conformation of which is in wavy horizontal bands, parallel with the


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summit, had been artificially scarped by some previous occupant, no doubt by Nadir Shah, so as to form a sort of rocky ledge or pathway running along the face, and defended at intervals by ruined circular towers. There were two such rocky ledges, one about thirty feet above the other. I scrambled on to the lower and pursued it as far as the V-shaped gap. There were only about thirty feet of rock above me; and it was to be climbed. But the face of the rock was very steep and smooth; I was alone, and though, I could have scrambled up it was the kind of place that would have been very awkward to come down from again. Accordingly I resigned the attempt. With the aid of a friend and a rope it could easily have been managed, but from what I know of the interior of Kelat I doubt whether the panorama afforded from the top of the wall would be as striking as might be expected from its external configuration.

On my way back, however, I climbed the highest mountain in the neighbourhood, the name of which I do not know, but whose elevation is far higher than the perimeter of Kelat; and from there my ambitions were so far and unexpectedly realised that, though I could not see the interior level of Kelat, the angle of vision being too obtuse, I could trace the entire circuit of its walls from east to west on both sides; the southern wall, which I had attempted to climb, appearing from the height on which I stood to be the lower of the two, and the summit of the north wall rising above it on the further side. From this point I could follow, without difficulty, the whole southern rampart, nearly twenty miles in a straight line, running as regularly as though it had been built by design, and scarped and scarred along its vertical sides down to the point where the buttress-slopes shelved away to the valley. If in their war with Olympian Zeus the Titans had ever had occasion to build for themselves an unassailable retreat, such might well have been the mountain fortress that they would have reared. I made a sketch from this point of the entire circumference, which is reproduced on the next page.[102] The mountains in the foreground are the range that separate the valley of Issurcha from the valley that leads down to Argawan Shah's gate.

And now, having related with so much minuteness what I did see, I propose to describe from a variety of sources, some of which


[page 134 – Drawing of Kelat-i-Nadiri]


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have not been accessible to the public, what I did not see, in order that my readers may be able to form an accurate idea of Kelat-i-Nadiri as it is at the present moment. They will already have gathered that, though literally translated and commonly called the Fort of Nadir Shah, it is not a fort at all in the accepted sense of the term; consisting as it does of a mountain plateau, with a mean elevation of 2,500 feet above the sea, intersected by deep gullies and ravines, some twenty miles in total length by from five to seven in breadth; and only so far resembling a fortress that this vast extent of ground, comprising a probable area of 150 square miles, is surrounded as with a ring fence by a mighty natural rampart enclosing it from end to end with a cliff-wall of naked and vertical rock, 700 to 1,000 feet in sheer height above the valley bottom. From early times the extraordinary character of the place, which must have resulted from some abnormal convulsion of nature, impressed itself upon the imagination of the neighbouring peoples; and Iranian legend localises here one of the mythical combats between the hero Rustam and the alien forces of Turan under Afrasiab, who, expelled from Kelat by the victorious hosts of Iran, fell back upon the Oxus, where they sustained a final and crushing defeat. Here too, according to the Shah Nameh of Firdusi, settled Ferud, the brother of Kai Khosru, and here he was attacked and slain by Tus. The inscription to which I have alluded proves that as a defensible and defended retreat it was known to the Mongol successors of Jenghiz Khan. Timur is said to have possessed himself of it by stratagem.

But it was not till the times of Nadir Shah that full use was made of its invaluable natural gifts. Returning from India, laden with the spoils of conquered kingdoms and with the rifled treasures of the Great Mogul, he saw in Kelat, with which he must have been familiar from childhood,[103] the ideal storehouse where this vast wealth could be deposited, and also an invulnerable place of arms. Accordingly, he constructed powerful fortifications at all the entrances, placed watch-towers on every peak and point of vantage, artificially scarped the rocky battlements both within and without, in order to render them still more impossible of access, built himself a residence on a plateau in the interior (which it is said he rarely occupied), and provided for a supply of


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good water by excavating large tanks and bringing in fresh supplies by an aqueduct from the exterior.

I have only come across one description of Kelat as it was in the days of Nadir Shah, by a traveller who had evidently been there himself and had not trusted merely to hearsay. This occurs in the narrative of one Basil Batatzes, a Greek merchant who travelled far and wide in Persia and Central Asia at the beginning of the eighteenth century, penetrating to Khiva and Bokhara and visiting Nadir Shah at Meshed. His diary, written in quaint but very intelligible Greek,[104] appears to have been quite unknown to the historians who from oral evidence compiled such erroneous descriptions of Kelat in the early part of the present century,[105] and diffused an altogether false impression of the place that remained uncorrected till the visit of Baker and Gill in 1873. Returning from Bokhara to Meshed in 1728, Batatzes came by way of Kelat, to which he devotes forty lines of his diary (780-822). The mountains here rise, he says, to a great and inaccessible height, and the place is surrounded, as it were, by a mighty wall, which is not only barren and treeless but is like as though made of marble or of brass. The circuit thereof is forty or fifty stadia [this is one of his few mistakes], and there are two entrances only, and those by means of zigzag approaches. One might say that the mountain had been rent asunder by an earthquake to form these entrances, where there is barely space for three horsemen or footmen to pass. Of the interior of Kelat (which was then under Nadir's fostering care, very different from what it is now) he will only say that it contains all that a man can want in the way of natural delights, and that it is self-sufficing and could sustain itself without ever bringing in aught from the outside. He also speaks of it as the intended treasure house of Nadir Shah.


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After the assassination of the latter in 1747, Kelat passed into the hands of the present Khan's family, who have held it ever since, along with the Atek or slopes extending to the Turkoman desert below, in nominal vassaldom to Persia, but with occasional assertions of independence which have more than once led to the despatch of punitive expeditions from Meshed. It has indeed been the habit to keep the head of the family as a hostage at Meshed, in order to guarantee the good behaviour of his locum tenens at Kelat. Since the conquest of the Atek by Russia in 1881, and the subsequent delimitation of the Russo-Persian frontier in these parts by agreement between the two powers, the greater part of the external properties of Kelat, such as Abiverd (now Kaahka), Mehna, Chardeh (now Dushak), and Chacha — the villages, in fact, which are situated at the northern base of the range have passed into Russian hands; and, as I shall show later on, the new-comers are gradually creeping further and further up the slopes towards the crest, till they will ultimately reach Kelat itself.

The loss both of possessions and of prestige thus involved has co-operated with the centralising policy so vigorously pursued by Persian Nasr-ed-Din Shah to reduce Kelat to thorough subordination; and the present Khan, Haji Abul Fath Khan, would not dream of the rebellious vagaries of his predecessors. Kelat is garrisoned by the Persian Government, by a wing of one of the infantry regiments stationed at Meshed, there being a nominal force of 500 serbaz in the valley, and two guns of the horse artillery. From what I saw at the Derbend-i-Argawan Shah, I cannot think that anything like this effective, strength is maintained, any more than the conditions of service which promise relief at the end of three months are observed. Though the place has enormous natural strength, I should think that with the present ragged and scattered garrison it might be 'rushed' any day; while the defences are not such as would stand for ten minutes against modern artillery.

It appears indeed that the military value of Kelat (in its present condition) to Persia is very small; nor, if acquired by Russia, can I see that its value to her would be very great. No future conqueror is likely to wish to use Kelat for Nadir's purpose — viz. as a fortified treasure-house; nor would any modern tactician, I imagine, contemplate the fortification of an


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enclosure over sixty miles in circumference. The real value of Kelat is as a basis of operations and starting point for offensive movements against Transcaspia. Well guarded at the entrances and held by a strong garrison, it might have been made, and might still become, a veritable thorn in the side of an enemy stationed in the Atek below. A hostile force quartered here might, for instance, descend without warning and with overwhelming strength upon the Transcaspian Railway, and cut the Russian line of communication with the Caspian. But Persia is not the power to do anything one half so heroic; and Nadir's fortress is in the highest degree unlikely ever to be made a sally-port against General Annenkoft's railway. Should the Russians take Kelat, which they appear to be excessively anxious to do, the gain to them in prestige would be considerable; for ever since Nadir's days it has been looked upon as the principal military outpost of Khorasan. They would also acquire what might be made a suitable depôt for stores, and arsenal for a limited number of troops (neither the water nor the grain supply would sustain many), and there would be the decided negative advantage of preventing a position so formidable in the hands of an enemy from falling into an enemy's hands. But as an offensive measure against Khorasan I do not see that they would profit thereby, as other and far simpler ways are open to them of reaching Meshed, and as no modern army would trust itself to the awful defiles that extend for quite forty miles between the two places. In other words, the offensive eye of Kelat, so to speak, looks northward not southward; and, the march of power being in the latter direction, it is unlikely that we shall again see it utilised as a place of arms.

So much for the military value of Kelat-i-Nadiri. Let me now say something about its interior features. How little was known about it before the visits of Baker and MacGregor may be illustrated by the scanty description furnished from hearsay by Fraser, who doubled both its length and breadth.[106] Entrance to the interior is gained by one of five gates, of which the two principal are Argawan Shah on the south and Nafta on the north. The three others are Kushtani on the south-east, Chubast on the west, and Dehcha on the north-west. All of these gates are said to be fortified and defended by troops; of the two main entrances it is undoubtedly true. There are also several footpaths (it is said


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nine) by which it can be entered; and I doubt not that in that large circumference shepherds must have discovered goat-tracks by which approach, though difficult, is feasible. Nevertheless, the character, no less than the paucity of the acknowledged entrances, which are in each case through easily barred defiles, confirms the general opinion which I have expressed as to the phenomenal nature of this mountain stronghold.

The inhabitants are Turks chiefly of the Jallayer and Benjat tribes, with a few Arab and Kurdish families as well. Their total number does not exceed 1,000. They are to be found in two villages, situated in the valley by which the stream which I followed enters and traverses Kelat, and in six hamlets upon the uplands or higher elevations. Of the two main villages, I saw that of Argawan Shah, clustered upon either side of the gorge, at a short distance within the gate of the same name. The other, Giuk Gumbaz (i.e. 'Vault of Heaven' in Turkish) or Ja Gumbaz, locally contracted into Gugumaz, is a little over two miles down the valley from the same entrance, and is the spot to which I had twice despatched Shukurullah to interview the Khan and to send the telegram. Here is a curious circular tower of red sandstone, with fluted half-columns on the outer surface, rising from a big octagonal substructure. It is called Makber-i-Nadiri, having been built (for what purpose does not appear clear) by that king, and is now used as a residence by the Khan.[107] From Gugumaz the river continues to run for six miles at the bottom of the same valley, which intersects Kelat from south to north, and deepens into a rocky gorge, until upon reaching the northern wall it passes out through a cleft not unlike that of Argawan Shah, similarly fortified, garrisoned, and closed by a wall pierced with arches across the bed of the stream. The latter, emerging from the defile, makes its way down through the lower ranges, and ultimately irrigates the cornfields of Dushak.

In addition to Nadir's tower at Gugumaz, there are other but quite inconsiderable relics of that king's occupation. To the north-west of the village, upon an elevated open plateau, are the ruins of what purports to be his palace, and is called Imaret-i-Nadiri, the largest remains being those of an enclosure, called the Diwan-Khaneh, twenty yards square. Beyond this,


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again, most travellers, have been taken up the summit of the Kuh Khisht, which is 1,500 feet above the level of the plateau and 4,000 feet above the sea; but than which MacGregor was of opinion that finer views are afforded by other elevations. The water tanks and conduit constructed by Nadir, have already been mentioned.

O'Donovan compared Kelat with the Happy Valley of Rasselas; but he would probably have shifted his simile had he been condemned to reside for a time within its walls. Of the total inside area, only a small portion is under cultivation, the water supply consisting merely of the stream so often mentioned and of five small springs. This scarcity renders the support either of a large population or of a powerful garrison impossible, except by supplies brought from the outside. Cultivation in the interior is limited to two areas, the river valley and the uplands. In the former, along the banks of the stream and in the flat spaces, rice, cotton, lucerne, vines, melons, and cucumbers flourish under the persuasive influence of water. On the higher ground, which rises to 1,000 and even 1,500 feet above the valley bottom, are grown barley and wheat. There are few trees or shrubs inside Kelat; and the grass cannot be remarkable either in quantity or quality, seeing that the inhabitants frequently send their flocks outside to graze. To represent the place, therefore, as an oasis is a misnomer.

From this point I may resume my return march to Meshed, the first stage of which was by the route already traversed and described between Kelat and Vardeh. The distance is said to be five farsakhs; I should call it a bare twenty miles. My camp was pitched outside the tiny hamlet on the knoll, and here I found the mule which had tumbled down the Camel's Neck, but whose leg was fortunately not broken, but only severely sprained. From standing out in the cold at night, the limb had grown so stiff that the poor brute could scarcely hobble.

October 20. — We marched to Kardeh, nominally seven farsakhs, but according to my reckoning not more than twenty-six miles. For the first part of the route I was repeating my journey of three days before, up to the point where the lateral ravine comes in from Bolghor. From here we continued down the main gorge, following both the telegraph poles and the stream which flows along and often entirely fills its bottom. For miles


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we threaded this intricate and precipitous defile, clambering over the boulders in the river-bed, now confined in a narrow chasm, now emerging upon a neat little valley. MacGregor, who was a good judge of country from the soldier's point of view, paid no ordinary, though a well-deserved, tribute to this section of the Meshed-Kelat road when, in his graphic way, he said:

I certainly have never seen a stronger bit of country than the twenty-seven miles between Kardeh and Vardeh, it being one continual succession of impregnable defiles, any one of which would make the road celebrated. ... The country is more like what one would see in a nightmare than anything one has ever beheld awake.[108]

On the way we pass a mighty lump of sheer rock, perched upon the top of a 1,000-feet slope, and known as the Kuh-i-Panjmana or Five-man (= about 32 lbs.) Mountain, from a story about a facetious monarch who invited one of his courtiers to weigh the airy trifle. A little further, on the left hand, is an Arabic and Persian inscription upon the smoothed surface of a big limestone block, some twenty feet above the path, which records a victory of Sheibani Mohammed Khan, the Uzbeg conqueror of Bokhara, over the Persian unbelievers in the year of the Hejira 916. We then came to a little village, the name of which was pronounced to me as Hark (or Whark), where I found an agreeable shade in an orchard sloping down to the stream. After another six miles through the same defile, the valley widened into an open plain, at the head of which, surrounded by trees, was situated the larger village of Kardeh. It is an insignificant place, but is the residence of the chief of a petty district.

October 21. — After skirting the eastern slope of the hills that enclose the valley of Kardeh, the track to Meshed plunges into a narrow gorge, called the Derbend-i-Kardeh, through which the stream, coursing in rapid zigzags between the walls, occupied the whole of the slender space between. Above the lower slopes the cliffs rose in craggy magnificence to a sheer height of 1,000 or 1,500 feet. This ravine equalled in savage splendour anything that I had seen even during the past week of astonishing scenery; and I could not help thinking that if those who rave about the Alpine passes, set though they be in the incomparable framework of snow and ice, could travel to this unvisited corner of Asia, even their senses would be bewildered by


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so amazing a succession of natural phenomena, each one of which would attract a stream of pilgrims in any better-known land.

At this point we finally left the mountains and debouched on to the eastern continuation of the same plain from which I had diverged a week before at Radkan. The moment, therefore, is an opportune one for casting an eye in swift retrospect over the country and surroundings in which I had been travelling since I entered Persia, and which embrace the least known and yet most typical characteristics of North-eastern Khorasan. I summed up my impressions, without, however, describing my journeys, in the 'Times' in these words:

'After leaving Kuchan, I struck eastwards through the mountains, and spent eight days in wandering about amid the mountain valleys of this rugged and almost inaccessible corner of Khorasan. Being hampered by a camp and mules, I was limited to about twenty-five miles a day, but even so succeeded in traversing about 200 miles of this interesting and rarely visited country. The names of most of the villages are not upon any English map, and only a few larger or more notable localities, such as the famous stronghold of Kelat-i-Nadiri, are known to European ears. It is astonishing how difficult it is in these parts to procure reliable information about anything, most of all about that which should be best known — namely, the distance between adjoining places. A farsakh, nominally about four miles, is the sole unit of measurement, but, judging by my own experience, it may mean anything from two to five. The commonest thing is to be told that a place is half a farsakh distant — a term which, being used to imply any fraction less than the whole farsakh, may describe a distance of either one mile or three miles and a half. The scenery through which I travelled, and which may be said to extend over the whole of North-eastern Khorasan, is singularly uniform in its characteristics. A series of lofty mountain ridges, with an axis inclined from north-west to south-east, run parallel to each other at varying distances, the intervening hollows being in the more northern parts deep gorges admitting little more than a torrent bed at their bottom, while further south they widen into valleys watered by mountain streams and dotted with villages, and eventually into broad, rich plains, such as that of Kuchan to the north and Nishapur to the south of the Binalud Kuh mountains. Transverse ravines cut these ridges, often at right angles, and provide a way


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of communication from valley to valley. These gorges are frequently of almost inconceivable abruptness and grandeur. Each one presents a score of positions of absolute impregnability; and I do not suppose that more savage mountain scenery, in zones below the snow line, exists anywhere in the world. The base of these defiles seldom admits more than a torrent bed blocked with enormous boulders, and the walls are frequently vertical to a height of from 500 to 1,000 feet. The higher mountains rarely display even the scantiest vegetation, being sterile, stony, and forbidding to a degree, though the loftiest peaks are majestic with splintered outline, and occasionally some astonishing natural phenomenon is encountered, like the southern wall of Kelat. Cultivation is almost wholly confined to the valley bottoms, and is there dependent upon precarious streams and watercourses dug therefrom to the arable plots. Each village is like an oasis in a brown desert; and the squalid mud huts, with their fringe of green poplars and orchards, present an appearance almost as refreshing to the wayfarer as the snuggest of English homesteads.

The ordinary beasts of burden in these mountain villages are very small grey donkeys, camels being only seen when belonging to a caravan, and a horse being beyond the means of the poorer people. The arid hill slopes provide a slender herbage that sustains large flocks of black sheep and goats, which are met with everywhere, guarded by big dogs. Mutton is consequently cheap and abundant. Rude wooden ploughs unshod with iron are drawn by yokes of black oxen; but cows and milk are not to be met with in every village. Fowls abound, and can be always bought for about 3d. apiece. The valley of Kuchan revels in every kind of fruit, but further north I was not able to procure any. Rice appeared to be the staple food of the peasantry. These struck me as a fine and masculine race, and as a very different type from the Persian of the towns. They spring for the most part from a different stock, being not of Iranian, but of Turkoman or Turkish origin, and are far more like the Uzbegs or Tartars in appearance than the Persians. They wore sheepskin bonnets on their heads, not unlike those of the Turkomans, but less lofty in the crown, canvas bound round their legs with thongs, and big loose shoes of untanned cowhide similarly attached. The women were everywhere visible, but, as a rule, carefully concealed their features, not with a veil, but with the


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upper cotton garment drawn over the lower part of the face. Such as I saw were prematurely old and ugly, the melancholy law of the East.'

In extension of what was here said, I may add two other observations upon the peculiar orography of the country. In the first place the dividing lines between the watersheds are seldom the highest ranges or crests; illustrations of which phenomenon I noticed in the case both of the dividing line between the Atek or Transcaspian and Kuchan drainage, and again of that between the Kuchan and Meshed drainage — i.e. the streams that run respectively to the Caspian and the Heri Rud. Secondly, the rivers, instead of pursuing a course parallel to the axis of the mountain ranges, or, in other words, running down the deep valleys between them, and then turning the corner where the saddle dips, prefer to pierce the ranges almost at right angles to their previous course; Nature having provided for that purpose transverse fissures and gashes through the very heart of the rock, which they could never have forced for themselves, and which do not betray the symptoms of aqueous detrition, but must rather have been caused by extreme tension at the moment of original elevation.

Once upon the plain, we passed in quick succession the villages of Anderokh and Rezan, which appeared to revel in an abundant water supply and in a wide area of cultivation. Far away on the southern side of the expanse the mountains behind Meshed could be seen, broken up into detached ridges, with sharp and serrated points. I strained my eyes to catch in the distance the glint of the golden cupola and minars of the holy Imam. Slowly the mist curled upward, as though a silken window-blind were being delicately raised by cords; and first a sparkle, and then a steady flash, revealed at a distance that must still have been from twelve to fifteen miles the whereabouts of the gilded dome. Though my emotions were not those of the devout pilgrim who had very likely travelled hundreds, perhaps thousands, of miles to see the hallowed spot, though I did not break into wild cries of 'Ya Ali, Ya Husein,' and though I did not tear off fragments of my dress and suspend them upon the nearest bush, according to the formula of the pious Shiah, I yet looked with the interest of one who has heard and read much from afar upon the famous city which I was approaching; and, putting spurs to


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my horse, I sped as quickly as I could over the intervening plain.

Nobad Geldi and I were galloping in front, and the old red tailed charger was showing the best of his speed, when, ceasing to hear the clatter of the rest of the party behind me, I turned round to see what had befallen. At a distance of 200 yards Gregory's horse was lying on its back, furiously kicking its heels in the air. Its load lay scattered in every direction on the ground. The unhappy Armenian was slowly extracting himself from under the horse and ruefully rubbing his knee. Ramzan Ali Khan, also on foot, and covered with dust, was seen careering over the plain after his horse, which was disappearing in an opposite direction. It appeared that Gregory's animal, overtired, and unable, with its heavy load, to keep the pace at which we were going, had stumbled and fallen on the top of Gregory; and that the Afghan, dismounting in order to extricate his colleague, had received a kick on the head which knocked him over. All was soon right again, and, leaving the slow movers to follow at their own pace, I pushed on. At five miles from the town we came to a massive high-backed bridge, of eleven arches, spanning the slender current of the Keshef Rud.[109] The bridge, which is called Pul-i-Shah (King's Bridge), looked ridiculously out of proportion to the attenuated volume of the stream, which was only about twenty-five feet in width, and was barely moving. The ramps of the bridge had originally been paved with big cobbles, but, in common with all good work in Persia, these had for the most part disappeared, and the ruined causeway was better adapted to break legs than to save them.

Continuing for a mile, we reached the enclosure of the tomb of Khojah (or Khwajah) Rabi, a holy man who is variously reported as having been the personal friend and the tutor of Imam Reza, and whose body, in order to be near that of his sainted companion, was interred in this spot. The tomb is surrounded by a garden, in which there is abundance of trees, and which is entered by a lofty gateway containing rooms


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in arched recesses. From the surroundings it was evident that it is a favourite holiday resort of the people of Meshed, being indeed the only place of any attractiveness in the environs of the city. Thinking that the building also contained a mosque, and was, therefore, of an ecclesiastical character, I did not attempt to enter it, but merely took a photograph from the outside. I heard afterwards that, as with other tombs, any one can visit it who will. The present building is not the original mausoleum, but, as the inscription says, was raised by Shah Abbas the Great on the remains of the earlier structure. A second restoration was now in course of execution; for the building was enveloped in a scaffolding, and workmen were replacing the blue tiles on the exterior of the dome, most of which had peeled off and disappeared. MacGregor spoke of the tile-work, in 1875, as better than any in Persia. But of this, too, a great deal had vanished; and what had once been a magnificent circular frieze below the spring of the dome now existed only in segments and patches. Hard by is buried the father of Agha Mohammed Shah (the founder of the reigning dynasty), Fath Ali Khan Kajar, who incurred the hostility of Nadir Shah, and was beheaded by his orders.

Soon the road passed between dusty earthen walls and over small ditches, the uniform suburbs of the cities of the East. The long line of the city wall now appeared, projecting towers connected by a curtain, and defended by a shallow ditch. Passing through the gateway, where a shabby guard sprang to his feet and presented arms with an ostentatious rattle of his musket, we rode for nearly half an hour through the blank and unlovely alleys that constitute four-fifths even of the proudest Oriental capital; and after crossing the Khiaban, or central avenue of Meshed — more about which will belong to my next chapter — pulled up at a low door, over which a large painted shield displayed the insignia of the British Government and indicated the residence of Her Majesty's Consul-General and Agent of the Viceroy of India. In a minute's time I was shaking hands with Colonel Charles Stewart.

The march from Kardeh to Meshed is called eight farsakhs, but is not in reality more than twenty-four miles. Accordingly, the route from Kelat to Meshed is as follows:


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Farsakhs

Approximate distance in miles

Kelat-i-Nadiri to Vardeh

5

20

Vardeh to Kardeh

7

26

Kardeh to Meshed

8

24

Total

20

70

SUPPLEMENTARY ROUTES TO AND FROM KELAT

KELAT TO DEREGEZ (viâ Archingan 70 miles). Col. Val. Baker (1873), Clouds in the East, pp. 210-229; (Sir) C. MacGregor (1875), Journey through Khorasan, vol. ii. pp. 63-75.

KELAT TO MESHED (viâ Kanegosha and Karategan), two alternative routes. (Sir) C. MacGregor

(1875), Journey through Khorasan, vol. ii. Appendix II.


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Chapter 7

MESHED

Some reverence is surely due to the fame of heroes and the religion of nations.

— GIBBON, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

MESHED has in the course of the past half-century been visited and described at greater or less length by several Europeans, among whom Englishmen have been in the ascendant, in merit as well as in numbers. I append a catalogue of their names and publications,[110] so that the reader may know whither to refer for such information as he may desire about particular periods or individual men. If I add one more to the list of these chroniclers, it is because I aspire not to replace, but to supplement their labours. I shall, as far as possible, avoid the repetition of what has been better said by them, believing implicitly in reference to the original source where that is feasible. But it will be within my power both to correct certain errors into which they have fallen, and to impart greater verisimilitude to the picture


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by bringing it up to date. The fixed residence of an official representative of the Queen in Meshed is alone sufficient to mark an epoch in its history.

I may dismiss with the briefest notice the rudiments of knowledge about the holy city. Its name (Mashhad = 'Place of Martyrdom or Witness'[111]) and fame are alike due to the fact that in the ninth century A.D. the remains of the pre-eminently holy Imam Reza, son of Imam Musa and eighth of the twelve Imams or Prophets, were here interred. Rumour relates, but apparently without any very certain foundation, that, having incurred the jealousy of the Khalif Mamun (son of the renowned Harun-er-Rashid), whose capital was Merv, the saint, then residing at the city of Tus, fifteen miles from the modem Meshed, was removed at his orders by a dish of poisoned grapes; although another tradition represents the holy father as having comfortably died in his bed, or whatever was the ninth century equivalent thereto, at Tus. Whichever be the truth, the body of the departed prophet was interred in a tower in the neighbouring village of Sanabad, where also (a curious corollary to the story of the murder) lay the remains of the Khalif's father, the illustrious Harun. Sanabad gradually became an object of religious attraction and worship, and Ibn Batutah, who travelled hither about 1330 A.D., found the mosque of the Imam in existence, and highly revered.[112] In 1404 the courtly Spanish Ambassador, Don Ruy Gonzalez di Clavijo, passing Meshed on his way to the Court of Timur at Samarkand, left a similar record.[113] Shah Rukh, the youngest son of Timur, subsequently embellished the mausoleum; while his wife, Gowher Shad, erected the magnificent mosque which still exists alongside.


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It was not, however, till the accession of the Sefavi dynasty, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, that Meshed, as it had now for long been designated, became a centre of world-wide renown. Having established the Shiah heresy as the national creed, it was in the highest degree necessary for the new occupants of the throne to institute some shrine which should divert the flow of pilgrimage and money from Mecca, and appeal to the enthusiasm of the entire Shiah community. Just as Jeroboam set up the golden calves at Dan and Bethel, in order to divert the Israelitish pilgrims from Jerusalem, so the Shahs Ismail, Tahmasp, and Abbas loaded the mosque of Imam Reza with wealth and endowments, visited and sometimes resided in the city,[114] and left it what it has ever since remained, the Mecca of the Persian world. It does not indeed rank first among Shiah shrines; for just as Ali (son-in-law of the Prophet and in succession to him, according to the Shiah canon, the true leader of the faith) and his son, the martyred Husein, are superior in holiness even to the Imam Reza, so their tombs at Nejef (or Meshed Ali) and Kerbela, near the Euphrates, possess a superior sanctity to the shrine of Meshed. But Nejef and Kerbela, are both situated on Turkish — i.e. on alien — soil; and unpatriotic would be the soul that, while paying its devotions to those sacred spots, did not also burn with the desire to behold and to offer its prayers at the religious centre of Iran, and to kiss the railings of the Imam's grave.[115] The situation of Meshed, however, so near the confines of Turan, rendered it liable to constant inroad and attack, and in common with all the border cities of Khorasan it has had a stormy and eventful history. In the reign of Shah Abbas (A.D. 1587) it was once taken and sacked by the Uzbegs. It suffered severely during the Afghan invasion of Mahmud. But it revived under the patronage of the conqueror Nadir Shah, who, although after his accession to the throne he eschewed and endeavoured


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forcibly to expunge the Shiah faith,[116] yet often held his court at Meshed, restored and beautified the sacred shrine, and built in the city a tomb both for himself and for the son whom he had blinded in a fit of jealous passion. After his death, Meshed remained in the possession of his blind grandson, Shah Rukh, under whose infirm rule its population, harried by almost yearly invasions of the Uzbegs, sank from 60,000 to 20,000, until at the end of the century he was deposed and tortured to death by the brutal eunuch Agha Mohammed Khan Kajar, the founder of the reigning family of Persia. During the present century Meshed has several times been in rebellion against the sovereign power, having inherited a detestation of the Kajars, recurrent outbreaks of which have necessitated more than one punitive expedition; but along with the rest of the kingdom it has now passed in peaceful subjection into the hands of Nasr-ed-Din.

Meshed is surrounded, as are all Oriental towns of any size, by a mud wall with small towers at regular distances, and projecting bartizans at the angles. The wall was originally nine feet thick at the bottom and four feet thick at the top, besides having a parapet one foot in thickness, but is now in a state of utter disrepair. There was formerly a small ditch or fausse-braye, below the rampart, with a low parapet on the crest of the counterscarp, and a broader ditch beyond. But the process of decay has merged these structural features in a common ruin, and in most parts they are not to be distinguished from each other. The circumference of the walls has been variously calculated at four, four and a half, and six miles; but any calculation is difficult, owing to the irregularity of the plan.[117] They are pierced by five gates: the Bala Khiaban, or Upper Avenue, and the Pain Khiaban, or Lower Avenue Gate, at the two ends of the main street; the Naugan, Idgah, and Sarab. The ark or citadel, my visit to which I shall presently relate, is situated on the south-west wall.[118]


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The main feature of Meshed (next to the holy shrines) which endears it to the Persian imagination and distinguishes it from other Oriental capitals, is the possession of a straight street, nearly one mile and three-quarters in length, which intersects the town from north-west to south-east, being interrupted only in the centre by the imposing quadrilateral of the sacred buildings. This street is called the Khiaban (i.e. Avenue or Boulevard), and is regarded by the Oriental as the veritable Champs-Elysées of urban splendour. Down the centre runs a canal, or, as we should prefer to call it, a dirty ditch, between brick walls, about twelve feet across, spanned by frail foot bridges and planks. The kerbing and facing as well as the bridges are said to have been originally of stone. This canal appears to unite the uses of a drinking fountain, a place of bodily ablution and washing of clothes, a depository for dead animals, and a sewer. On either side of it is planted an irregular row-of chenars, mulberries, elms, and willows, in which are many gaps, and the majority of which are very decrepit and forlorn.[119] Then on either side again comes the footway, and then the ramshackle shops of the bazaar, the total width being about eighty feet. The Khiaban is filled in the busy parts of the day with so dense a crowd, that one can only proceed on horseback at a foot's pace, even with outriders to clear the way in front. Everyone seems to be shrieking and shouting at the same time. All classes and nationalities and orders of life are mingled: the stately white-turbaned mullah, the half-caste dervish; the portly merchant, the tattered and travel-stained pilgrim; the supercilious seyid in his turban of green, the cowering Sunni who has ventured into the stronghold of the enemy; black-browed Afghans and handsome Uzbegs, wealthy Arabs and wild Bedouins; Indian traders and Caucasian devotees, Turk, Tartar, Mongol, and Tajik — an epitome of the parti-coloured, polyglot, many-visaged populations of the East. Conolly, Ferrier, Vambéry, and O'Donovan have left such graphic descriptions of this living kaleidoscope in the Khiaban that I will not strive to emulate their achievements. Perhaps the most novel feature of the boulevard at the time of my visit was a row of lamp-posts, at distances of fifty yards apart, which had just been erected by the Governor.


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As soon as we diverge from the Khiaban, we plunge into the familiar labyrinth of intricate alleys, wandering between mud walls, turning odd corners that seem to lead nowhere, occasionally stumbling upon a small piece of bazaar, now emerging upon open spaces and heaps of rubbish. The houses of the wealthier citizens are concealed behind high walls; the poorer hovels are entered by low doorways often below the level of the street. Suddenly we come upon a vast open area, the surface of which is broken into irregular heaps, and littered with broken slabs of stone. This is one of the cemeteries, for a portion of whose hallowed soil a large price is paid by believers, and for a final resting-place in which corpses are frequently transported for thousands of miles. Hard by, masons in their sheds are busy chiselling the memorial stones, of a coarse granite quarried in the neighbourhood; engraving upon their surface a text from the Koran, or some symbol of the craft or status of the deceased. No more permanent or irremovable tombstone is tolerated; for it is essential to the requirements of the restricted area and to the revenues of the shrine that the ground should be constantly re-available for use, and as soon as the covering of an old grave has fallen in a new-comer is interred in its place. Over several of the graves were erected small white awnings or tents, in which mullahs are hired by the friends of the deceased to sit and moan prayers, and thus to expedite his path to heaven.

In spite of the number of these cemeteries and the outrageous violation of sanitary laws with which they are managed; in spite of the crowded numbers of human beings constantly packed in the city, and of its frequent and filthy cesspools, the average health of Meshed is superior to that of many Persian towns. Though situated in very nearly the same parallel of latitude as Teheran, and at a lower altitude (3,100 ft. as against 3,800 ft.), its average temperature is lower and its rate of mortality less high. Khanikoff attributes this immunity to its situation on the northern slope of a mountain range, by which it is shielded from the suffocating desert winds. The water of Meshed is abominable and quite unfit to drink, being strongly impregnated with sulphuretted hydrogen. I left my razor standing in a cup for one night, and the next morning it was as black as a steel gun-barrel.

Above the level of the rooftops rise several of the badgirs, or wind-towers, which are such a prominent feature in the maritime towns


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of the Persian Gulf. Their principle of construction is as follows. A tail square or four-sided tower is built from the roof, and is covered at the top, but contains in its sides long vertical slits or apertures, by which the air enters and passes down corresponding partitions in the interior into a room below, where the inmates live in the hot weather, and where there is consequently a perpetual current of air. In still hotter places in the South, these rooms are replaced by serdabs, or underground chambers. Another very prominent feature of Meshed is the number of karaoul-khanehs, or guard-houses, scattered throughout the city and occupied by small detachments of the regular infantry. They consist, as a rule, of a low verandah with a guard-room behind. The muskets, which are old muzzle-loading smooth-bores, are usually standing piled in front. But as a European rides by, a ragged soldier, in a blue serge tunic and a sheepskin shako, who is probably lounging behind, jumps up, and with a prodigious rattle seizes one of these weapons and presents arms. It is then put down again and the guard resumes his seat.

MacGregor in 1875 truly remarked that 'there is very little in this city to induce any one to visit it, or stay long if fortune has cast him into it. There is just one building, the Imam Reza's tomb, worth seeing; and that one there is no chance of any European being permitted to see, except at a risk quite incommensurate with the reward.' It is indeed most irritating, as one rides down the Khiaban, suddenly to find the passage barred by an archway in a wall surrounding the mysterious parallelogram that contains the holy places, and shutting it off as inexorably from the Christian's gaze as Aaron's cord between the living and the dead. From the descriptions, however, that have been left by such Europeans as have entered it, and from the accounts that have been given by Mohammedans themselves, we can form a correct idea of what is to be seen within.

Immediately beyond the barrier, above the archway of which is a European clock, the street continues to run for 100 yards or more through a crowded bazaar up to the main entrance of the mosques. Here the greatest throng was always congregated, and the busiest barter seemed to be going on. Pilgrims who reside within the enclosure can purchase there all the necessaries of life; while mementoes of their visit are pressed upon them, in the shape of the local manufactures of the city, of amulets


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and trinkets, and of turquoises engraven with sentences from the Koran. The most remarkable feature, however, about this section of the parallelogram is that, belonging to the Imam, it is holy ground, and consequently affords an inviolable sanctuary, or bast, to any malefactor who succeeds in entering its precincts. Some writers declare that even Christians, Jews, and Guebres (the Persian name for the Parsis) are permitted to use it for the same purpose; but this I elsewhere heard denied. To a Mohammedan, however, it is a safe refuge from his pursuers, with whom, from the security of his retreat, he can then make terms, and settle the ransom which is to purchase his immunity if he comes out.[120] The idea of sanctuary is of course familiar to the Oriental mind, and is embodied in the Cities of Refuge of the Pentateuch. Nor should it excite the indignant surprise of the English reader, seeing that in our own country and capital at no very distant date a similar refuge for debtors existed in the famous Alsatia between Blackfriars Bridge and Temple Bar, which also had an ecclesiastical foundation, having originally been the precincts of the Dominicans or Black Friars. The Bast at Meshed is so emphatically the property of the Imam, that any animal entering its limits is at once confiscated by the authorities of the shrine.


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At the end of the bazaar of the Bast, a lofty archway, rising high above the adjoining wall, leads into the Sahn, or principal court, of the Holy Buildings. This is a noble quadrangle, 150 yards long by 75 yards wide, flagged with gravestones of the wealthy departed, whose means have enabled them to purchase this supreme distinction, and surrounded by a double storey of recessed alcoves. In the centre of this court stands a small octagonal structure or kiosque, with gilded roof, covering a fountain which is supplied by the main canal, and surrounded by a stone channel constructed by Shah Abbas. The water of this fountain is used for purposes of ablution by the pilgrim as he enters. Upon the four sides the walls between and above the recesses are faced with enamelled tiles; and in the centre of each rises one of those gigantic portals, or aiwans (archways set in a lofty rectangular frame), which are characteristic of the Arabian architecture of Central Asia. These arches are embellished with colossal tiles, bearing in Kufic letters verses from the Koran. An inscription on the southern aiwan says that it was built by Shah Abbas II. in A.H. 1059. The lower bands of Kufic characters on all the aiwans were, we learn from a similar source, added in A.H. 1262. Upon the summit of the western aiwan rises a cage, very rashly assumed by Eastwick to be made of ivory, from which the muezzin gives the call to prayer.[121] The eastern aiwan is that which leads to the Holy of Holies, the tomb-chamber of the Imam; and its special character is indicated by the gilding with which its upper half is overlaid. An inscription upon it says that it was finished by Shah Sultan Husein in A.H. 1085; and some later verses record that it was gilded by Nadir Shah in A.H. 1145 with the gold that had been plundered from India and the Great Mogul. The Sahn contains two minarets, which, according to descriptions, and from what I myself saw from the roof of a bazaar within the Bast, do not appear to be placed in analogous positions on either side of the main entrance. The older minaret, built by Shah Ismail or Shah Tahmasp, springs from the mausoleum itself. When Fraser was here on his second visit in 1834, it had been 'so shaken or damaged, that for fear of its falling they had taken it down.' It was afterwards rebuilt. The second or larger minaret was erected


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by Nadir Shah, and rises from behind the opposite gateway. The upper part of these minarets is in each case overlaid with gilded copper plates, and is crowned with the cage-like gallery that is common to the Persian style. The sun flashes from their radiant surface, and in the distance they glitter like pillars of fire.

And now we approach the chief glory of the whole enclosure, the mosque and sepulchre of the immortal Imam. I say immortal advisedly, for the theory upon which the shrine and the vast system dependent upon it subsist is that the sainted Reza still lives, and responds miraculously to the petitions of his worshippers. The Hazret, as he is called — i.e. His Highness, — is the host of his guests. He supplies their bodily wants while they remain within his domain; and equally he answers their prayers, and furthers their spiritual needs. It is open to any pilgrim to consult him, and Delphic responses are easily forthcoming in return for a suitable fee to one of the attendant priests. From time to time also the rumour goes abroad that some astonishing miracle has been effected at the shrine of His Highness. The cripple has walked, or the blind man has seen, or some similar manifestation has occurred of god-like effluence.[122]

The tomb itself is preceded by a spacious chamber, whose marble floor is overlaid with rich carpets. Above it, to a height of seventy-seven feet, swells the main cupola, whose gilded exterior[123]


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marks the sacred spot to the advancing pilgrim, and gladdens his weary eyes from afar. The walls of this chamber are adorned with a wainscoting of kashi — i.e. enamelled tiles, above which are broad bands of Arabic writing in the same material. There is a hum of voices in the building; for servants of the shrine are heard reading aloud from the Koran, seyids are mumbling their daily prayers, greedy mullahs are proffering their services to the new arrivals; and many are the exclamations of pious wonder and delight that burst from the bewildered pilgrim, as, after months of toil and privation in the most cheerless surroundings, there flash upon his gaze the marbles and the tile work, the gold and the silver, the jewels and the priceless offerings of the famous shrine. 'Encrusted within and without with gold, it is,' says Vambéry, who himself saw it, 'unquestionably the richest tomb in the whole Islamite world. Although since the date of its first erection it has been several times plundered,[124] the cupolas, towers, and massive fretted work of the interior still contain an incalculable amount of treasure. The walls are adorned with the rarest trinkets and jewels: here an aigrette of diamonds, there a sword and shield studded with rubies and emeralds, rich old bracelets, large massive candelabra, necklaces of immense value.' Well may the worshipper, as he enters, bow his head till it touches the ground, before he approaches the main object of his devotion, the sepulchre itself.

At different times the tomb has been surrounded with railings of gold and silver and steel. The first of these was originally set up by Shah Tahmasp, but was in part dismantled and plundered by the grandson of Nadir Shah. The last was the gift of Nadir himself. Three doors lead to the shrine, one of which is of silver, another of gold plates studded with precious stones, the gift of Fath Ali Shah; the third being covered with a carpet sewed with pearls. Upon the railings round the tomb are hung silver and wooden tablets with appropriate forms


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of prayer and inscriptions. 'Before each of them a little group of the devout is posted, either to pray themselves or to repeat the petitions after the leader of their common devotions. This they do with cries and sobs, as though thus to open to themselves the gates of eternal bliss. It is indeed a singular and sublime spectacle to see how these rude sons of Asia kiss with unfeigned tenderness the fretwork of the grating, the pavement, and especially the great padlock which hangs from the door. Only the priests and the seyids are uninfluenced by these feelings of devotion. Their only concern is with the pence which they may collect. They force their way everywhere among the devout, nor do they retire till by felicitations or other good offices they have obtained the desired mite. When the pilgrim, filled with awe, walking backwards, has at last left the building, he has earned for himself the honorary title of Meshedi, a title which he has inscribed on his signet and his tombstone, and which he ever after prefixes to his name as an agnomen.'

In the absorption consequent upon visiting the mausoleum of the Imam, the pilgrim probably recks little of the dust of the famous Harun-er-Rashid, which reposes beneath a sarcophagus hard by. Nor, perhaps, will he think much of the tomb of Abbas Mirza, the son of Fath Ali Shah, and grandfather of the present monarch, which also stands beneath the sacred roof. Other tombs and chambers, moreover, there are opening out of the principal shrine, but of minor importance, and these may be dismissed without further notice.

I now come to a very prevalent error which it is desirable in the interests of truth to expose. It was started by Mr. Eastwick in 1862, when he claimed for himself that he was 'the only European that ever went into the mosque of Imam Reza at Meshed, certainly the only one that entered as a European.'[125] And it has been repeated and aggravated by the new edition of the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica,' which says (vide article on Meshed): 'Eastwick was the only European before O'Donovan who penetrated as far as the parallelogram.' Both of these claims are quite without justification. Before the time of Eastwick, Fraser in 1822 went into the shrine and into the tomb chamber itself, and after more than once repeating the Moslem confession of faith and giving the mullahs to understand that he


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was a convert to Islam (a most questionable proceeding on his part), was allowed to sit for two days in one of the alcoves of the Sahn, in order to make a drawing of its interior.[126] Conolly in 1830 visited all the chambers of the mosque but that containing the tomb itself, and walked daily in the Sahn, where, though recognised, he was free from insult.[127] Burnes in 1832, on his return journey from Bokhara, went into the Sahn, but did not think it prudent to go beyond, his 'judgment conquering his curiosity.'[128] Ferrier in1845 did exactly the same.[129] Fraser, returning to Meshed in 1834, after the occupation of the city by the army of Abbas Mirza, with which were several English officers, found 'the Sahn open to all Europeans,' but in a state of grievous dilapidation that was afterwards repaired.[130] All these were before the date of Eastwick's visit. But when we come to Eastwick himself, we are surprised to find not only that he did not go into the mosque, in the true sense of the term, at all, but that he did not even go so far as the more cautious of his predecessors in crossing the Sahn. He was introduced by the Mutawali Bashi, or Chief Guardian of the shrine, by a door from the back into one of the recessed alcoves that surround the Sahn, where he sat and gazed at what was passing below. He went no further, and he even went there unawares.[131]

Continuing the narrative since his day and down to that of O'Donovan, we find that in the year following (1863) Vambéry, on the return from his heroic voyage as a mendicant dervish to Bokhara and Samarkand, entered the mosque and visited the tomb chamber in the character which he had so long and successfully worn. About the same time Colonel Dolmage, an English officer in the service of the Shah,[132] who superintended a powder factory near Meshed, penetrated into the interior under the auspices of the Hissam-es-Sultaneh, then Governor-General of Khorasan. Finally, when we come to O'Donovan in 1880, we find that he did not even enter the Sahn, but claims from a doorway outside to have


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looked through into the great quadrangle.[133] This is an achievement which might, I think, be effected without risk at the present time. A European who found his way into the Bast, particularly by some other than one of the two main entries, might without much difficulty succeed in reaching the gates of the Sahn. He might be stared at or followed or mobbed, but he would probably not be attacked. It would be a different thing were he to enter the sacred precincts themselves; though I am one of those who incline to the opinion that in these respects the fanaticism of Orientals is apt to be exaggerated. In the interests, however, not merely of personal safety, but of the reputation of his nationality, which might suffer from detection, it would be foolhardy in a foreigner to make the attempt. I was myself conducted over the roofs of the bazaars to a spot, I believe, within the Bast, where I could see the sacred buildings very well, and was from eighty to a hundred yards distant from the mosque of Gowher Shad, which adjoins that of Imam Reza, and to which I next turn. If I must claim for myself any special distinction, it is the modest one of being the first English Member of Parliament who has entered the walls of Meshed, so far as my knowledge extends.

The second mosque is behind that of Imam Reza, but is situated obliquely to it. Like the other, it has a large court, with two storeys of recessed compartments all round, with soaring tile-covered aiwans, and with two great ungilt but tile encircled minarets. On the main facade is an inscription saying that it was erected in the reign of Shah Rukh in A.H. 821. A similar panel on the southern aiwan records its reconstruction by Shah Sultan Husein in A.H. 1087. Fraser, who visited it, thought this mosque 'by far the most beautiful and magnificent that he had seen in Persia;' and Vambéry, speaking of its main archway, said:

It was long before I could determine whether I should award the palm to this gate or to those two in Samarkand and Herat which are of the same style; for it is certain that they all date from the reign of Shah Rukh, if indeed they were not the work of the same architect. It is possible that the Madrasseh Khanym in Samarkand, as also the Musallah in Herat, were more luxurious and magnificent, but I can hardly believe that they were ever more beautiful.

Gowher Shad's mosque hardly, at the present day, sustains this reputation from the outside, though evidently its kashi is


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superb. The dome, which is larger and loftier than that of Imam Reza, is covered with tiles of blue, green, and orange patterns, which have peeled off in places.

Entrance is found by one of the archways in the principal Sahn to a madresseh, or religious college, which was erected by the munificence of one Mirza Jafir, a wealthy Persian merchant who had made a fortune in India; and it is the third finest building in Meshed, resembling the mosques in structural features and decoration. It was further endowed by its founder with large revenues, which supported fifty or sixty mullahs. Also included in the parallelogram are other madressehs, courts, lodging-houses, and baths, as well as a great refectory, where the pilgrims are fed at the expense of His Highness (each new-comer being entitled to three days' gratuitous board), at the rate of 30 mans or 195 lbs. of rice a day. Here it is said that 500 or 600 meals are served daily to the hungry guests of the Imam.

We are indebted to Khanikoff, who was a most scholarly and accurate inquirer, for the following information about the library of the Imam. He says that the date of its foundation cannot be placed earlier than the time of Shah Rukh, the oldest volume being a Koran that was deposited in his reign. The next donations occurred in the reigns of Shah Abbas and Shah Sultan Husein. A catalogue had been drawn up shortly before Khanikoff's visit in 1858, from which he learnt that the library contained 2,997 works in 3,654 volumes, of which 1,041 were Korans (189 printed, and 852 manuscripts, some of the latter of great dimensions and rare beauty), 299 prayer-books and guides to pilgrims, 246 works on general ecclesiastical law, and 221 on that of the Shiah persuasion alone. It is curious to learn that the greatest benefactor of the library was the unlettered Nadir Shah, who presented it with as many as 400 manuscripts.

The revenues of the shrine in money and in kind are very large. Fraser says that under Shah Sultan Husein, the last of the Sefavi dynasty, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, they were 15,000 tomans; but in 1821 he gives the figures as 2,000 to 2,500 tomans (can this be a misprint for 20,000 to 25,000?). Bassett, in 1878, gave the total as 40,000 tomans, which were then equivalent to 16,000l. According to the information supplied to me, they now stand at 60,000 tomans (equivalent at


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the present rate of exchange to 17,000l.) and 10,000 kharvars[134] of grain. The landed property of the Imam is scattered all over Persia, and there is a good deal of estate besides in the shape of houses, caravanserais, shops, and bazaars. There are 600 paid servants of the mosque, 100 for each day of the week. The total retinue connected with the holy buildings, and consisting of mujtaheds, mullahs, mutawalis, attendants, menials, and hangers-on, has been estimated at 2,000.

The entire fixed population of Meshed stands at about the same (45,000) as it did in the days of Conolly. But how large a part in its life is played by the religious element is shown by the computation that within the year as many as 100,000 pilgrims enter its walls, and that the average number at any time to be found in the city is from 5,000 to 8,000. From these figures, and from what has been said above, some idea may be formed of the vast and potent machinery which is in the hands of the ecclesiastical power, and of the part that it must play in the politics of Meshed. The capital is, indeed, a great collection of peoples, occupations, interests, and intrigues, revolving round the central pivot of the shrine. Just as its middle portion is occupied by the sacred quadrilateral, so the life of the place throbs from the same hidden heart, moving in dark channels of superstition, miracle-mongering, and imposture. Conolly was well within the mark when he wrote of the mullahs of Meshed that 'the greater number of these are rogues who only take thought how to make the most of the pilgrims that visit the shrine. From the high priest to the seller of bread, all have the same end; and, not content with the stranger's money, those in office about the saint appropriate to themselves the very dues for keeping his temple in order.'

From ancient times the government of the shrine has been vested in the hands of an individual, not necessarily an ecclesiastic, and commonly a layman, know as the Mutawali Bashi, or Chief Guardian. He has ordinarily become, by virtue of his office, the principal personage in Meshed, equalling and often surpassing the Governor-General in influence. It was no mean proof of the strength of the present Shah, that here, as elsewhere, he had secured the due subordination of the ecclesiastical to the civil element by appointing his own brother the Rukn-ed-Dowleh, who was Governor-General of Khorasan at the time of my


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visit, to the post of Mutawali Bashi as well. It was the first time in history that the offices had been united in the same individual, and in proportion as the occurrence detracted from the ecclesiastical predominance of the clergy, so did it aggrandise the temporal ascendency of the sovereign. Below the Mutawali Bashi in descending grades of authority and repute, extends a hierarchy of inferior mutawalis, some of whom are hereditary office-bearers, while others receive their appointments from the Shah; of mujtaheds, or doctors of the law, who expound the canonical jurisprudence, and occupy positions of great distinction and influence, receiving in some cases fixed allowances from the Shah; and of mullahs, who preach, and conduct the services, and live by what they can extract from the pilgrims. The more eminent mujtaheds are regarded as very holy characters. When they enter the mosque to pray, crowds gather behind them to participate in their prayers, and they spend much of their spare time in indiscriminate shouting and weeping. At the time of my visit Meshed was in one of its chronic spasms of religious excitement. The anniversaries of the martyrdom both of Hasan and of the holy Imam were being commemorated. Taziehs, or religious play, were being acted; the holy places were crowded to suffocation; and beaten tomtoms and clamoured invocations made the night hideous. Judging from the noise that he made, there must have been some particularly holy personage living near my quarters in the British Consulate; and freely did I anathematise this insufferable saint as I lay awake at night listening to his long-drawn lamentations and plaintive howls.

From gate to gate of the Bast on either side, the parallelogram thus enclosed must be at least a square quarter of a mile. The western gate is used as a nakkara-khaneh, or band-tower; and from here, as in other Persian seats of royal residence, is sounded at sunset a discordant fanfaronade of cymbals, drums, and horns.

Perhaps the most extraordinary feature of Meshed life, before I leave the subject of the shrine and the pilgrims, is the provision that is made for the material solace of the latter during their stay in the city. In recognition of the long journeys which they have made, of the hardships which they have sustained, and of the distances by which they are severed from family and home, they are permitted, with the connivance of the ecclesiastical law and its officers, to contract temporary marriages during their


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sojourn in the city. There is a large permanent population of wives suitable for the purpose.[135] A mullah is found, under whose sanction a contract is drawn up and formally sealed by both parties, a fee is paid, and the union is legally accomplished. After the lapse of a fortnight or a month, or whatever be the specified period, the contract terminates; the temporary husband returns to his own lares et penates in some distant clime, and the lady, after an enforced celibacy of fourteen days' duration, resumes her career of persevering matrimony. In other words, a gigantic a system of prostitution, under the sanction of the Church, prevails in Meshed. There is probably not a more immoral city in Asia; and I should be sorry to say how many of the unmurmuring pilgrims who traverse seas and lands to kiss the grating of the Imam's tomb are not also encouraged and consoled upon their march by the prospect of an agreeable holiday and what might be described in the English vernacular as 'a good spree.'

Here, in the city which he patronised and adorned, was originally laid the body of the great conqueror, Nadir Shah. In his own lifetime he caused the buildings to be raised both for himself and for his son, Reza Kuli Mirza. They were situated about halfway between the mosque of the Imam and the Bala Khiaban gate. Not a trace now remains of their existence. The brutal eunuch Agha Mohammed Khan Kajar, mindful of the source to which he owed his calamity, as soon as he became Shah, gratified the instincts of a long-nurtured revenge by razing the structures to the ground; while the bones of Nadir were removed at his orders to Teheran, and deposited (along with those of his other rival, Kerim Khan Zend) beneath the threshold of the palace, so that whenever he went abroad he might trample upon the dust of the great persecutor of himself and his family. In Fraser's day the desecrated buildings at Meshed were heaps of rubbish. Ten years later Burnes found a crop of turnips springing from the soil which had sheltered the body of the conqueror of Hindustan.

There still exist a considerable number of Jewish families in Meshed, although the practice of their own worship is strictly for-


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bidden, and is only pursued in secret. The story of their enforced conversion to Mohammedanism in the year 1838 is well known, and has been repeated by more than one traveller. Dr. Wolff, who was twice at Meshed, both before and after the incident, described it in these terms: —

The occasion was as follows: A poor woman had a sore hand. A Mussulman physician advised her to kill a dog and put her hand in the blood of it. She did so; when suddenly the whole population rose and said that they had done it in derision of their prophet. Thirty-five Jews were killed in a few minutes; the rest, struck with terror, became Mohammedans. They are now more zealous Jews in secret than ever, but call themselves Anusim, the Compelled Ones.[136]

Wolff does not add — what is necessary to explain the sudden outburst — that the incidents of the Jewess and the slaughtered dog unfortunately occurred on the very day when the Mohammedans were celebrating the annual Feast of Sacrifice.[137] Superstition and malice very easily aggravated an innocent act into a deliberate insult to the national faith; and hence the outbreak that ensued. There is much less fanaticism now than in those days; but it still behoves a Yehudi, or Jew, to conduct himself circumspectly and to walk with a modest air in Meshed.

Khanihoff is responsible for the statement that there are fourteen madressehs and sixteen caravanserais in the city; as also for an enumeration of their names and the dates of their foundation. Any reader who requires information upon these points may be referred to his pages.[138]

I had heard or read a good deal about the native manufactures of Meshed, but was greatly disappointed with such articles as I saw. A more unfavourable hunting-ground for the would-be purchaser can hardly be imagined. The manufacture of damascened sword-blades has long been a trade here, having originally, it is said, been introduced by a colony transported for the purpose by Timur from Damascus. Now, however, that rifles and revolvers have taken the place of swords and


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daggers, there is not the same demand for new blades. Silk and cotton and velvet stuffs are made here, but of a quality greatly inferior to those of Bokhara. There are in the town 650 silk looms and 320 shawl looms. On the other hand, good carpets are procurable, particularly those of genuinely Oriental pattern, close texture, and imperishable vegetable dyes, that hail from Kain and Birjand. The Kurdish carpets are also original, but less artistic. In Meshed itself are forty carpet-looms. Turkoman carpets, jewellery, and weapons were formerly a common object in the bazaars, but are now almost entirely bought up by the Russians in Transcaspia or exported to Europe. Astrabad, near the camps of the Goklan Turkomans, is probably, next to Teheran (whither everything converges), the best place in Persia for procuring Turkoman articles. Old Tartar and even Bactrian coins are frequently to be met with at Meshed. I naturally anticipated that, being in such close proximity to the famous turquoise mines of Nishapur, the bazaars would be well stocked with specimens of that stone. I saw little but rubbish. All the best stones are bought at the mouth of the mines and are exported to foreign countries. Meshed seems to receive the residue, of a price and quality likely to attract the itinerant pilgrim. Nor was I any better pleased with the carved objects, cups, bowls, basins, ewers, which are hollowed with the aid of a very primitive lathe and tools out of a soft slate or steatite that is found in the neighbourhood. There are two varieties of this stone, a dull reddish brown, and a blue-grey. But though previous travellers have spoken in terms of great admiration of these works of art, I failed to appreciate either the material, the shape, or the workmanship.

At the time of my visit, the scale of artisans' wages was as follows: Carpenters, 3 krans, or 1s. 9d., per diem; masons, 2 krans, or ls. 2d.; blacksmiths, 1½ kran, or 11d.; common labourers, 1 kran, or 7d. The price of bread was about ½d. per lb., of mutton 2¾d. Fowls, which had cost ½kran, or 3½d., in the mountains, cost 1 kran, or 7d., in the capital. The price of wheat was a little less than 6d. a stone, of barley a little less than 4d.

There were reported to be 144 private bankers or usurers in the city, with a united capital of 931,000 tomans, or 266,000l. Two only of these had a capital of 100,000 tomans (28,570l.); three a capital of 50,000 tomans (14,285l.) each; and two a capital of


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30,000 tomans (8,570l.) each. The rest were petty money dealers. The New Oriental Bank in Teheran kept an agent at Meshed; but, as they have since parted with their business to the new Imperial Bank of Persia, the latter have taken their place in Khorasan, where there is considerable scope for their transactions. A great many Russian rouble notes (it is said 200,000). were in circulation in Meshed. An English sovereign was worth 3 tomans and 3½ krans, or, at the normal rate of exchange, 19s. 6d. Indian rupees fetched their full Indian value of 1s. 5d.[139]

While at Meshed I enjoyed an interview with the Governor-General of Khorasan. As I have already indicated, this high official is one of the two surviving brothers of the Shah. His name is Mohammed Taki Mírzá, his title the Rukn-ed-Dowleh (i.e. Pillar of the State), and he was then Governor-General for the third time, having filled the post at intervals during the past fifteen years, and occasionally been superseded or shelved, as some other aspirant had gained the ear of the sovereign or been able to offer a higher bribe.[140] He had the reputation of being a mild but timid individual, who shared the family taste for saving, but temporises in politics. His chief minister however, or Wuzir (Vizier), was reported to be a staunch partisan of Russia, with whom his sympathies were notorious.

The Ark, or Citadel, in which the Governor resides, stands in the south-west portion of the city, from which it is separated by a large parade-ground or meidan. It is defended by a circuit of low walls and towers. Entering a gateway between two towers, above which was a ludicrous daub or fresco of the Lion and the Sun, we rode down a long vaulted corridor into a large court. Here we dismounted, and, passing through an untidy quadrangle with straggling flower-beds, crossed into an inner and smaller court, where were a number of attendants and hangers-on, by whom we were ushered into the divan-khaneh, or reception room, at the upper end.

Here the Governor came forward to receive us. He is short


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and very fat, but wears an amiable expression, and, although unlike the Shah, has the distinctive Kajar features. His hair was black, but a white stubble ornamented his chin. His dress was the kolah, or lambskin bonnet, and the ordinary black large-skirted coat and trousers of the Persian grandee. White cotton gloves covered his hands, which he crossed affably upon his stomach.

Our conversation was not of surpassing interest, as the Governor contented himself with civil and conventional replies. I asked him if he thought railways were likely to come in Persia. 'If God be willing, yes,' was the somewhat ambiguous rejoinder. Of the possible lines, he thought that from Teheran to Kum was most likely to be the first constructed. He said that the mineral resources of his province were very great (which is probably true), and comprised gold, silver, lead, copper, and coal. When I asked him whether the people knew anything about the Shah's recent reception in Europe, and particularly in England, he answered 'No; how should they? Only the officials and upper classes know. Three newspapers are published in Teheran, and of one of these 100 copies are brought every week to Meshed. Later on, when the Shah's diary is published, people will read it, and then they will know.'

My interview with His Royal Highness left upon me the same impression that did the conversation of so many of the Persian ministers whom I afterwards encountered — viz. the existence of an abstract willingness for the internal development of their country, but a total absence of initiative, and a passive acquiescence in the status quo.

In the succeeding chapter I shall have something to say about the armed forces of the Khorasan province. I may here limit my attention to the garrison of Meshed, which consists of three infantry regiments of 800 each, usually regiments recruited in the Turkish province of Azerbaijan; a precaution which is supposed to preclude any possible fraternisation between the populace and the military. There are reported to be some twenty light field guns in the Ark. But as they are never brought out, as the artillerymen never practise working them, and as the horses are never exercised, they would probably not constitute a very formidable battery in actual warfare.

The only two foreign Powers officially represented, or who


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have had any cause to be so represented in Meshed, are Great Britain and Russia; and in both cases the appointment is quite recent, and was effected under circumstances that had occurred a short time before my visit, and are worthy of narration. It was Russia who took the initiative in the latter part of 1888. By the seventh article of the Akhal-Khorasan Treaty of 1881, she was entitled to keep agents at the Persian frontier-posts.[141] But there was no mention therein of a Consul or Consul-General; Meshed could not possibly be described as a frontier-post, or as even remotely concerned with the Turkoman question; and the Shah was known to be particularly averse to any such intrusion at the religious capital of Khorasan. Both Russia and Great Britain had for long maintained native agents at the latter place. But such British officers as had been specially employed on political service in these regions, as, for instance, General Maclean and Colonel Stewart, had been careful either to reside elsewhere or to move from place to place, and had never taken up permanent quarters in the capital, where they were always assured that their residence would be attended with personal risk.

Russia, however, had decided for some time that her interests in Khorasan required direct and official representation in the city. Accordingly M. Vlassof, Russian Consul at Resht, and a diplomatist widely known for his grasp of Persian politics, was nominated Consul-General by the Czar, and the Shah was informed that he must ratify the appointment. This peremptory manner of proceeding was not calculated to soothe the wounded feelings of the latter, and for some time the exsequatur was withheld. Russia, however, is in a position on the north to make it extremely dangerous for Persia to oppose any prolonged or genuine resistance to whatever proposals she may threaten to enforce, and accordingly, after a certain delay, the exsequatur was granted, and in the spring of 1889 M. Vlassof was installed at


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Meshed. Such a concession having been made to the Russians could not, of course, be denied to the British, and General Maclean, who had for some time most ably represented the Indian Government on the Perso-Afghan frontier, received simultaneously his appointment as Consul-General, and, arriving at his post a short time before his Russian colleague, was the doyen of the limited Diplomatic Corps that had thus been called into being at the capital of Khorasan.

The Russian Government had for some time made preparations for this eventuality. Their native agent had acquired a large house, standing in spacious surroundings, in a suitable quarter of the city, and into this abode, well qualified to furnish the official residence of the representative of a great sovereign, M. Vlassof at once moved. The Russian flag floated above the doorway. A small bodyguard of four Russian Cossacks, as well as the Persian guard assigned to both Consuls by the Government, preceded the Consul when he moved abroad, and the native population of Meshed, whose fanaticism turned out to be a very negative quantity, were speedily habituated to the presence of the foreign element which made so brave a display. There can be no question that the presence of a capable Russian official and staff, and the impression produced by ample surroundings and an imposing abode must have done much to augment Russian influence in the capital, and, if that influence is some times exercised with an abrupt and imperious insistence, the effect, even though it be the reverse of welcome to those on whom it is produced, will not thereby have been lessened in intensity. A vigorous Russian representative at Meshed is a visible symbol of the great Power whose movements and intentions form the subject of conversation in every Oriental bazaar, and whose ever swelling shadow, witnessed with a sort of paralysed quiescence by the native peoples, looms like a thunder-cloud over the land.

In one of my 'Times' letters I wrote as follows: — 'It is to be regretted that so far the British Government has not been able to house its representative in a similarly becoming fashion. Preparations for such a contingency had not been made, as in the rival case, long beforehand; and the building which now bears the insignia of the British Consulate, and flies the British flag, is one that affords the scantiest possible evidence of the rank and importance of its inmate. It is little short of discredit-


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able that the British Consul-General should be compelled to reside in such attenuated and miserable surroundings. An immediate duty is imposed upon the Government to provide for his maintenance in a style and in quarters better fitted to represent to the native mind the prestige of a great and wealthy Power.' I rejoice to have heard since that the Government has taken the same view of the case as I did; and that a sum of money has been granted, sufficient for the purchase of a plot of ground and the erection of a becoming edifice thereon. General Maclean, the capable representative of Great Britain in Khorasan,[142] contemplated at first the purchase of a well-wooded and well-watered garden, nearly thirty acres in extent, outside the walls of the city; but my latest information is that this project has been abandoned, and that a property is more likely to be bought within the walls.


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The staff of the British Consulate, when fully organized (it is still in a state of embryo), will consist of the Consul-General, his assistant, and a Vice-Consul. A private guard is provided by two sergeants and three privates of the Indian Corps of Guides, whose picturesque uniform and smart appearance create a favourable impression, while a native guard of one sergeant and six men is furnished by the Persian Government. Attached to the British Consulate is also a body of twenty-two Turkoman sowars, mainly Sariks of Penjdeh, who from the earlier stages of the Afghan boundary dispute allied themselves to the British side, and who are now employed upon a private postal service between Meshed and Herat, where their post enters into correspondence with that of the Amir of Afghanistan. Should the latter be in the northern parts of his domains, it sometimes occurs that a message from the Viceroy of India is most easily and expeditiously transmitted to him by this circuitous route. When a proper house with becoming surroundings has been built, the British Consul-General, who is also Agent to the Governor-General of India, thus attended and assisted, will be able to maintain an appearance worthy of the twofold Power which he represents, and positively essential in a country and amid a people where etiquette and display are credited with a virtue amounting almost to salvation.

So much for the outward political position at present occupied by the two Powers in Meshed. An immense amount of consular business devolves upon the shoulders of either representative, for both the Russian and British Governments have several hundred subjects residing in or passing through Meshed for trading purposes. In the case of the British Government these will be in the main Hindus and a few Kashmiris trading, viâ Bunder Abbas, from Bombay, or occasional descendants of Afghan and Persian families who became British subjects in the earlier years of this century. The Afghans who come to Meshed are willing enough to claim the shelter of British citizenship, a recognition that is in sharp contrast with the haughty exclusiveness maintained in his own dominions by the Amir. The Russian subjects in Khorasan are Armenians, Caucasian Mussulmans, Turkomans, inhabitants of Transcaspia, Sarts, and Bokhariots. In the registration of these subjects and in the prompt attention to their business the Russians possess an indubitable


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advantage in their passport system, by which the identity, nationality, and claims of an applicant can at once be ascertained. The British have never adopted this most useful of systems, and an immense amount of labour and time is spent in investigating the titles of the claimant to British protection, which are frequently disputed by the Persian authorities, and can only be vindicated with trouble and delay. It is worth while considering whether in Persia, at any rate, the passport system might not advantageously be introduced.[143] It would, I believe, be welcomed by the Persian Government.

There is very little to be seen in the neighbourhood of Meshed. The mosque of Khojah Rabi I have already described. The Musallah, originally built in A.D. 1699 for the celebration of the feast of Kurban, and described by MacGregor as the only ruin of any note about the city, has lost any note that it may once have had by being a total ruin. Visitors will possibly care to ride out to the remains of Tus, the predecessor of Meshed, fifteen miles distant in a north-westerly direction. Persian legend is very busy with the antiquity and history and vicissitudes of this once famous city. The present remains, which are very clearly to be traced, are those of a walled Arab city, quite four miles in circumference, and of a citadel in its north-east corner. In the centre is a large ruined structure under a dome, which was no doubt once a mosque, but is now known as the Nakkara-Khaneh or Drum Tower. O'Donovan, who spent some time in examining and describing the ruins, mistook this building for the tomb of the great national poet Firdusi,[144] and even identified his coffin.[145] The poet's grave lay beneath a far humbler structure which was visible seventy years ago; but had disappeared long before O'Donovan visited it, and been replaced by no more distinctive memorial than a field of wheat.

Meshed is connected by telegraph, as I have already shown, with Kelat-i-Nadiri on the north, and with Kuchan and Bujnurd


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on the north-west. From Kelat a branch line runs to Deregez. There is further a single wire from Meshed to the frontier outpost of Sarakhs, on the Russian border; but this is usually broken or interrupted, and Sarakhs is, as a rule, cut off from communication with the capital. This line has been linked in the present year (1891) with Russian Sarakhs, on the other side of the Tejend, where there is a military outpost of Russia; the point of junction being in the bed of the Tejend. This brings Meshed into telegraphic connection with Ashkabad and Merv, and further exemplifies the Russian ascendency. There is, at present, no telegraphic connection between Meshed and the south; but a wire has been talked of from the capital to Birjand. The main line between Meshed and Teheran, 570 miles in length, consists of a single wire, viâ Nishapur, Sebzewar, and Shahrud. Though it belongs to the Persian Government, it is subsidised and maintained for them by the Indo-European Telegraph Department, who keep an inspector at Shahrud and two signallers at Teheran and Meshed. This staff is inadequate for the maintenance and service of the line, and it is out of order on several days in each month. The Persians were apt at first to invest the telegraph offices with the sanctity of a bast, and cases have occurred at Meshed and elsewhere where the premises have been so claimed by fugitives from pursuit or persecution — the underlying idea being that the wire ran directly from the Shah's palace at Teheran, and that they could thus communicate at once with head-quarters.

In conclusion I may say that the fanatical hostility to Europeans and Christians for which Meshed was always said to be distinguished appears to have completely disappeared. Precautions, it is true, are still observed by the advice of the authorities; and it was one of the inconveniences of life and residence there that one had to pass through the town on horseback preceded and followed by an escort. This prevents the desultory stroll and 'poking of the nose in every corner' which the European traveller loves, but which is so foreign to the Oriental's notion of dignity and self-respect. During my residence of eight days in Meshed I always moved about on horseback; but I believe that there was nothing in reality to have prevented me from wandering whither I would on foot, and in a few years' time a European will doubtless be as familiar a spectacle there and will excite as little comment as in the streets of Bokhara or in the bazaars of Isfahan.


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SUPPLEMENTARY ROUTES FROM MESHED

MESHED TO SARAKHS (viâ Ak Derbend and Pui-i-Khatun, 96 miles). (Sir) A. Burnes (1832), Travels into Bokhara, vol. iii. pp. 56-65; Capt. Hon. G. Napier (1874), Journal of the R.G.S., vol. xlvi. p. 146 (1876); (Sir) C. MacGregor (1875), Journey through Khorasan, vol. ii. pp. 1-30.

MESHED TO HERAT (two routes; the most familiar viâ Turbat-i-Sheikh Jam and Ghurian, 220 miles). J. B. Fraser (1822), Journey into Khorasan, pp. 118-19; Lieut. A. Conolly (1830), Overland Journey to India, vol. i. cap. xii.; J. P Ferrier (1845), Caravan Journeys, cap. x. and cap. xxxi.; Capt. Claude Clerk (1857), Journal of the R.G.S., vol. xxxi. pp. 45-47; H. C. Marsh (1872), Ride through Islam, pp. 113-131; (Sir) C. MacGregor (1875), Journey through Khorasan, vol. i. caps. viii. ix.

MESHED TO SEISTAN (viâ Turbat-i-Haideri, Bajistan, Birjand, Lash Juwain). Dr. F. Forbes (1841), Journal of the R.G.S., vol. xiv. (1844); Col. Euan Smith (1872), Eastern Persia, vol. i. pp. 323-356, and Appendix D; Dr. H. W. Bellew (1872), From the Indus to the Tigris, caps. ix. x.; Sir F. Goldsmid (1872), Journal of the R.G.S., vol. xliii. p. 65 (1873).

MESHED TO KAAHKA (Transcaspian Railway), viâ Sengiban, Chaksari, Charköi, and Kardeh. Max von Proskowetz (1888), Vom Nervastrand nach Samarkand, iii. 5.

MESHED TO DUSHAK (Transcaspian Railway), viâ Kanegosha, Khanibist, Namisar, Huntalabad, Tamura Pass, Chacha, Karategan. (Private information.)

For other routes, outlined but not described, vide MacGregor, vol. ii. Appendix II.


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Chapter 8

POLITICS AND COMMERCE OF KHORASAN

See how this river comes me cranking in

And cuts me from the best of all my land

A huge half-moon, a monstrous cantle out.

SHAKESPEARE, Henry IV., Part I., act iii. scene 4.

IN this chapter[146] I propose to discuss the political and commercial situation in Khorasan, the latter being a branch of the former subject, at any rate in a country where commerce can be pursued with political objects, where mercantile agents are frequently diplomatic emissaries in disguise, and where the command of trade routes and bazaars is capable of being used as a preliminary to territorial acquisition. I wish to place before my readers the causes connected with these two spheres of action that bring the province of Khorasan within the purview of European politics, and are responsible for the existence of a Khorasan Question. I desire to point out the parts that are or can be played by Great Britain and Russia in the development of that question, and their respective interests in its future settlement. I shall endeavour, from data which I have collected with some trouble, and which are not elsewhere to be found systematically displayed, to indicate what that future is likely to be. First let me explain and define the factors with which I propose to deal.

Khorasan, or the Land of the Sun, is the extreme north-


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eastern province of Persia. Extending from about long. 56 degs. on the west, to long. 61 degs. on the east, or from the Kal Mura River[147] to the Heri Rud, it presents an average width of a little over 300 miles. Its extreme length would be, from its north-western to its south-eastern extremity, a distance of 600 miles; but its average length may be calculated at 100 miles less. Upon the north it is bounded by the great mountain range, the eastern continuation of the Elburz system, which I have already described at length, and by which it is severed from what was once Turkoman, but is now Russian Transcaspian territory. On the south it is bounded and all but cut off from the world by the appalling desert that stretches like a sea to the very outskirts of Kerman.

In this wide extent of territory, which is estimated at between 150,000 and 200,000 square miles, are included the most extreme varieties of physical conformation, of scenery, and of climate. Upon the north appear mountains whose highest peaks are rarely left by the snow, and rise to an elevation of between 12,000 and 13,000 feet. Range succeeds range in this knotted mountain cluster; the intervening valleys, with a mean elevation of 3,000 to 4,000 feet, being the recipients of whatever moisture drains from their sides, the centres of cultivation, and the sites of villages and towns. In contrast to this almost Alpine scenery, the Dasht-i-Kavir, or Great Salt Desert of Persia, one of the most strange and funereal scenes upon which ever fell the eye of man, lays its palsied hand across the middle part. Then towards the south-east ensues a second mountainous plateau, with peaks of 6,000 feet, and lower cultivated valleys. Finally, to redress the balance, comes the Dasht-i-Lut, or Desert of Lut, whose features, though different, are not unfit to be compared with those of the Dasht-i-Kavir.[148]

Cultivation here, as elsewhere in Persia, depends upon water supply; the detritus swept down by the streams or torrents depositing a layer of soil upon the sand, which is subsequently


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fertilised by the same agency that originally brought it. A petty torrent named the Kusf gives life to a limited area of cultivation near Birjand in the south; and there are a few scanty confluents of the upper course of the Heri Rud. With these exceptions the rivers of Khorasan are confined to the northern portion of the province, which has in consequence acquired its reputation as one of the granaries of Persia. Here the Keshef Rud, of which I have spoken, drains the Meshed valley into the Heri Rud. Conversely, the Atrek and Gurgan on the western side of the watershed drain towards the Caspian Sea. About midway between the two the Kara Su and Kal Mura, already mentioned, lose themselves in the Kavir. This is the sum total of the rivers of a province that is more than half as large again as the whole of Italy, and not far short of the entire area of Spain.

The population of Khorasan is as varied as are its physical characteristics. Successive waves of conquest have brought hither specimens of most of the great ethnic divisions of Asia, and, retiring, have left them rooted, in greater or less degree, to the soil. Here, in addition to the original Iranian stock, and to other members of the Aryan family, are descendants of the Mongols who came in the wake of Timur and Jenghiz Khan, Arabs who were borne on the flood tide of Mohammedan conquest, Tartars, Turkomans, and Turks — three really interchangeable names for different branches of the same great family that, in succession to the Mongols, startled the West first with the Seljuk and afterwards with the Ottoman invasion. The 'Encyclopaedia Britannica,' in its latest edition, gives the relative proportions of these races in Khorasan as follows: —

 

I.

Iranians

=

þTajiks

Kurds

üBeluchis

400,000

250,000

10,000

II.

Mongols

=

þTimuris

üHazaras

250,000

50,000

III.

Tartars

=

þAfshars î

üKajars *

100,000

IV.

Arabs

=

100,000

Total

1,160,000

But from what I can gather this estimate exceeds at least twofold the verifiable total of the population, which may be set down as between 500,000 and 600,000; the terrible famine of 1872


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having inflicted damages from which the province has never recovered. Khorasan has experienced a history of great and stormy vicissitudes. Situated on the borders of Iran, it has been the perpetual theatre of armed struggle, and a favourite battle-ground of races. Its capital cities have alternately excited by their dimensions the bewildered admiration of Arab chroniclers, and have been swept off the earth, as though by a tornado, by the passions of conquerors and kings. It has been the residence of great monarchs, and the nucleus of mighty empires. At one time its name implied a dominion that included Kharezm (Khiva) and Merv on the north, that stretched to the Oxus and embraced Balkh, the mother of cities, of which Herat was a central point, and that extended beyond Kandahar.[149] Later, as limb after limb was torn away, and independent sovereignties were created out of the fragments, its boundaries became more and more contracted, until the kings of Persia would sometimes have found it difficult to say how much they really held of Khorasan. In the early part of this century, desolated by border warfare on the north, inhabited by turbulent chieftains and conflicting tribes, and commonly dependent upon the fluctuating politics and fortunes of Herat, it was the vulnerable spot of the Kajars' dominions, a sort of Ireland to an otherwise fairly united kingdom. Long after it had been forcibly conquered and subdued to the Shah's authority, disorder trembled below the surface, and events might at any moment precipitate an explosion. As late as 1862 Mr. Eastwick wrote: —

The normal state of Khorasan is war. Petty plunderings, murders, brigandage, small insurrections, executions of five, ten, or twenty robbers take place weekly; and cavalry, engagements, sieges of fortresses or towns, annually, with a considerable war every five or ten years.[150]

It is not indeed till the last ten or fifteen years that Khorasan may be said to have become thoroughly fused, in sentiment as well as in title, with the rest of the Shah's dominions. The present King, who, whatever his failings, has undeniably consolidated his


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reduced but still compact territories, can boast of a firmer hold upon the province than any previous member of his dynasty, and is as unquestionably sovereign at Meshed as he is at Teheran.

In the reign of Fath Ali Shah, about fifty years ago, the revenue of Khorasan was 200,000 tomans, and 50,000 kharvars grain.[151] In 1875 it was 340,000 tomans, and 45,000 kharvars of grain. In 1889 it stood at 539,000 tomans (154,000l.) and 43,000 kharvars of grain (two-thirds wheat and one-third barley), and 13,600 kharvars of kah — i.e. chopped straw:[152] figures which, in spite of the depreciation of the toman, show that the productive capacity of the province is on the increase, and also that the extortionary capacity of the Government is better organised and more keen.

Of this total, according to a subdivision which is highly interesting, and will afterwards come up for explanation, the Shah received 87,200 tomans (24,914l.) in cash, and 9,200 tomans (2,629l.) as the cash equivalent of his proportion of the grain; a total of 27,543l. from the province. The remainder was absorbed in pay of troops and civil officials, pensions, &c.

Like every other post or office in Persia, the governorship is as a rule sold to the highest bidder, the price given by the successful purchaser being a fair criterion of the estimated increase or diminution in productiveness and consequent value. The Governor-General, who resides at Meshed, is usually a member of the royal family or some official of high standing and distinction. Subject to his orders are a number of district governors or chieftains, of differing power and influence, ruling over territories that vary in size from hundreds to shires, and from shires to provinces. These as a rule owe their appointments to the Shah, even where the succession is hereditary in a single family, but are responsible in the first place to his deputy at Meshed. Beneath them again is a hierarchy of petty governors, headmen, and mayors, nominated by and responsible to their superiors.

It is in the multiplicity of rival claims and interests among these chieftains, in the variety of races beneath their rule, and


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above all in the juxtaposition of their extended borders with those of two foreign Powers, neither of whom can be considered as other than hostile — namely, Russia and Afghanistan — that the Khorasan Question finds its birth; and it is upon a consideration of these manifold elements that any attempt either to comprehend or to solve it must primarily be based. The greater part of the western and southern limits of Khorasan, not being border districts, but abutting upon other Persian provinces, and being either inhabited by Persians or not inhabited at all, play no part in the problem of frontier policy. This may be said to commence with the Astrabad province, occupying the neck of land between the Astrabad Bay, in the south-east corner of the Caspian, and the district of Shahrud, and also a stretch of fertile soil between the Gurgan and Atrek rivers as far east as the 56th parallel of longitude.[153] Its capital and only city is Astrabad, with a population of 8,000, which is the residence of the Governor. Its port is Bunder-i-Gez, thirty miles distant, on the bay before named. The Governor was till recently Amir Khan Serdar, the Saif-el-Mulk, a young man, who is the brother of one of the Shah's wives. He was said to possess every quality that should disqualify him for the discharge of such an office, and to have been merely sent to Astrabad in order to get rid of him at Teheran. He has since either been superseded or has resigned. The forces of the Astrabad province are nominally 3,800, of whom a garrison of 300 is stationed at the fortified post of Ak Kaleh (White Fortress), eight miles from the capital, on the Gurgan; 2,900 were lately in camp at the same place; and the rest are scattered in different directions, or are not under arms at all; one-fourth of the total nominal strength being a very moderate deduction for absentees. The province of Astrabad, though distinct from Khorasan and not responsible to the Governor-General, cannot be omitted from any discussion of the politics of the larger area, for the reason that it commands the western approaches thereto from the rest of Persia and Teheran, and that it is directly concerned in the solution of three distinct questions, each affecting Khorasan in the closest degree, though only touching it from without. These are the questions of the


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Russian naval station at Ashurada, the control of the road from the sea to Shahrud, and the allegiance of the Yomut Turkomans between the Gurgan and the Atrek.

A glance at the map will reveal the peculiar physical conformation of Astrabad Bay, and supplies another illustration of the phenomenon that has already been described at Enzeli, where the prevalent westerly gales in the Caspian pile up long bars of sand on the seaward side of shallow murdabs or lagoons. Astrabad Bay is a large sheet of water forty miles in length by eight miles in width, protected from the open sea on the north by just such a long promontory or spit of land, projecting for thirty miles from the western coast line and terminating in three small islands, the furthest of which is only separated by a narrow channel from the eastern or Turkoman coast of the Caspian. The bay, therefore, resembles a lake, with the additional advantage of connection with the open sea; and although it has nowhere more than twenty feet of water, and in most parts much less, yet on the shores of the Caspian, which possess so few harbours, it may claim a quite peculiar distinction. In the hands of Persia it is doubtful, judging from analogy, whether it would ever have been seriously utilised for commercial or other purposes. Russia, however, took very good care that not even the opportunity should be afforded to her timid neighbour. Already by the Treaty of Gulistan in 1813, confirmed by that of Turkomanchai in 1828, she had stipulated that no armed vessel flying the Persian flag should be allowed upon the Caspian; while to make assurance doubly sure, she herself appeared in force upon the scene about the year 1840 and occupied the island of Ashurada, lying off the extremity of the long peninsula of Mian Kaleh, hereafter described.[154] The plea under


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which she defended her intrusion was the necessity of putting down the Turkoman pirates who infested the southern and eastern shores of the Caspian, and, after their fashion, robbed, pillaged, and carried off their captives into slavery. The Russians do not appear either then or since to have formally disputed the Persian ownership of the island, which is unquestionable; but to have justified their stay as the consignees of police powers which the Persians were incapable of exercising themselves, and which after a time were tacitly recognised by the latter. For this purpose a small naval armament was collected, four or five vessels belonging to which and one gunboat, under the command of a Russian commodore, still lie off the Russian naval station.[155] It is needless to say that the piratical escapades of the Turkomans have long ago been completely quelled. The Russians, notwithstanding, have never thought of giving back their trust, and would now be very much insulted at any suggestion that Ashurada was not their freehold property.

The island, however, is low, swampy, and most unwholesome. For the last fifty years it has been reported as being slowly eaten away by the sea; and the surrounding conditions have in fact changed so much as to render the descriptions of only half that period ago quite obsolete. Eastwick left a most minute and accurate account of the locality as he found it in 1862.[156] At that date there were two islands, Great and Little Ashurada. The first of these was severed by a channel about half a mile in width from the end of the long promontory of Mian Kaleh (called by the Russians Potemkin), and was about one and one-third mile long by three-quarters of a mile broad. This was the Russian naval and military station. Then came shoal water for half a mile,


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followed by the low sand spit known as Little Ashurada, two miles in length. Then came more shoals, with a narrow passage between them, extending to the Turkoman coast.

Since then a third island, which the Russians call Middle Ashurada, has been formed between the other two, while to strike a balance the erosive process has been going on at Great Ashurada to such an extent that the island is now reported to be less than a mile long by only one-third of a mile wide. Upon this space of ground are built the quarters of the commodore, barracks for soldiers, a church, club-house, and the usual appurtenances of a military station.

In view of the facts here narrated it is not surprising that the Russians, who since the complete subjugation of the Turkomans have next to nothing to do at Ashurada, and have really no defensible raison d'être in the place, should have for long turned covetous eyes upon some more secure and salubrious post on the inner line of the bay. More than twenty years ago they are said to have contemplated the seizure of the Persian landing-place of Gez, on the mainland, by offering to garrison it; but in this they were forestalled by the Persian Government. Unable to possess themselves of Gez, which, though a wretched place in itself,[157] the Shah would be in the last degree reluctant to yield, and the occupation of which would signify the beginning of the end, they are rumoured now to be desirous of obtaining a fortified position on the Kara Su (or Black Water), a small river rising about thirty miles east of Astrabad, and flowing into the Caspian about six miles south of the embouchure of the Gurgan. Such a position would be equivalent to the occupation of Gez, and would place Astrabad, literally at their mercy.

Before I pass to the question of the reasons for which the Russians cling so closely to their foothold in this unlovely spot, let me call attention to the fact that in their presence there history is merely repeating itself. It is a strange and interesting coincidence, although it is one which I have never seen noticed, that over 200 years ago the island of Ashurada was simi-


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larly occupied, without permission, by a body of Cossacks, and for some time held by them in force. It was in 1668, we learn from the omniscient Chardin,[158] that the Cossacks of South Russia, being instigated by the Grand Duke of Muscovy to attack Persia in revenge for a slight which had been put upon his embassy by Shah Abbas the Great, invaded Mazanderan and sacked his capital, Ferahabad. Thereupon, intending to winter in Persia, they entrenched themselves on the 'peninsula of Mionne Kelle, or Middle-sized Horn, a tongue of land that runs forward into the Caspian Sea about ten or eleven leagues, and abounds in harts, wild boars, wild goats, and other sorts of wild venison.' The Persians promptly attacked them, and, bolder or more fortunate than their nineteenth-century descendants, succeeded in ousting the intruders, who, however, took refuge in Ashurada, and remained there for a time.

Nor is this the only occasion upon which Russian forerunners have appeared upon the scene, or have been within measurable distance of seizing Astrabad. Fifty years later, in 1722-3, Peter the Great, who had a very shrewd notion of the proper strategical positions to be occupied, and who, although his alleged will be apocryphal, entertained very clearly defined ideas of a Central Asian dominion, taking advantage of the disordered condition of Persia consequent upon the Afghan invasion in 1722, and utilising as his plea the robbery and slaughter of a number of his subjects in Persian towns near the border, prepared to invade the country from the north. This project was never carried out in its entirety; although the Russian army, led by himself, advanced in 1722 as far as Derbend. The submission of Gilan and surrender of Baku in the following year were, however, sufficient to extort from the young Shah, Tahmasp II., who was endeavouring to make headway against the Afghan usurpers, a treaty, ceding to Russia Derbend and Baku with their dependencies, and the entire provinces of Gilan, Mazanderan, and Astrabad; in return for which magnificent donation — which by the way the young Shah was hardly in a position at the time to make — the Russian army was to drive the Afghans out of the country.[159] The Russians occupied Gilan for a


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while, but were too busy elsewhere to trouble themselves with Astrabad; and thus a second time it slipped out of their possession.

Sixty years later the attempt was again renewed. Forster, the first English traveller who made the overland journey from India to Europe in 1784, and who passed this way, relates an interesting tale of a Russian squadron, whose commanding officer in 1781 commenced the erection of a large fortified building on the shore at Ashraf, the site of the famous palace of Shah Abbas near the coast, about twenty-five miles west of Gez. They had reckoned, however, without their host; for Agha Mohammed Khan Kajar, afterwards Shah of Persia, and at that time engaged in establishing his authority in Mazanderan, soon appeared upon the scene. Expressing great pleasure at what he saw, he invited the Russian officers to dinner, made them prisoners, and only released them on condition of the guns being removed and the fort razed to the ground. He even appealed to the Russian Government for formal amends.[160] Thus ended the third Russian attempt to gain a foothold upon the mainland of Persia in the south-eastern angle of the Caspian. The fourth attempt, which I have sketched, is being pursued with less abruptness and with greater patience. Its solution may perhaps be visible in the time of many now living.

Next I come to the reasons which have actuated the Russians in their long-sustained desire to obtain an entrance into this corner of the Persian mainland. It is not that Astrabad of itself provides either the most convenient or a very easy avenue of invasion. In the first half of this century different and more exaggerated opinions prevailed as to its strategical value. If a line be drawn from Baku to India it will be found to pass through Astrabad; and accordingly this was the line of advance that was contemplated both by the Emperors Paul and Napoleon, when they together discussed and planned an overland expedition against India in 1800; and again by General Khruleff when, in the course of the Crimean war, he submitted a similar programme of invasion to the Emperor Nicholas. The immediate objectives were in either case Meshed and Herat; and in those times the best


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route for a European army marching to Meshed or Herat was undoubtedly by Astrabad. But since then the Transcaspian situation has been revolutionised. Russia sits securely where the Turkoman terror formerly reigned. Meshed can be smitten from Ashkabad, and Herat from Merv and Penjdeb, without any necessity for the lengthy land march from the Caspian. Astrabad, therefore, as a point of debarkation, has not the value for Russia that it formerly had. Nor are its own resources sufficient, so far as can be ascertained, to support a very large army in the field, although it is said that, in 1863, a Persian army of 30,000 men remained encamped for eight months in the neighbourhood. Its value is now not so much offensive as defensive. Its eye may be said to look not eastwards, but westwards; and its strategical importance is involved in the second of the questions which I named above, viz. the control of the Shahrud road and the position which it consequently enables its occupant to take up against the rest of Persia and the capital.

Astrabad is separated from Shahrud by the Shah Kuh, or main range of the Elburz mountains, which here retain a distinct physical individuality before they are broken up into the manifold ridges of northern Khorasan. The highest peak of this section, fifteen miles south of Astrabad, attains an altitude of 13,000 feet. Across the range there are two passes to Shahrud, a distance by the mule track of sixty-five miles, one of which at least, in spite of the elevation and of the nature of the country, might be converted into an excellent military road.[161] An army marching by either of these and seizing Shahrud, which is absolutely defenceless, would find itself in this position. It would, in the first place, be surrounded by a district of considerable fertility and abundant water supply, capable even in summer of sustaining a large army.[162] Secondly, it would hold the point of junction of the


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roads from Mazanderan and the sea coast, and from the capital, Teheran. And, thirdly, it would command the sole entry from the west into Khorasan, into the heart of which run two easy roads, the one by Jajarm, Bujnurd, and Kuchan more to the north, the other by Sebzewar and Nishapur due east to Meshed. In other words, the Astrabad-Shahrud position is the key of Northern Persia. Stationed there, an army severs Khorasan from the rest of the world, and can effectually prevent any reinforcement from the capital. North Persia may be likened in shape to a wasp of which the head is at Teheran and the tail at Meshed. The narrow belt between Gez and Shahrud is the wasp's waist. Cut it and the head becomes powerless; while the utmost that the tail can do (and that — not if it is a Persian tail) is to implant a dying sting. It is in the light of the physical configuration of this portion of the Shah's dominions that the presence and the intentions of the Russians at Ashurada have always been invested with such importance. Their interests in this neighbourhood are sufficiently guarded by a Consul at Astrabad, and by Consular agents or representatives at Bunder-i-Gez and Shahrud.

I pass now to the third or Yomut Turkoman Question, in which Russia again plays a significant part. By the Boundary Treaty of 1881, the Russo-Persian frontier in this quarter was definitely fixed at the Atrek River, from its mouth as far as the junction of the Sumbar at Chat, although it appears that one of their boundary pillars, for some unexplained reason, is still placed south of the Atrek. Moreover, Russian officers have been heard of who since the treaty have crossed the Atrek River with soldiers, and have endeavoured forcibly to collect tribute from the Persian Yomuts on the Gurgan. However, for such an act there can be no excuse in international law, and practically, as well as diplomatically, the Atrek may be taken as the line of division. North of that river are settled the Yomut Turkomans under Russian rule; south of the river are the Yomuts under Persian rule, though nomad camps of the latter are in the habit of crossing the river at certain seasons of the year, and are allowed by treaty to do so in order to change their pasturages. The Russian Yomuts are thoroughly subdued, and, whether satisfied or not with Russian sovereignty, are powerless to revolt. The Persian Yomuts, however, who are subdivided into the Ata Bai and Jafir Bai clans, are far from submitting tamely to the pretensions of


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Persian authority, and were during the year 1888-9 in active rebellion. Further to the east are the Goklan Turkomans, a more submissive people, who, in order to escape the hereditary enmity of the Yomuts, have tranquilly accepted the Persian yoke, pay revenue to the Shah's exchequer, and provide him with a body of 300 irregular cavalry.[163]

The rebellion of the Yomuts began in February 1888, and was not finally extinguished till March 1889. It appears to have been fomented by, if not to have entirely arisen from, the scandalous misgovernment of the Persian authorities. So serious, however, did the movement become that at one time 130,000 Persian troops, under the command of the Governor-General of Khorasan, the Khans of Bujnurd and Kuchan, and the Prince Governor of Astrabad, were in the field against them. Almost incredible stories are related of the cowardice of the Persian troops, large bodies of 1,000 and 2,000 men being checked and routed in open daylight by a few scores, or at most hundreds, of Turkoman horsemen. It is only fair to add that the Persian soldiers were perhaps as much actuated by discontent as by cowardice in these discreditable proceedings. At least one half of their pay, when it came from Teheran, was pocketed by the Saif-el-Mulk; and to expect these ill-fed, ill-clothed, and unpaid wretches to fight was perhaps more than human. Savage acts of violence occurred on both sides, particularly on that of the Persians, who spared neither the lives of the men nor the honour of the women who fell into their hands. At length the revolt was brought to an end by the familiar Persian methods of treachery and intrigue. The clans were induced to turn against each other; and, finally, the leading Ata Bai chieftain, Haji Nazar Khan, who had been the life and soul of the rising, was enticed into Persian territory and killed. The revolt then collapsed.[164]

Episodes such as this not merely display the lamentable incapacity of the Central Government, but they can have but one ulterior consequence — the encouragement of Russian pretensions on the north. It is well known that that Power claims, and


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expects eventually to exercise, sovereignty over the whole of the Turkoman tribes. Now it is believed that the Persian Yomuts are quite content, if fairly treated, to observe a reasonable allegiance to the Shah in order to escape the heavier taxation of their brethren on the Russian bank of the Atrek.[165] Every fresh disturbance, however, and still more any evidence of the powerlessness of Persia to check it, provide just such an excuse for advance as a Power with aggressive intentions would welcome with avidity; and Persia must be careful that in this critical region she is not found playing into her opponent's hand. Had Russia intended at the time to play a forward instead of a waiting game, she might have easily discovered an opportunity in the recent disorders. That her secret sympathies were not on the Persian side, was shown by the remarkable fact that the insurgent Yomuts were found to be mainly supplied with Russian breechloading rifles and cartridges.

From the Astrabad province, with its appanage of acute political problems, we have now crossed into Khorasan proper, and with our faces turned in an easterly direction may pursue our inspection of the frontiers. We pass from the Turkomans to the Kurds, and in the Bujnurd district encounter the first of the Kurdish communities whose ancestors were transplanted by Shah Abbas about 1600 A.D. to the mountain border of Khorasan. I have already in the chapter upon Kuchan described with much fulness the circumstances under which these military colonists entered the country, the conditions of their tenure, and their present relations with the central power; and what I there said will apply to Bujnurd equally with Kuchan. Whereas Kuchan, however, is chiefly peopled with Zaferanlu Kurds, it is the Shahdillu tribe who settled at Bujnurd, and still constitute the large majority of its inhabitants. Like Kuchan, they are ruled by a Khan, bearing the title of Ilkhani, who, though appointed by the Shah, is selected usually in hereditary descent from the reigning family; who collects his own revenues, and furnishes in return a military contribution to the state, and who is generally in a superior position to an ordinary provincial governor. The cavalry contingent supplied by the Ilkhani of


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Bujnurd consists at present of 500 men. His district comprises the upland valley of Bujnurd, contiguous to that of Shirwan and Kuchan, the upper waters of the Atrek, and further south Jajarm in the Isferayin plain.[166]

Of Kuchan I have already spoken. Its military contingent is at present 600 strong.

To the north-east of Kuchan, and on the northern slope of the main range — the only Persian possession of any size now remaining on the northern watershed of the Elburz — is situated the little frontier district of Deregez (the Valley of Tamarisks). This favoured spot, which consists of a valley or basin some forty miles long, by thirty broad, is inhabited partly by Kurds, but mainly by Turks or Tartars, relics of old waves of Turanian invasion. Its capital is Mohammedabad, 1,200 feet, where in 1880 O'Donovan met Colonel Stewart, disguised as an Armenian horse-dealer, and lived for three weeks in his society without discovering that he was an Englishman. Deregez is separated from the Aterk by a low range of hills, which have hitherto saved it from Russian absorption; though it has lost several of the villages lying upon the plain below, of which it formerly claimed ownership. Before 1832, it might be considered an independent principality; but in common with the other border states of Khorasan, it was then reduced by Abbas Mirza, and has since remained a possession of the crown, in much the same way and under the same conditions as Kuchan and Bujnurd; although from its position on the extreme boundary, and the relations into which its chief was consequently brought with the Turkomans, the authority of the imperial Government was somewhat delicately and precariously enforced from Meshed. The Khan of Deregez belongs to a ruling family who have inherited the chieftainship from the days of Nadir Shah. Neither he nor Deregez are now of much importance, and his military contribution has been reduced to one hundred.[167]


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In none of these three border districts is there the material for any resistance to aggression from the North. The two Ilkhanis, one of whom I have described in an earlier chapter, and both of whom are important chieftains, may talk very big about opposing Russia, and cannot, in the bottom of their hearts, be animated by other than hostile feelings towards a Power whose propinquity has already shorn them of so much of their ancient prestige. But it is more than doubtful whether either of them would lift a little finger if invasion actually occurred, while a steady influx of Russian presents for a series of years beforehand might be found to have sensibly alleviated the pangs of surrender. Already Russia may be said to have obtained a definite foothold in each. I have described the new military road from Ashkabad to Kuchan, and have shown its strategical importance. An alternative Russian road runs from Geok Tepe over a pass in the mountains further to the west by Germab and Firuzeh to Shirwan, and is continued to Kuchan from that direction. A third road leads up the Atrek to Bujnurd viâ Chat from the Russian military station of Chikishliar, on the Caspian. Russia keeps Consular agents (Russian Mohammedans) at Bujnurd, Kuchan, and Mohammedabad. They are supposed to be there in the interests of trade; but, in the intervals snatched from commercial application, are not discouraged from promoting the interests of their country in whatever way a discreet intelligence may suggest.

Continuing eastwards, we next come to the astonishing natural phenomenon known since the time of Nadir Shah, who made it his stronghold, as Kelat-i-Nadiri. The physical and strategical attributes of this remarkable place have previously been discussed. I have also mentioned that the Persian Government keep here a detachment (nominally) of 500 infantry, scattered at the different vulnerable points, and two guns. The inhabitants are chiefly Turks, and the Governor, sent from Meshed, Haji Abul Fath Khan, lives in a village in the interior, and supplies 150 mounted levies to the Persian border horse.

For some time past Russia has turned a particularly affectionate eye upon Kelat, and rumours of its cession by the Persian Government have been designedly circulated in order to familiarise the public mind with such a transfer of ownership. To those who deny such intentions on the part of Russia, it will be sufficient to reply that a few years ago she


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formally offered to give to Persia, in exchange for Kelat, her share of the famous and fertile plain of Moghan on the western shore of the Caspian. The offer was declined. The value of Kelat to Russia consists, as I have before argued, in its command of the head waters of the streams that run down to the Atek; and still more in its position as a central point for controlling the border tribes, and in its prodigious prestige. Persia is far from willing to cede this remarkable point of vantage, and guards it with a jealousy that is in curious contrast to her general apathy and weakness. No stranger is permitted to enter except with a special permit from the Shah, and several Russians, as well as myself, have been baffled in the attempt to penetrate into the interior. Russian policy in these parts is at present directed to claiming more and more of the streams that irrigate her possessions on the plain, and to extending her influence over the border tribes. Little by little she has crept up the mountain skirts from the Atek at the bottom, while disputes about the water supply which, though it fertilises Russian villages, yet flows from Persian sources and through Persian territory, can always be aggravated into an excuse for encroachment. Kelat would provide her with a centre of particular value for either object, and she will remain discontented until she possesses it.

In the published treaty between Russia and Persia, which was concluded in December 1881, and which defined the new boundary between Transcaspia and Khorasan, necessitated by the Russian conquests of that year, the delineation of the border which commenced at the mouth of the Atrek, stops abruptly before it reaches the village of Lutfabad, situated in the Atek below the Persian district of Deregez. Lutfabad was left to the Persians; but what is the exact frontier eastwards from this point to Sarakhs on the Tejend is not ascertainable from any published document. It is believed to have been settled by a secret treaty in 1881 or in 1883 between Russia and Persia, to which I shall later on have occasion to refer; and commissioners are reported to have passed over the ground and traced it out. The popular uncertainty, or rather ignorance, upon the point is, however, an excuse for just such acts of encroachment on the part of the stronger power as I have sketched in the preceding paragraph.

At Sarakhs we once again touch a definite boundary in the shape of the Tejend River, which, though known in its upper


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course as the Heri Rud, becomes the Tejend upon being joined by the Keshef Rud at Pul-i-Khatun; and, after dividing the Persian from the Russian military outposts at Sarakhs, flows, when there is water in it, in a northerly direction across the desert, where it is spanned by a bridge of the Transcaspian Railway at Tejend or Karibent.

There are two Sarakhs, the Old and the New Sarakhs; and much confusion has been caused both among travellers and politicians by an imperfect appreciation of their different sites and features. Old Sarakhs is on the right or eastern side of the river, and from very remote times was the headquarters of the Salor tribe of Turkomans, who are one of the first subdivisions of that race of whom we hear in history, being mentioned by Arab historians as long ago as the seventh century.[168] The first European in this century of whose visit to Sarakhs we read was the missionary Wolff, who stopped several weeks here in 1831, on his first journey to Bokhara, preaching to the Jews, of whom there was a small colony, and the Turkomans. He passed again in 1844, on his mission of inquiry into the fate of Stoddart and Conolly at Bokhara. In the interval Burnes had spent ten days in disguise at Sarakhs in 1832, on the return from his great journey, and had very narrowly escaped detection. He described the place as a 'small and weak fort almost in ruins, situated on a hillock, with a few mud houses built by the Jews of Meshed;' and said that its Turkoman occupants at that time professed a dubious allegiance to Khiva.[169]


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Very soon after Burnes' visit, Abbas Mirza, the heir-apparent, who was then prosecuting the reconquest and thorough subjugation of Khorasan, appeared upon the scene with his army, took and destroyed the place, massacred most of its inhabitants, and carried away the rest as prisoners to Meshed;[170] whence they were subsequently ransomed at 4l. a head by their Salor kinsmen of Yuletan. Some of them are still to be found at Old Sarakhs; and a colony exists at Zohrabad on the Persian bank, a good deal higher up the river. But the clan has in modern times sunk into comparative insignificance.

Some time later, it is said about the year 1850, the Persians, in order to secure this frontier post against the merciless ravages of the Tekke Turkomans of Merv, built a huge fort, of polygonal shape, and flanked with twenty-four towers, upon which they mounted a number of decrepit guns, on the left or western side of the Tejend, at a distance of about half a mile from the river. M. de Blocqueville — the unhappy French photographer who accompanied the famous Persian expedition to Merv in 1860, that was cut to pieces at Koushid Khan Kaleh, and who fell into the hands of the Turkomans and remained a prisoner in their tents for a year and a half — passed Sarakhs on his way and described the newly constructed fort.[171] MacGregor was the next visitor, in 1875; and he both gave an account of the fort and its garrison of 700 infantry, a few cavalry, and eleven more or less serviceable guns; and published in his book an illustration and plan.[172] Next, in 1882, M. Lessar, the well-known Russian engineer, at that time employed


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as a prospecting pioneer of Russian advance, later as a member of the Afghan Boundary Commission, and now diplomatic agent at the Court of Bokhara, was at Sarakhs on the surveying tour which first laid bare to European knowledge the country between Sarakhs and Herat. He described the pitiable fright of the wretched garrison, who, instead of being a terror to the foe, were practically beleaguered themselves, inasmuch as they never dared to sally out, and burnt alarm fires on the watch-towers at night.

Two years later, in April 1884, largely in consequence of the information which M. Lessar had collected, and in pursuit of that effective but indefensible advance that resulted in the affray on the Kushk and the seizure of Panjdeh in 1885, the Russians appeared in force, and occupied the deserted position of Old Sarakhs on the eastern bank of the river. Here they soon constructed a fortified position and barracks; and the resuscitated Old Sarakhs, which I suppose may now be called the Newer Sarakhs, has ever since remained one of their frontier military stations. The only account of it that I have seen since it passed into their hands is that by the Comte de Cholet, a young French officer who rode down this way in disguise in 1888 with Colonel Alikhanoff from Merv. His description (translated) is as follows: —

Strictly speaking to call Sarakhs a town would be somewhat of an exaggeration. It is simply a military post around which are grouped the houses of the officers and of some persons engaged in trade. As the Persians seemed to resent the annexation of the Turkoman tribes who inhabit this neighbourhood, the Russians replied by erecting this advanced post, in which they placed two battalions, one of the first line, and one reserve or garrison, in all from 1,500 to 1,600 men. This was more than enough to teach the Persians that they could never hope to recover the country; at the same time that, upon a really very shallow pretext, it established an important advanced post in the valley of the Tejend, commanding one of the two roads to Herat. Besides a large and excellent barrack, the town consists only of 100 houses, inhabited by the military or civil officials and the merchants. Two streets and two squares — one of which is the scene of a very busy and animated market — divide the town, and constitute a long parallelogram, half a mile in length by 200 yards in width. It is the residence of a pristav, or chief of district.[173]

I have in my previous work quoted the important opinion of


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MacGregor upon the strategical significance of the position at Sarakhs, as commanding the approach up the valley of the Heri Rud to Herat.[174] This advantage has now passed entirely from the Persians' into the Russians' hands. The Persian garrison of Sarakhs, which consists of one wing of infantry — about 300 men — and a small detachment, of artillery, is practically isolated in the big overgrown fort which it could in no case defend. The telegraph wire from Meshed is usually interrupted or broken; and the Russians have probably only to appear upon the other side of the river and fire a volley of blank cartridge, to ensure a precipitate stampede.

Sarakhs is the extreme north-east point of the Persian frontier, and in fact occupies an angle sharply pushed out into the desert. Here we turn south, following the valley through which flows the Heri Rud, the river supplying the boundary first between Persia and Russia as far as the Zulfikar Pass, and afterwards between Persia and Afghanistan. Here also we touch the northern skirts of a belt of country lying upon or near the border lines, and inhabited by various tribes of mixed origin and alien religion, who, though subjects of Persia, profess a somewhat reluctant allegiance to her rule, and constitute a critical item in the politics of the frontier.

It is in the Meshed district which extends to the Heri Rud that we first encounter these foreign elements. Round the capital the Iranian element is in the ascendant; but as we approach the frontier we come across colonies or detachments who belong in race and religion to the Chehar Aimak (lit. Four Settlements), or wandering tribes of the Afghan border.[175] These are the Jamshidis and Hazaras. The former are of Persian origin, but the greater part of the tribe long ago left Persian territory and settled in Afghanistan. The remnant were brought back after the siege of Herat in 1857, established at Kanegosha, near Meshed, and required


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to furnish a mercenary force to the Persian Government. A border guard is still recruited from them; but, though of Persian descent and speaking the Persian language, they are credited with a very dubious fidelity. The Hazaras, on the other hand, never were a Persian race. They belong to the Turanian family, as their Mongolesque features, their crooked eyes, and paucity of beard indicate. Some of them are settled in the Meshed district, but the greater number further south at Mohsinabad, in the district of Bakharz. By far their most extraordinary feature is that, though Persian neither in blood, religion, nor affinity, they speak the Persian tongue. They profess the Sunni Mohammedan faith; and although supplying a force of 450 cavalry, entertain feelings of very questionable loyalty to the Sovereign power.

Next in succession to Meshed, on the south, come the border districts of Jam, or Turbat-i-Sheikh-Jam (i.e. the Tomb of Sheikh Jam, a local saint of immense sanctity, who was buried here), Bakharz and Khaf, which are at present united under a single Persian governor of Arab blood, who bears the title of the Nasrat-el-Mulk, and who from the three districts supplies a quota of 1,025 cavalry. The bulk of the population under his rule also belong to one of the Chehar Aimak tribes, but to neither of those hitherto mentioned. They are of Arab origin, and are called Timuris, a name which they are said to have derived from the great Timur, who originally deported them from their native country in a rage because they had plundered his mother when on a pilgrimage to Mecca, and who then handed them over as subjects to an eminent Seyid, to whom also he gave his own daughter in marriage. There are settlements of Timuris in other parts of Khorasan, notably near Nishapur and Sebzewar; but the bulk of the tribe are found in the three border districts, now under discussion. The ill-judged and oppressive policy of the Persian Government has alienated the sympathies of these along with the other nomad tribesmen. Indeed, Persia has almost as much reason in these parts to mistrust her own mercenaries as had the Roman Empire to doubt its legions of Goths and Gauls. I should add that the Timuris, like the Hazaras and Jamshidis, are Sunni Mohammedans.

Further to the south lies the extensive and important district of Kain, which includes ten beluks or petty governorships, and stretches as far as the desert that separates Khorasan from Kerman.


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Kain is ruled by an Arab Amir, in whose family is vested a hereditary chieftainship, and who among the border chieftains of the south occupies a position analogous and even superior to that enjoyed by the Ilkhanis of Bujnurd and Kuchan on the north. Mir Alam Khan, the present Governor, is probably the most powerful subject of the Persian Crown. Now more than sixty years of age, of strong character, and with a formidable reputation for severity, he has cleared his province of the roving bands of marauders, principally Afghans and Beluchis, who used to lay it waste with impunity; and is so big a personage that he requires to be very cautiously interfered with by the Central Power. The Amir was already Governor at the time of the Seistan Boundary Commission in 1872, and did not behave with any excess of civility to Sir F. Goldsmid. However, as the area of his own dominions was at stake, Seistan being a subdivision of his province, there was perhaps some excuse for offence; and he has since been extremely attentive to such Englishmen as have gone his way. He bears a ceremonious title, conferred upon him by the Shah, and holds the rank of an Amir-i-Toman, or Major-General in the Persian army. The sovereignty of the Crown is typified by a detachment of Persian artillery in the fort at Birjand. (The Amir has since died, November 1891.)

The inhabitants of the khanate are of Persian and Arab descent, and are estimated at not less than 80,000. Formerly the seat of government was the town of Kain; but it has now been transferred to Birjand, a larger unwalled city, with 14,000 inhabitants. Colonel Stewart reports that opium is enormously grown and consumed here, and that hundreds are said to die yearly from excessive indulgence.[176] The military contribu- of the Amir is 700 horsemen, from Kain and Seistan combined; and two regiments of infantry, which are called out in turn, one doing duty in Seistan, while the other is disbanded in Birjand.

Seistan, as I have indicated, is one of the beluks or subdivisions of the province of Kain, and is administered by a deputy of the


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Amir, residing at Nasratabad. In 1889 it contributed to the total revenue of Khorasan 26,000 tomans (7,429l.) in cash, and 24,000 kharvars (6,957 tons) of grain. Seistan, however, involves so many independent problems, political, commercial, and strategical, that I propose to postpone its consideration to a separate chapter, where I shall better be able to render justice both to its history and to its future. With the south-east corner of Seistan Khorasan terminates. The melancholy Dasht-i-Lut succeeds; and we then come to the province of Persian Beluchistan, which will more properly fall within the scope of my second volume.

It is along the belt of border territory which I have been describing from the Zulfikar Pass to Seistan — a region, as I have shown, inhabited by tribes mainly of non-Persian origin, non-Persian religion, and anti-Persian inclinations — that, Russia has conceived the idea of propagating her political influence. Claiming to be the champion of Sunni Mohammedanism, as against the Shiah heresy of the Persians, she appeals to their fanatical instincts.[177] In their irregular levies she sees a possible auxiliary of great military value. In their situation, commanding the flank approach to Herat, and lower down to the Helmund, she sees an opportunity of threatening Afghanistan and of approaching nearer to the Indian Beluch frontier. Upon Seistan, lying midway between Meshed and the sea, she directs a particularly envious gaze, knowing that its possession by a rival Power would be the one step that might checkmate her complete ascendency in Khorasan. Russian native news-writers are maintained at Turbat-i-Sheikh-Jam, Khaf and Kain. Russian emissaries have been heard of prosecuting their explorations in these regions, and a feverish interest is displayed by the Russian authorities in any information relating to the little-known districts that extend in the direction of the British border.

In other words, along the entire circumference of Khorasan, from north-west to south-east, occur a succession of points at which Russian interference, influence, or intrigue is being actively pushed forward; and so the Muscovite toils are steadily and surely being wound round the body of the intended victim. Astrabad, Bujnurd,


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Kuchan, Kelat, Sarakhs, Khaf, and Seistan are the several scenes of operation, and may eventually supply the requisite doorways of entry. A glance at the map and at the Transcaspian position of Russia, coterminous for 300 miles with the northern border of Khorasan, will show how a situation which the vicinity of a strong Power in possession of the mountains might have rendered extremely critical has, in the face of a neighbour as weak and pliant as Persia, been converted by Russia into an overwhelming advantage.

It is scarcely possible indeed to exaggerate the effect which the Transcaspian conquests of Russia, and her subsequent construction of a railway across the desert immediately outside and below the Persian frontier, have had upon the political condition, and will have upon the political destinies of her neighbours. This, however, is a wider question than should fall within the scope of a chapter dealing solely with one province of the Persian dominion; and I therefore propose to defer it till a chapter is reached which shall handle the whole question of Russian influence and policy in Persia, of which General Annenkoff's railway may be described as one of the propelling instruments.[178]

Before I leave the politics of Khorasan, let me revert once again to its administrative subdivisions, and supplement the information which I have given about the border provinces by a brief sketch of its interior districts. I may divide these into two classes: an inner row, or second line, so to speak, of border districts; and districts which have no connection with the frontier at all.

Commencing from the south, where we left off with Seistan, and striking inland from about the same parallel as Kain, we come to the province of Tabbas, which touches on the south that of Yezd, from which it is 200 miles distant. The inhabitants of Tabbas are partly Arabs, partly Persians, and are ruled by a hereditary chieftain of analogous though inferior position to the Khans, Ilkhanis, and Amirs previously described. His name is Mirza Mohammed Bakar Khan, and his official title the Imad-el-Mulk, or 'Pillar of the State'; though it cannot be contended that either in contributions or in individual importance he lends to it any particular support. The country is big and poor, the people in-


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offensive and quiet; and no trace remains of the condition of affairs described by Malcolm at the end of the last century, when the chiefs, maintained themselves in practical independence, and their subjects were noted for valour.[179] The Khan provides a contingent of 150 cavalry.

North of Tabbas is the small district of Turshiz, also with a mainly Arab population, and under a Governor responsible to the Governor-General at Meshed. Turshiz is famous for its fruit, which is incomparable, and for its silk, which the disease, that wrought such havoc in Gilan, fortunately failed to touch. It is also reported to have turquoise mines, greatly inferior to those of Nishapur.

Turshiz is really in the third, not the second, line of support; for between it and Turbat-i-Sheikh Jam occurs the district of Turbat-i-Haideri (Tomb of Haider), which is of some strategical importance, as being situated upon the line of advance of any army advancing from Herat by Khaf upon Meshed with a view of cutting off communication between the capital and Seistan. It is peopled principally by Karai Turks, but also by Beluchis, and a century ago was brought to a pitch of extraordinary power and prosperity by a very remarkable ruler named Ishak Khan, who was said to be as good a merchant as he was a soldier, and as accomplished a student as he was an administrator, and who drew from his semi-independent province a revenue of 100,000l.[180] Like most of their neighbours the people of Turbat-i-Haideri have said good-bye to the days of fighting and freedom, and are now completely subdued by the Persians. Their country, like Turshiz, is rich in mulberries and orchards; but was terribly decimated both by Turkoman ravages and by the great famine. Turshiz and Turbat-i-Haideri combined contribute two infantry regiments to the armed strength of Khorasan, which will be noticed presently.

The two interior beluks of Persia which are not concerned, even in a secondary degree, with frontier problems, are those of Nishapur and Sebzewar. Their governorships are comfortable berths, which are usually bestowed upon some Persian prince — Nishapur, for


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instance, being at present under a cousin of the Rukn-ed-dowleh, and Sebzewar under his eldest son. I shall subsequently have something to say about both when I come to their capitals on my journey from Meshed to Teheran. Neither district contributes any infantry troops to the Persian army, having seemingly been granted a special exemption after the visit of the Shah in 1868.

Finally we come back to the large and wealthy district of Shahrud-Bostam, to which I have already alluded in a footnote when speaking of Astrabad, and which is administered by the sole surviving son of Fath Ali Shah. This is only separated by the Elburz from Astrabad; and thus my task is over, for I have now completed the circuit of Khorasan, and supplied a sketch of each of the administrative subdivisions of this most important province.

In quitting this branch of my subject, let me sum up the total of the armed strength of Khorasan, of which I have already in passing noticed the majority of the items. The calculation does not of course include the local levies, Sham-khalchis (matchlock men, &c.), who might be raised in time of war, but the effective troops who, within a few days' time, could be called out and placed in the field.

INFANTRY (Serbaz or Regulars).

i. Territorial Regiments.

2 Regiments of Karai Turks levied at Turshiz and Turbat-i-Haideri, 800 each

=

1,600

2 Regiments levied at Birjand, 800 each

            (Of these 4 regiments only one wing of each is mobilised at a time, or half of the whole, the other half being disbanded.)

=

1,600

 

ii. Extra-territorial Regiments.

4 Regiments usually recruited in Azerbaijan, 3 of which are always in garrison at Meshed, 800 each

=

3,200

Total

6,400

CAVALRY (chiefly mercenary).

Irregular (i.e. effective, but not mobilised).

Timuris and Turbat-i-Sheikh Jam

1,025

Jamshidis

300

Hazaras

450

Zaferanlu Kurds (under the Ilkhani of Kuchan)

600

Shahdillu Kurds î

Goklan Turkomans*

under the Ilkhani of Bujnurd

þ

ü

500

300


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CAVALRY. — continued.

Deregez (Turks)

100

Kelat-i-Nadiri

150

Kain and Seistan

700

Tabbas

150

Various towns (Sebzewar, &c.)

400

Total

4,675

 

Artillery.

            (20 light field guns in the Ark at Meshed, 2 field guns at Kelat, 6 mounted guns at Sarakhs.)

200

Infantry

6,400

Cavalry

4,675

Artillery

200

Grand Total

11,275

Such is the alleged effective strength of the Khorasan army. Properly drilled and decently officered, it might be a respectable force. Under existing circumstances it cannot be spoken of without a smile.

I now turn to the commercial part played by Great Britain and Russia in Khorasan. For many years past Russia, though a nation with no special commercial aptitudes, has conceived the ambition of controlling the markets of Central Asia. Inherited from Peter the Great, this idea has been prosecuted with a vigour in striking contrast with the listlessness elsewhere exhibited by the same people. It is now a cardinal axiom of Russian politics in the East that commercial must precede political control; and the institution of mercantile agents and middlemen, the opening up of means of communication, and the granting of special exemptions and preferences to goods on their way to or from Oriental markets are invariable features of their Asiatic diplomacy. Khorasan, lying in such near proximity both to the Caspian, of which they possess the monopoly of navigation, and to Transcaspia, which they conquered in 1881, has presented a suitable field for these operations, and may be looked to as typifying the high-water mark of Russian commercial success.

Before, however, I pass on to examine the present condition of affairs, let me call attention to the fact, which I have never seen recorded in this context, that the trade between Europe and Khorasan is not of Russian but of British institution, and that 150 years ago English merchants were the first who endeavoured to open up that highway from the Caspian to Meshed


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which is now so advantageously utilised by our rivals. I regard the history of British commercial intercourse with Persia as one of the most remarkable chapters in the little-known or forgotten annals of this country; and at a later stage I shall have something to say of the indomitable gallantry with which, in ages when merchants required to wield the sword almost as deftly as the pen, the representatives of English trading companies carried the flag, and the merchandise, and the high name of Great Britain into lands where all risked and many lost their lives in each venture, and whence those that returned were welcomed with no plaudits from crowded halls, and received no medals from royal societies. Among the ideas that fired the imagination of John Elton, the gifted but unstable Englishman, who himself both created and destroyed that revival of the British Caspian trade in the middle of the eighteenth century, whose history has been so minutely recorded by one of the prominent actors in the scene, Jonas Hanway, was that of establishing a British factory at Meshed, and of importing, viâ Astrabad, the woollen cloths of London, which were to be exchanged at the capital of Khorasan for the fabled wealth of the East. With what a grim irony we now read the sanguine words in which he recommended his plan to the British Minister at St. Petersburg: —

The British merchants cannot have any formidable rivals to contend with, or to apprehend, in the trade from Meshed to Bokhara. They can never be supplanted in this trade so long as they secure a passage for their goods through the Empire of Russia, and a freedom of navigation on the Caspian, both of which it will be the interest of the sovereign of Russia to grant to the subjects of Great Britain.[181]

How this too fanciful picture of a generous and unsuspecting Russia and a money-making England failed of realisation will be told later on. Here I will relate only the brief history of its application to Meshed. Hanway himself penetrated as far as Astrabad, in December 1743, with the merchandise which he proposed to transport from thence by caravan to Meshed; but he got no further, for during his stay in the city a rebellion broke out against Nadir Shah, his goods were seized and plundered, and he was within an ace of being sold in slavery to the Turkomans. Two other factors, however, of the Russian or Muscovy Company


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(trading from London) succeeded in reaching Meshed. One of them, Mungo Graham or Graeme, was murdered on his return journey at Semnan in 1743.[182] The other, Von Mierop, resided for two years and three months in Meshed, from 1743-5, but met with little success, for he only sold 22,000 crowns, or 5,500l. worth of goods. He returned in safety, but no one else was found to repeat so hazardous an experiment; and within three years' time every British merchant had left the country, only too glad in those stormy times to have escaped with his life.

Such was the history of the first attempt at British trade with Meshed. During this century the shifting of the capital to Teheran, the greater security of communication, and the re-opening of the Bunder Abbas route from the Persian Gulf on the south, have brought Meshed once again within the sphere of British or Anglo-Indian commercial enterprise; while her successive encroachments upon the north have given Russia a more than corresponding advantage in that direction. Earlier travellers have from time to time reported the growing influence of Russian trade in these parts,[183] and Khorasan has, not without apparent justice, been regarded in recent years as irretrievably lost to the British merchant.

At first sight this alarm would appear to be well-founded. A visitor to the bazaars of any of the important towns of Khorasan, from Astrabad to Meshed (such as Shahrud, Sebzewar, Nishapur, Bujnurd, Shirwan, and Kuchan), will find the evidences of Russian influence very obvious to the outer eye. The shops appear to be laden with Russian cottons, calicoes, and chintzes, with Russian sugar, crockery, and hardware, and, indeed, with all the cheaper necessaries of civilised life. Entering Khorasan, either viâ Bunder-i-Gez, Astrabad, and Shahrud, or by Ashkabad and Kuchan, these goods flow in a great wave from one end of the province to the other, and completely drown any foreign competition in the native markets. French sugar used to be imported from Marseilles, viâ Bombay.


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The trade is now extinct, and no sugar, either loaf or crushed, but Russian is seen. Russian kerosine from Baku commands the market. In 1888-9, 36,000 pouds were imported into Meshed. Lamps, chandeliers, candle-shades, lustres, trays, glasses, tumblers, samovars, teapots, saucers, locks, and cheap cutlery are all of Russian origin, and suggest to the casual observer that the supply of the entire furniture of life has been monopolised by Russian enterprise.

While I was in Meshed, I took such steps as were open to me, by consulting the best authorities, including Messrs. Ziegler's agent, the sole European mercantile house represented there, to ascertain the true state of affairs, and more especially the respective volumes and values of Russian and Anglo-Indian trade. It is well known that in Persia it is almost impossible to obtain statistics, and that such as are with infinite difficulty procurable are too often imperfect or erroneous. Calculations as to the total amount of trade are frequently made from Custom-house returns, which do not necessarily supply a reliable basis of induction. Figures are readily given by European merchants or their agents; but native merchants either do not care to disclose them, or sometimes do not keep them at all. Therefore, of neither the figures which I am about to give, nor of those published by the officials of the British Government, can absolute accuracy be postulated in Khorasan any more than in other parts of Persia. They may be regarded, however, as approximately correct.

I was assured by my informants in Meshed that, while the volume of trade in Khorasan was indisputably Russian, the value was still on the side of the English. The cheaper objects which were everywhere visible and which flood the petty retail shops all hailed from Russia, and competition with them was impossible; but the more costly imports, entering Khorasan partly from the west, viâ Tabriz, Teheran, and Shahrud, but in far greater quantity from the south, viâ Bunder Abbas on the sea, and Kerman, were of British or Anglo-Indian origin, and estimated in s. d., it could be demonstrated that Meshed at that moment did a larger trade with Bombay than it did with the whole of Russia. For instance, the customs dues for Meshed for the year 1888 (i.e., the octroi collected on imported merchandise) had been bought from the Government for the sum of 50,000 tomans (3½


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tomans equal to 1l.),[184] of which it was calculated that 30,000 tomans would be levied on goods from Bunder Abbas, and 20,000 on goods from the whole of the rest of Persia and from Russia, the latter not even amounting to one-half of the lesser fraction.

This assurance struck me as requiring elucidation at the time; and I have since been able to explain and in some respects to correct it by the much fuller details contained in an admirable commercial report compiled by Consul-General Maclean in the past year (1890), the first that has ever been issued from Meshed or Khorasan, and in itself an ample justification of the presence of a British consular staff in so important a trade centre as Meshed. This publication is contained in the series of Diplomatic and Consular Reports on trade and finance, issued by the English Foreign Office; and will no doubt be the first of an annual series.[185]

From this report I gather that the total value of Anglo-Indian goods imported into Khorasan in 1889-90 (the Persian year is counted from the vernal equinox, i.e. from March 21, 1889, to March 21, 1890) was 84,300l., and the total value of Russian goods 110,400l. But to the former should certainly be added a considerable portion of the value of the Chinese black and green teas, shipped from Bombay, and no doubt for the most part purchased and brought from China by British merchants. The total value of this Chinese tea was 433,000 tomans, or 123,714l.; but very nearly the whole of it only passes through Meshed in transit to Bokhara, Khiva, &c., the taste of the Khorasanis being partial to Indian black tea, of which an import of 12,000l. is included in the total of Anglo-Indian imports already quoted. The addition thereto of a large fraction of the value of the Chinese tea will explain the otherwise ambiguous statement of my informants.

Here let me pause to consider and balance the facilities at the disposal of the rival European Powers for trade with Khorasan. Nominally there are three trade routes available for British or Anglo-Indian imports, in practice only two. First is the lengthy overland journey viâ Teheran and Tabriz from the Turkish port of Trebizond, in the angle of the Black


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Sea, a total distance by caravan march of 1,500 miles, and occupying a camel four months of time.[186] Second is the route from Bunder Abbas on the Persian Gulf to Meshed, of which there are two variations: the shorter journey viâ Kerman, Rahwar, Nahiband and Tun, a distance of 940 miles, or 40 days by mule and 75 days by camel; and the longer deviation viâ Yezd, which is occasionally taken by merchants, because of the greater abundance of transport and the additional chance of finding a sale in the busy mart of Yezd. The third, and by far the most direct and shortest, route for Indian merchandise, would be viâ the Bolan Pass by rail to the British frontier at Chaman in Beluchistan, and thence by Kandahar and Herat to Meshed, a distance from the Indian frontier of 30 stages only, or 670 miles. This route, however, which was once a crowded trade artery, has practically been killed by the exorbitant transit dues charged by the Amir of Afghanistan,[187] whose fiscal policy is conceived on the strictest protectionist principles, and is coldly indifferent to the convenience or the commerce of his neighbours. Of the two former or practicable routes, that from Trebizond was utilised by British merchandise in 1889 to the value of 23,400l., that from Bunder Abbas by Anglo-Indian merchandise (excluding the China tea) to the value of 60,870l.

By treaty between Great Britain and Persia, only five per cent. ad valorem can be charged upon British merchandise, at the port or town of entry. Thus British goods will be called upon for this impost at Tabriz (having passed through Trebizond, in transit, duty free), and Anglo-Indian goods at Bunder Abbas. But as in the case of Khorasan there are no British merchants at the destination or at the big towns en route, the Persian Custom-house officials take the opportunity of screwing a little more than is their due, and subjecting foreign merchandise to the same system as prevails for native goods, viz. the payment of a customs duty at each large city. Thus British goods from Trebizond after paying their five per cent. at Tabriz will, after passing into the hands of


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Persian merchants, pay a further two and a half per cent. upon entering Khorasan, or seven and a half per cent. in all. Similarly the total of dues levied on the Kerman route from Bunder Abbas will be about seven and a half per cent.; and by the more circuitous Yezd route nine per cent. The excess above the stipulated five per cent. would be avoided if there were British consignees at the destination. Another plan of the Persian Custom-house officers at the ports is to levy less than the stipulated five per cent. there, but to give no voucher for the sum received; and thus to provide their confraternity in the remaining cities with the opportunity not merely of making up the five per cent., but sometimes of almost doubling its amount.

These are the disadvantages under which British or Anglo-Indian trade labours. Russia has at her command four trade routes: (1) the Tiflis-Tabriz-Teheran line; (2) the Resht-Teheran line; (3) the Gez-Astrabad-Shahrud line; and (4) the Ashkabad-Kuchan line in connection with the Transcaspian railway. The three first have been practically superseded by the last, which is only 150 miles in length, which is being converted along its entire distance into a carriageable highway, and which, in narrating my own journey, I have already described.[188] No words are needed to explain the enormous advantage of which she is the possessor; an advantage with which we are only able to compete because of her inability to supply some of the largest articles of import, such as tea and indigo; and because of the, as yet, superior quality of British manufactures. None the less it is not surprising to find the British consul summarising his opinion of the situation in these words: —

It is obvious that with the Transcaspian railway at Ashkabad, only 150 miles from Meshed, and with both towns linked as they shortly will be by an excellent macadamised[189] road, British goods, having to cross the seas and traverse long, rough land routes cannot hope to compete with Russian goods, even in these provinces of Persia, unless our railway is extended in this direction.

Russia is thoroughly alive to the advantage of her situation,


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and endeavours to push it by fiscal tactics, which are discountenanced by the gentlemen who call themselves political economists in England, but which are a familiar feature in the commercial strategy of foreign countries, and of the Russian Government in particular. Her own goods pay the regular five per cent. on crossing the Persian borders. But in order to encourage the export of Persian cotton, she allows it a differential preference of ten per cent. over that imported by the Baltic or Black Seas. By a Customs decree of February 1889, Persian goods passing into Transcaspia pay an ad valorem duty of two and a half per cent. But by a later decree of February 1890 such goods, if only passing through Transcaspia in transit to Europe, are exempted from all duty whatever, if forwarded by Ashkabad or by any other station of the Transcaspian railway.

Of the Anglo-Indian imports from Bunder Abbas, the largest item, excluding the China tea, is still tea; Indian green tea to the value of 7,140l. (mostly in transit to Bokhara), and Indian black tea, which is preferred in Khorasan, to the value of 12,000l. Next comes indigo, with a total value of 10,170l., of which more than one-half is in transit to Russian Central Asia.[190] The import duty on this indigo affords an illustration of the cumulative system of taxation before mentioned; for three per cent. is exacted at Bunder Abbas, one per cent. at Kerman, and two and three-fourths per cent. on arrival at Meshed. This, with the two and a half per cent. exacted by Russia, when it passes into Transcaspia, and the further two and a half per cent. levied by Bokhara on the frontiers of that khanate, makes it a somewhat expensive luxury by the time it reaches the Tartar capital. In calico sheetings and shirtings, both grey and bleached, there is a marked preference for British over Russian goods, and of these nearly 12,000l. worth are imported viâ Bunder Abbas. A considerable quantity of Kashmir shawls, of copper sheeting and tin, and finally of drugs and spices, are the concluding items worthy of mention.

The Tabriz-Teheran line brings whatever cottons and chintzes can succeed in holding their own against the cheaper Russian


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imports of the same article. English knives and scissors, crockery and porcelain, of which there seemed to be very little in the bazaars, but which come by this route, are greedily snapped up when offered for sale, though at higher prices than the corresponding articles of Russian manufacture. Simultaneously I found a consensus of opinion that the Russian import of cheap cotton fabrics of which I have spoken had been very much overdone, that the bazaars were now overstocked with these goods, and that they could only be sold at prices which would result in serious losses to their owners. The main feature of the competition between the two countries was undoubtedly this: that all English articles are considered vastly superior in durability and quality; but that the enormous distances which they have to traverse and the high prices which must necessarily be charged, render it almost impossible for them to compete with their rivals. For my part I think it extraordinary, when we compare the two situations (putting aside altogether the articles in which Russia cannot compete, such as indigo, minerals and tea), that Great Britain should still claim so creditable a proportion of the trade. Whether it can be maintained is another question, to which I should hesitate to return an affirmative answer.

Of the Russian total of 110,400l. imported by the Transcaspian railway, cotton stuffs, plain and coloured, constitute nearly one-third. The second largest item is sugar, which has driven every other sugar, French or Indian, out of the market, and is sold in the bazaars at 4½d. a pound — a price that is in the main due to the bounties granted by the Russian Government to Russian exporters of the article,[191] and with which it is next to impossible for Indian sugar, even though made from the sugar-cane, to compete. Russian crockery and porcelain, which are almost universal, amount to 11,500l.; and the value of Russian hardware is only 1,000l. less.

If we turn to the exports of Khorasan, physical considerations will explain the fact that the trade with Russia is vastly in excess of that with India. Exclusive of such Indian goods as pass


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through Khorasan to Russian territory, the figures of export to Russia (some of course in transit to other European countries) amount to a total of 111,500l. Cotton, assisted by the differential preference before alluded to, is responsible for the large figure of nearly 43,000l. Wool is credited with about half that total. 5,700l. worth of Turkoman and Persian carpets are sent to Europe, not all, of course, to Russian destinations. Finally, out of the total output of turquoises from the celebrated mines near Nishapur, which is estimated at nearly 23,000l. annually, over 17,000l. were despatched in 1889 by the Transcaspian railway to Europe.

That some idea may be gained of the enormous increase in Russo-Persian trade, due to the prosperous working of the Transcaspian railway, let me compare the figures that I have just given with those of the first nine months of 1886, the railway having only reached Ashkabad in December 1885. From January to October 1886 the exports from Persia to Ashkabad equalled 61,000l., the imports to Persia from Ashkabad 37,000l. The totals for 1889 were, as I have shown, respectively 111,500l., and 110,400l. In other words the exports have very nearly doubled in the space of three years, while the imports have exactly trebled.

Against these imposing figures the export trade to British India can only oppose the modest total of 39,000l., nearly the whole of which is represented by Khorasan opium, intended chiefly for the Chinese market. Ten years ago the total output of opium in Khorasan was only 160 hundred-weight. The value of the export, over and above that which is consumed in the province, is now 37,100l. to India, as well as 14,300l. to Constantinople, or a total of 51,400l.

In order to complete the survey of the commerce of Khorasan the figures of Perso-Afghan trade must be added. There is very little difference in the respective values of imports and exports, either country contributing in about equal proportion to the needs of the other. Whereas Afghanistan, however, sends her indigenous sheepskin coats (poshtins), pistachios, &c., the bulk of Persian exports are Russian piece goods, sugar, and hardware. The value of the exports from Khorasan into Afghanistan is returned as 18,300l., of imports into Khorasan from Afghanistan as 17,300l.


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Adding up the entire totals, we arrive at the following hypothetical estimate of the trade of Khorasan: —

Imports from

Russia

£110,400

Exports to Russia and Europe

£111,400

" "

India

60,800

Exports to India

39,000

" "

Great Britain

23,400

" " Afghanistan

18,300

" "

Europe

15,700

" "

Afghanistan

17,300

_______

Total of imports

£227,600

Total of exports

£168,700

Grand total £396,300

From this, total we must make a considerable reduction, on account of the goods that are reckoned in it more than once, first upon entering the province and then upon leaving it. On the other hand, the figures of export viâ Teheran, Tabriz, and Trebizond do not appear. The absence of any figures of the Perso-Bokharan trade does not make as much difference as might otherwise be expected, the Persian exports to Bokhara consisting almost wholly of Anglo-Indian goods, tea, indigo, muslin, &c., which have already been reckoned in the Bunder Abbas importations.

Having analysed the present situation, and endeavoured to some extent to forecast the future of foreign trade with Khorasan, it may not be out of place if I here indicate such steps as might with advantage be taken by the British Government, in order to retain and develop that share of the business which they naturally possess, and to prevent an ultimate loss of the remainder. Five such precautionary measures are within the range of practicability, although I fear that their probability is not in each case in the same ratio. British consular officials should be appointed to superintend and protect the principal trade route from the south. When I was at Bunder Abbas there was not a single European in the place, and only an unaccredited and purely unofficial representative of British mercantile interests. A British Vice-Consul might most opportunely be appointed at Kerman, and a Consular agent at Yezd, or vice versâ. Secondly, the road running northward from Kerman, viâ Rahwar, Nahiband and Tun, which is the principal caravan route from the Gulf to Meshed, might with ease and at a small expense be vastly improved by clearing out and resuscitating the filled-up wells and water-courses by which it was once fertilised. Thirdly, I see no reason why not only should the existing route be


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improved, but a new one opened up from the British possessions in Beluchistan to the Persian border, avoiding Afghan territory altogether, and proceeding e.g. from Quetta viâ Seistan to Birjand. All of these are feasible measures, and there can be no excuse for any supineness in developing or facilitating such pacific avenues of Anglo-Indian influence. The fourth remedy, which has doubtless engaged the attention of the Indian Government, is an intimation to the Amir of Afghanistan, not on grounds of political economy, for which I suspect that Abdur Rahman Khan would profess a very reasonable contempt, but on the grounds of the avowed wish of the Suzerain Power, that it is desirable to modify a fiscal policy which is injurious to his own subjects, and displeasing to his chief allies. The fifth and last remedy, to which I shall revert at greater length in dealing with Seistan, is the construction of a rival British railroad on the south, to balance the Transcaspian railway in the north, and enable us to compete with Russia in a fair field, and with her own weapons.

I now proceed to explain the reasons for which, apart from the legitimate desire for commercial profit, both Powers — Russia and Great Britain — are induced to regard Khorasan with so intense a concern, what is the objective of Russian policy in the comprehensive designs which I have described in this chapter, and what are the counter-interests and responsibilities of this country. The passion for territorial aggrandisement is one which, though it is indignantly repudiated by Russian writers, no one with his eyes open can believe to be other than a dominating influence in the Russian mind. There is a step in the development of every great Power in which the lust for new possessions is in excess of every other sentiment. Russia is now in this acquisitive stage of empire. Great Britain, having passed through it, and having in her day experienced its intoxicating fumes in all their intensity, has emerged into the more sober atmosphere of the conservative stage. In other words Russian interest in Khorasan is the cupidity of the would-be possessor. England, on the contrary, neither aspires to, nor will ever hold, a square yard of the country.

If we inquire the ulterior reasons for which Russia desires the possession of Khorasan, they are not far to seek. Her Transcaspian conquests have brought under her control a region, the greater part of which consists of barren wilderness, and whose


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only fertile spots are a series of detached oases at the base of a mountain range. On the other side of that mountain range for a distance of 300 miles extends a country which, in the plains and hollows that separate its manifold ridges, conceals an abundance of wealth, in fruit, in minerals, in produce of every kind, above all in grain. She is like a man camping in a desolate and stony field divided only by a thick hedge from a spacious pasture, where he sees food for himself, fodder for his beasts, comfort and repose for both. What a temptation to break through the hedge and poach on the hidden preserves! Such are the feelings with which the Russians regard Khorasan. They would fain move from Akhal Tekke to Kuchan, from Ashkabad to Meshed. Here they would find supplies that might feed mighty armies, mountain fastnesses invulnerable to attack, a docile population, a resting-ground where new plans of action could be formed, and a base whence they could be set in motion in the future.

It is the latter context — viz., with a view to future political contingencies — that Khorasan acquires a further and definite value in Russian eyes. At present Russian is separated from Afghan territory in Central Asia by Sir West Ridgeway's frontier — an artificial line drawn for a distance of 350 miles from the Heri Rud to the Oxus. This line could, no doubt, at any moment be violated; but no territorial acquisitions of immediate value would result, and the step could only be taken at the risk, nay, with the certainty, of war with Great Britain. How much simpler to slip round the corner and so to turn the enemy's flank! From the Zulfikar Pass to the southern extremity of Seistan, Persia is coterminous with Afghanistan; and a Power established upon the Persian side of that border would command Herat (there is a carriage road of 230 miles from Meshed to Herat), threaten the road by Farrah and Girishk to Kandahar, and be brought to the very banks of the Helmund. Russia settled in Khorasan, and especially in that fringe of border territory which I have been at such pains to describe, has no need to infringe any Anglo-Afghan boundary. The entire western frontier of Afghanistan lies exposed to her influence or assault. Furthermore, in Seistan she comes into close contact with a part of Beluchistan of disputed ownership and unsettled tenure, and is separated by only a short distance from the advanced British frontier in Pishin.


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Finally, having reached that point, she is already half way to the sea; and, her railways once carried as far as Nasratabad, she would begin to felicitate herself upon a port on the Indian Ocean and the long sought outlet in the southern seas.[192]

The physical conditions which I have expounded, the designs of Russia, of which evidence can be produced incapable of refutation, and the importance of any movements so intimately affecting Afghanistan explain the interest which England is thereby compelled to take in this portion of the Shah's dominions. Those who argue that Khorasan is far from India, and can therefore safely be left alone, repeat the imbecile fallacy that has already been attended with such pitiable results in the past, and that has landed us in our recent position in both Persia and Afghanistan. Afghanistan has often been described as the North-western glacis of our Indian citadel; and to allow an enemy to effect a lodgment undisturbed upon even the outskirts of that glacis is to commit a strategical error of the first importance. British policy in Khorasan is directed to the safeguarding of British — i.e., of Afghan — interests in that quarter; to the maintenance of the political status quo — i.e., of the Persian dominion; and more particularly to the watching of those approaches from the south, the freedom of which is indispensable to British commerce, and the control of which by a hostile instead of an allied Power would be an appreciable peril to Hindustan. It is a consolatory fact that General Maclean, the recently appointed Consul-General at Meshed, is also Consul for Seistan. An independent British official should, however, be deputed to the latter place, whose near proximity to the Anglo-Beluch frontier renders it of great importance to British interests, and whose resources, if developed by scientific irrigation and a railway, might make it a nucleus of commercial influence radiating through central and southern Persia, and even counterbalancing Russian ascendency in northern Khorasan.

Finally, let me indicate what I believe to be the attitude of the population of Khorasan towards Russia and Great Britain, and the assistance or the reverse that either Power may expect to meet with in the prosecution of its schemes. Earlier travellers, such


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as Fraser,[193] MacGregor[194] and Napier, reported a widespread aversion in northern Khorasan to the Kajar dynasty, and a profound disaffection towards the central Government of Teheran. The process of time and the firm rule of the present Shah have obliterated these antipathies, and Khorasan is as negatively loyal as any other part of Persia. By negative loyalty I mean that the rule of the sovereign is passively acquiesced in by the bulk of the people, who of themselves would institute no movement for change; but that this feeling nowhere amounts to a spirit of enthusiasm, nor has kindled the faintest spark of national unity. Whilst, therefore, the people would be extremely unlikely to fight against the Shah, they would be almost as unlikely to fight for him — a position which renders their allegiance a quantity of very precarious value. Against the Afghans, no doubt, who are Sunnis and hereditary enemies, such a feeling, approximating to national unity, might be aroused. But I am not now talking of possible warfare with an Asiatic enemy, but of the designs and encroachments of Russia. If Russia, therefore, were to-morrow to undertake a hostile movement against Khorasan, what might the inhabitants of that province be expected to do?

My answer is that, if the movement were accompanied by the smallest display of military force, they would probably do nothing but sit still and accept the change of masters, in the belief that it was Kismet, and that they might fare, if not the same, at least a little better, and could not fare much worse. The utter rottenness of Persian administration, by which the poor people have been long oppressed without hope of redress, has taught them to turn with eagerness to any alternative that at least promises a change. I am unable to say whether the Russians are personally popular in Persia, not having had the means of ascertaining by personal inquiry on a sufficiently large scale, and having received the most contradictory answers from my several informants.


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But the reputation acquired by them in Khorasan owing to their liberation of the slaves at Bokhara and Khiva, most of whom were Persians from this province,[195] and their deliverance of the borderlands from the devastating scourge of the Turkomans, combined with the prestige of their numbers and ever forward progress, have predisposed a naturally craven race to regard their advance with mingled resignation and respect. Some would be found to think the change a decided gain. The majority would vote it inevitable. The sympathy of the few, aided by the apathy of the many, would disarm opposition and pave the way for an easy conquest. If it be inquired whether the spirit of religious animosity might not be invoked, and a jihad, or religious war, preached against the infidels, the answer must be returned that Russia is not in the least likely to proceed until she has guarded against such a contingency. The religious element is in the ascendant at Meshed, and no doubt exercises a considerable control over the prepossessions of the people. Any fear of violation, either of the shrine or of the endowments by which it is supported, or of the privileges and abuses by which it is surrounded, would unquestionably awaken a feeling of the bitterest hostility. But Russia has never shown anything but a large patience towards the religious scruples and superstitions of her Mussulman subjects. Such suspicions would easily be disarmed; and it is to be feared that the holy mullahs and mujtaheds of Meshed are not more averse than the majority of their fellow countrymen to the receipt of bribes. When, therefore, the old Khan of Kuchan told me that all the people of Khorasan would rally and fight for Meshed, I believe him to have been talking nonsense. My impression is that Meshed, if it is destined to fall, will fall without a blow; and that a change of ownership in Khorasan might be effected without the loss of a drop of blood.


[page 221]

When I credit the Russians with an influence so remarkable, I am not for a moment conceding to them a monopoly of such an advantage. Were the British in a position to exercise the same pressure or ultimately to take the same steps, I believe that they would be received with an acclaim out of all proportion greater than that which might await their opponents. The Russians are in the habit of conducting matters in a somewhat high-handed and dictatorial manner in Persia; and, while such an attitude may inspire alarm and even create respect, it makes no appeal to affection. On the other hand, the franker and more honourable methods of the English have won for that Power a consideration which, in the absence of positive evidences of strength, such as numerous troops and adjacent dominions, is highly meritorious. The Timuri tribes, of whom I spoke, along the eastern border of Khorasan, are known to be extremely friendly to the English; and the nearer we approach to Beluchistan and the Indian frontier, the more does the popularity arising from just and tolerant administration prevail. The Persians are beginning to see perfectly well that the English do not desire a rood of their soil, and that the Russians are bent upon forcible appropriation. But the Russians are near and formidable, and the English are far away and make no visible display of strength. While, therefore, British influence is welcome and meets with encouragement, there is no spirit or party capable of engendering a successful resistance to Russian designs. The Khorasanis, like their fellow-men all the world over, are not above making friends with the mammon of unrighteousness.

SUPPLEMENTARY ROUTES IN E. KHORASAN

MESHED TO TURBAT-I-HAIDERI. H. W. Bellew (1872), From the Indus to the Tigris, pp. 351-7; Col. Euan-Smith (1872), Eastern Persia, pp. 353-6.

TURBAT-I-HAIDER1 TO BAJISTAN. H. W. Bellew (1872), Ibid. pp. 340-9; Col. Euan-Smith (1872), Ibid. pp. 349-53.

BAJISTAN TO KAIN. H. W. Bellew (1872), Ibid. pp. 325-39; Col. E. Smith (1872), Ibid. pp. 343-9.

KAIN TO BIRJAND. H. W. Bellew (1872), Ibid. pp. 309-25; Col. E. Smith (1872), Ibid. pp. 337-42.

FARRAH (AFGHANISTAN) TO NISHAPUR (viâ Birjand, Tun, and Bajistan). J. P. Ferrier (1845), Caravan Journeys, pp. 437-8

FARRAH (AFGHANISTAN) TO SEMNAN (viâ Khur and Tabbas). J. P. Ferrier (1845), Ibid. pp. 439-40.

TABBAS TO BIRJAND (viâ Tun and Kain). (Sir) C. MacGregor (1875), Journey through Khorasan, vol. i. pp. 137-66.


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BIRJAND TO PAHRI (HERAT) (viâ Forg and Yezdun). (Sir) C. MacGregor (1875), Ibid. vol. i. pp. 178-202.

SHAHRUD TO HERAT (viâ Turshiz and Khaf). G. Forster (1784), Journey from Bengal to England, vol. ii. pp. 221-3. Captain Claude Clerk (1857), Journal of the R.G.S., vol. xxxi. pp. 47-54 (1861).

LASH JUWAIN (AFGHAN SEISTAN) TO KERMAN (viâ Neh). N. de Khanikoff (1859), Mémoire, &c., pp. 156-86.

SEMNAN TO BAJISTAN AND JUMAIN. H. B. Vaughan (1888), Proc. of the R.G.S. (New Series), vol. xii.


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Chapter 9

THE SEISTAN QUESTION

And thou hast trod the sands of Seistan

And seen the River of Helmund, and the Lake

Of Zirrah.

MATTHEW ARNOLD, Sohrab and Rustum.

FROM Zulfikar, upon the Heri Rud, the starting point of the new Russo-Afghan Boundary of 1885-7, and the point accordingly where Russian, Afghan, and Persian territory all converge, the frontier of the last-named Power, running due south almost upon the 61st parallel of longitude for a distance of several hundred miles, is either only in part defined, doubtfully defined, precariously observed, or not defined at all. The entire distance from the Zulfikar Pass to the Indian Ocean at Gwetter is 700 miles in a straight line; along which extent Persia is brought into contact with two neighbours upon the east, with neither of whom is she upon the best of terms, viz., Afghanistan and Beluchistan. Disputes are constantly occurring with both of these Powers as to the boundary-line: and encroachments, sometimes ephemeral, in other cases permanent, are made upon territories claimed by the other. Of the three nations concerned, the most acquisitive, strange to say, appears to be Persia herself. She perhaps thinks to console herself for forcible contraction upon her north-west and north-east borders by a little surreptitious expansion here.

The frontier-line of which I am speaking falls naturally into four divisions, in each of which different degrees of stability and differing political conditions prevail. The first of these divisions is the section running from Zulfikar to the northern confines of Seistan, a total distance of nearly 300 miles. Ever since Herat and its dependencies were severed from Khorasan, a more or less recognised boundary has existed between the two countries in these parts; but it has never been defined, and provides material for recurrent disputes, arising as a rule from the contested command or possession of water-courses, the most valu-


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able and in many cases the sole asset of which Nature can here boast. One of these disputes between Afghanistan and Persia had been raging for some time before my visit, concerning a border district named Hashtadan, on the parallel between Kuhsan and Ghurian. The British, who are usually appealed to on these occasions as umpires, and who have more than once undertaken what is apt to be a very thankless task, were invited to arbitrate; and a decision was given which, I dare say, had what MacGregor thought the superlative merit of dissatisfying both parties. I only allude to it as typical of the incidents that must constantly recur upon a boundary so ill-defined, assisted in most parts by no natural features, and peopled by nomad tribes who care very little for posts or pillars.

The second section is the frontier of Seistan, as defined by the Anglo-Perso-Afghan Boundary Commission under Sir F. Goldsmid in 1872, which will form the main subject of this chapter. The length of this section from north to south is about 120 miles; but as the new frontier, fixed by the arbitration, pursues a wide deviation to the south-east until it touches the river Helmund, and then turns again in a south-westerly direction, the length of the two outer sides of the triangle thus described is considerably greater than that of the hypotenuse.

Third in order comes a stretch of boundary from the southern end of the Seistan frontier, fixed in 1872, to the northern end of the Mekran boundary, demarcated in the previous year; or, in other words, from the Kuh-Malek-i-Siah to Jalk, a distance of 200 miles. This section of the border has never been defined at all. No one knows where or what it is. No two maps colour it alike; and the majority compound for ignorance by obvious conjecture, drawing a straight line in a south-easterly direction from the mountains named above to the neighbourhood of Jalk. Beluchistan is here the neighbour of Persia on the east; but the wandering Beluch tribes who camp upon the frontier own very little allegiance to the Khan of Kelat, and are practically independent.

Lastly comes the line from Jalk to the port of Gwetter, on the sea, 130 miles in length, which I call the Mekran boundary, because that part of Beluchistan which it divides between Persia and Kelat is known by that name. It was defined under conditions of peculiar difficulty by Sir F. Goldsmid in


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1871, but is not uniformly observed. Both these last sections of frontier — viz. the upper and the lower Perso-Beluch borders — will come under notice in a later chapter dealing with the Eastern provinces. They are mentioned here only in order to place Seistan in its proper focus to surrounding conditions.

I have already, in the preceding chapter, spoken of Seistan as a beluk or sub-division of the Persian province of Kain, ruled by Mir Alam Khan of Birjand, who deputes an official to represent him and to command the garrison at Nasratabad. Here let me describe the circumstances which have led to its being a Persian possession at all, and which necessitated the despatch of the Boundary Commission in 1872; whilst, in order to make this part of the narrative clear, some sketch will be required, both of the province itself and of its earlier history.

The derivation of the name Seistan or Sejestan from Sagastan, the country of the Sagan, or Sacae, has, says Sir H. Rawlinson, never been doubted by any writer of credit, either Arab or Persian;[196] although it is curious that a band of roving nomads, as were these Scythians, who descended hither from the north in the third century A.D., should have bequeathed a permanent designation to a country which they only occupied for a hundred years. Expelled by the Sassanian monarch Varahran II. (A.D. 275-292) they have long vanished from history themselves; but in the name of the district they may claim a monumentum oere perennius.

At different epochs of history territories of very differing sizes have been called Seistan, according as the dominion of their rulers has been extended or curtailed. In its stricter application, however, the name has always been peculiar to the great lacustrine basin that receives the confluent waters of the Helmund and other rivers, whose channels converge at this point upon a depression in the land's surface, with very clearly defined borders, and a length from north to south of nearly 250 miles. It is certain that in olden days this depression was filled by the waters of a great lake; and, were all the artificial canals and irrigation channels, by which the river contents are now reduced and exhausted, to be destroyed, I imagine that it would very soon relapse into its primaeval condition.[197]


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The modern Seistan may be said to comprise three main depressions, which, according to the season of the year and the extent of the spring floods, are converted alternately into lakes, swamps, or dry land. The first of these depressions consists of the twofold lagoon formed by the Harut Rud and the Farrah Rud flowing from the north, and by the Helmund and the Khash or Khushk Rud flowing from the south and east respectively. These two lakes or pools are connected by a thick reed-bed called the Naizar, which, according to the amount of water that they contain, is either a marsh or a cane-brake. In flood time. these two lakes, ordinarily distinct, unite their waters, and the conjoint inundation pours over the Naizar into the second great depression, known by the generic title of Hamun or Expanse, which stretches southwards like a vast shallow trough for many miles. When the British Commissioners were here in 1872, the Hamun was quite dry, and they marched to and fro across its bed. But in 1885-6, when some of the members of the later Russo-Afghan Boundary Commission were proceeding this way from Quetta to the confines of Herat, it was found to be an immense lake, extending for miles, with the Kuh-i-Khwajah, a well-known mountain and conspicuous landmark usually regarded as its western limit, standing up like an island in the middle.[198] In times of abnormal flood the Hamun will itself overflow; and on such occasions the water, draining southwards through the Sarshela ravine, inundates the third of the great depressions to which I alluded, and which is known as the Zirreh Marsh. This was said at the time of the Commission not to have occurred within living memory, it being a far more common experience to find all the river-beds exhausted than all the lake-beds full; and the Zirreh as a rule presents the familiar appearance of a salt desert.[199] In 1885,


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however, a British officer exploring Western Beluchistan found water two feet deep flowing down the Sarshela or Shela, and forming an extensive Hamun in the northern part of the Zirreh, which was said to be over one hundred miles in circumference.

It will readily be understood from the above description how variable is the face of Seistan, and what a puzzle to writers its comparative geography becomes. For not only do the lakes alternately swell, recede, and disappear — the area of displacement covering an extent, according to Rawlinson, of one hundred miles in length by fifty miles in width — but the rivers also are constantly shifting their beds, sometimes taking a sudden fancy for what has hitherto been an artificial canal, but which they soon succeed in converting into a very good imitation of a natural channel, in order to perplex some geographer of the future. It is not surprising, therefore, that while the country owes to the abundant alluvium thus promiscuously showered upon it its store of wealth and fertility, it also contains more ruined cities and habitations than are perhaps to be found within a similar space of ground anywhere in the world.

Such in brief outline is the physical conformation of Seistan. I will now proceed to its history. From the earliest times there has been something in Seistan that appealed vividly to the Persian imagination. The country was called Nimroz, from a supposed connection with Nimrod, 'the mighty hunter'; it was the residence of Jamshid, and the legendary birthplace of the great Rustam, son of Zal, and fifth in descent from Jamshid. King Arthur does not play as great a part in British legend as does the heroic Rustam in the myths of Iran. For, after all, Arthur was a mortal man (and, if we are to follow Tennyson, almost a nineteenth century gentleman), while Rustam fought


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with demons and jins as well as against the pagan hordes of Turan and Afrasiab. Perhaps our Saint George of the Dragon would be a nearer parallel; and just as we stamp the record of his matchless daring upon our coinage, so do the Persians emblazon the great feats of Rustam upon gateway and door and pillar.

Seistan emerges into the clearer light of ascertained history in the time of Alexander the Great, when it was known as Drangiana (identical with the land of the Herodotean Sarangians). He probably passed this way on his march eastwards to India; whilst on his return therefrom, though he pursued a more southerly line himself, through Gedrosia (Mekran) to Carmania (Kerman), he despatched a light column under Craterus through Arachotia and Drangiana.[200] Under the Sassanian monarchs Seistan was a flourishing centre of the Zoroastrian worship, and hither came the last sovereign of that dynasty, Yezdijird, flying from the victorious Arabs on his way to his fate at Merv. It was under the succeeding régime that the province attained the climax of its material prosperity; and to this — the Arab — period are to be attributed the vast ruins of which I have previously spoken.[201] In the ninth century a native dynasty known as the Sufari or Coppersmiths,[202] was founded by one Yakub bin Leith, a potter and a robber, but a soldier and a statesman[203] who won by arms a short-lived empire that stretched from Shiraz to Kabul, but collapsed before the iron onset of Mahmud of Ghuzni in the succeeding century. El Istakhri, visiting Seistan at this epoch, described it


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as a country of populous cities, abundant canals, and great wealth;[204] among its natural resources being included a rich gold mine that subsequently disappeared in an earthquake. In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries Seistan, like most of its neighbours, experienced the two successive visitations of those scourges of mankind, Jenghiz Khan and Timur Beg, being turned from a smiling oasis into a ruinous waste, and suffering a murderous blow from which it has never recovered. The Sefavi dynasty repeopled it under the local rule of the ancient reigning family of Kaiani, who claimed descent from Kai Kobad, the first Achaemenian king. But the march of time brought round the fated cycle of injury and desolation; and at the hands both of the Afghan invaders of 1722, and of Nadir Shah who expelled them, it completed its chronic tale of suffering. Remaining a portion of the mighty empire of the Afshar usurper till his death in 1747, it then passed to the sceptre of Ahmed Shah Abdali, the adventurous captain who, imitating his master's exploits, rode off and founded the Durani empire in Afghanistan. From this epoch dates its appearance on the stage of modern politics, and during the last thirty years upon the chess-board of Anglo-Indian diplomacy.[205]

After the death of Ahmed Shah, Seistan continued to pay tribute to his successor, Timur Shah, till his death in 1793. In the break-up of the Durani dominion that followed, it became alternately attached to the fortunes of Herat and Kandahar, the Persian Government having its hands too full elsewhere to be able to attempt its recovery. From about the year 1851, however, after the death of Yar Mohammed of Herat, Persia, taking advantage of the disorder and disunion that prevailed in Afghanistan, began to revive and to press her claims. She now remembered that Nadir Shah, though a Turkoman usurper, had been king of Persia, and that Seistan had paid to him the tribute which it paid to Persian kings before him. Ali Khan, the local ruler, was persuaded to hoist the Persian flag, and received in return a Persian princess in marriage. This was at about the time of the Persian expedition against Herat in 1857


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that brought about war with Great Britain, and resulted in the Treaty of Paris, by which Persia relinquished all claims to the sovereignty of Herat, and all right of interference in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, amid constant protests from the British Government, Ali Khan returned with a Persian military escort to Seistan; and both he and his successor, Taj Mohammed, who applied to Persia for protection when Dost Mohammed appeared in the field against Herat, acknowledged the sovereignty of the Shah. Throughout this period the British Minister was continually protesting against the violation of one clause of the Treaty of Paris, while the Persian Government as continually kept inviting him to take advantage of another, that promised the friendly offices of the British Government in the event of any disagreement with Afghanistan.[206] Shir Ali, too, who had succeeded his father Dost Mohammed as Amir in 1863, was equally anxious that something should be settled. But at that time the ignoble policy of 'masterly inactivity,' of which Lord Lawrence was the recognised champion, was in possession of the field; and the Indian Government was unwilling to recognise the ruler whom it was subsequently obliged to pay. Accordingly, protests and appeals and excuses went on, until at length, in November 1863, Lord Russell, sick to death of the squabble, penned a despatch in which he said that 'Her Majesty's Government decline to interfere in the matter, and must leave it to both parties to make good their pretensions by force of arms;' a frank if not a very courageous subscription to the doctrine that might is right. Taking advantage of this permission, Persia, in 1865-66, marched a force into the country, occupied it, and gradually brought all the Persian inhabitants of the province under her sway, besides tampering with the Afghan allegiance of the Beluchis. The Afghans behaved very quietly for a time; but Shir Ali, who had now established himself firmly upon the throne, and required to be treated with some respect, began


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seriously to push his claims. It was at this juncture that, fearing the war to which Lord Russell had lent the imprimatur of his suggestion, Lord Clarendon proposed arbitration. The offer was accepted without much enthusiasm on either side, and in 1870 Sir F. Goldsmid, having received the appointment of Chief British Commissioner, left England to carry out the undertaking. Difficulties and delays having supervened, the next year was occupied in surveying and fixing a boundary between Persia and Beluchistan from the sea to Jalk; and it was not till 1872 that the Commission preceeded to Seistan to examine the rival claims upon the spot.

The story of the Commission and its labours has been told, partly by General Goldsmid himself and his personal assistant, Major (now Colonel) Euan Smith,[207] partly by Dr. Bellew, the well-known Oriental scholar and authority,[208] who accompanied General (afterwards Sir R.) Pollock, the latter being sent from India, for no very well ascertained reason, as representative of the Viceroy (Lord Mayo). The case was a difficult one by reason of its extraordinary simplicity. The Afghan claim to Seistan was very clear and intelligible; it was based upon ancient dominion, dating from the time of Ahmed Shah, the founder of the Afghan empire. The Persian claim was equally clear and intelligible; it was based upon more ancient dominion still, reinforced by the very cogent argument of recent reconquest and actual occupation. Here were all the materials both for hard reasoning and fine casuistry. The difficulty was enhanced by the behaviour of the two Oriental Commissioners. The Persian, Mirza Maasum Khan, was undisguisedly hostile from the start, and threw every possible obstacle in the way. The Afghan was not much more practicable. Finally, having conducted such local surveys and inquiries as were possible, Sir F. Goldsmid, finding it hopeless to do any business on the spot, was obliged to retire to Teheran, where his arbitral decision, after a good deal of hesitation and cavilling, was ratified by the Shah.

Broadly speaking, General Goldsmid found it advisable to distinguish between two Seistans, which he called respectively Seistan Proper and Outer Seistan.[209] The former he defined as


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the region between the Naizar on the north and the main lateral canal taken from the Helmund, in order to irrigate Sekuha and the neighbouring villages on the south, and extending from the old and true bed of the Helmund on the east, to the fringe of the Hamun and the Kuh-i-Khwajah on the west. This area he estimated at 950 square miles, and its population at 45,000, 20,000 of whom were Seistanis,[210] 15,000 Persian-speaking settlers, and 10,000 Beluchi nomads. Outer Seistan was the country on the right bank of the Helmund from its lake-mouth on the north to Rudbar on its upper waters on the south. His decision may be summarised thus. He gave Seistan Proper to Persia, and Outer Seistan to Afghanistan. The boundary between the two was drawn as follows: From the Siah Kuh (Black Mountain), which is the eastern boundary of the Persian district of Nehbandan, along the southern fringe of the Naizar to the left bank of the Helmund; thence up the river to a point about a mile above the great bund or dam at Kohak;[211] after which it consists of a line drawn from this point in a south-westerly direction to the range Kuh-Malek-i-Siah, which is the northerly continuation of a line of mountains that bound the Zirreh desert upon the west. Here the district of Seistan terminated, and the award was concluded. South of this point is the indeterminate and unobserved line to Jalk which I have previously mentioned.

Hampered as he was by instructions almost incapable of execution, impeded by systematic obstruction, and owing a definite issue only to the foresight which induced him to complete his local surveys before the Indian members of the mission appeared upon the scene, General Goldsmid may be congratulated upon having been able to formulate a decision at all. To the independent observer it undoubtedly appears that the Persians were the gainers by his award; for they


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retained the only really valuable and lucrative portion of the countrya portion to which they could establish the double claim of ancient possession and actual occupation. Had the demarkation taken place ten years earlier, when first they pressed for it, there can be no doubt that in the absence of the second of these claims the award would not have been so favourable to them as it ultimately proved to be. Notwithstanding which facts, they professed themselves extremely dissatisfied with the result, and looked upon the partition as an attempt to enrich an English vassal state, Afghanistan, at their expense. The Afghans, on their side, were annoyed at losing the revenue-paying part of the province, and Shir Ali is said never to have forgiven the British Government in consequence. The award has not been adhered to with absolute precision on the spot; but, even if we concede to it a fair amount of success, it still remains somewhat doubtful whether it is wise policy for the Indian Government to undertake these chivalrous but thankless Commissions, which are apt to be misinterpreted by both parties, and usually leave a legacy of odium behind them.

The chief town of Persian Seistan is Sekuha (the Three Hills), so called from three clay hills around and in part upon which the town is built. At the time of the Commission in 1872, it consisted of about 1,200 mud huts, not more than half of which were then or are now inhabited. The population is entirely engaged in agricultural pursuits, the town being situated in the most productive part of the province. As I have before said, however, the administrative and military head-quarters are at Nasratabad (called Nasirabad by Goldsmid), where lives the Deputy Governor of the Amir of Kain, and where is stationed one of the two infantry regiments, nominally 1,000, but actually less than 800 strong, which are raised in the entire province; as well as a small force of cavalry and a few guns. Service is for life, and is hereditary in the families supplying the soldiers. They are armed with muzzle-loading rifles of Persian manufacture, and are supposed to get a new uniform every second year. Their pay is reported to be 20 krans (12s.) and 7½ mans of wheat yearly, and when on service in Seistan rations also.[212] The capital of Afghan Seistan is Chakhansur or


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Chaghansur (called by Conolly Chuknasoor, and by Ferrier Sheikh Nasoor), situated on the Khash or Khushk Rud, the eastern confluent of the Helmund lagoon.

Before the despatch of the English Commission, the number of European travellers who had penetrated to Seistan and had left any record of their explorations was exceedingly small. In 1809 Captains Grant (who was afterwards murdered by robbers on the road between Baghdad and Kermanshah) and Christie (who was killed while gallantly fighting with the Persian army against the Russians at Aslanduz in 1812) and Lieutenant (afterwards Sir Henry) Pottinger were deputed by Sir J. Malcolm, then contemplating his third mission to the Persian Court, to explore Mekran, Beluchistan, and Seistan. The journal of Captain Grant was published twenty years later. Christie's and Pottinger's travels into Beluchistan left the reading public the richer by the admirable book of the elder writer.[213] Leaving Pottinger at Nushki, Christie marched northwards through Seistan to Herat; and an abstract of his journal (which was never separately published) is incorporated as an appendix in Pottinger's work.[214] In 1839 a young English officer, Captain Edward Conolly, accompanied for surveying purposes by Sergeant Cameron, made a tour through the country, and added immensely to the existing store of knowledge.[215] He was followed a few years later by Lieutenant R. Leech, whose less exhaustive but complementary information was published in the same journal.[216] In 1841 Seistan claimed its first European martyr. Dr. F. Forbes, already well known for successful explorations on the north-western frontier of Persia, marched to Meshed, and from there by Turbat-i-Haideri, Birjand, and Tabbas to Seistan, where he was murdered by one Ibrahim Khan, chief of Lash Juwain. A somewhat incoherent account of the incident was given by his personal attendant, and appeared in the 'Journal of the R.G.S.' for 1844.[217] Thirty years later the members of the Boundary Commission, when travelling in Seistan, came across the very murderer, who was then chief of


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Chakhansur, and heard a true account of the tragedy. Ibrabim Khan was, it appeared, a savage, semi-lunatic kind of barbarian, much given to charras and bhang (intoxicating drinks), and he had shot Dr. Forbes while hunting wild fowl on the lake, in a freak of sportive inebriation.[218] About the same time another young officer, Lieutenant Pattinson, approaching the Helmund from the Afghan side, explored its course from Zamindawer to the Seistan Lake. He too was killed a year or two later in an outbreak at Kandahar, following upon the Kabul tragedy. A few years laterviz. in 1845the French officer Ferrier was in Seistan, of which he has left a description in his interesting book.[219] Khanikoff, the Russian, whose services to science are not enhanced by his jealous depreciation of the labours of any English predecessor in the same field, was here in 1859,[220] and crossed the Desert of Lut to Kerman. This was the sum total of European travellers who had left any record of Seistan prior to the despatch of General Goldsmid and his colleagues.[221]

I now approach the subject to which I have hitherto been leading up, and whose existence I have indicated by the title which I have given to this chapter. The Seistan Question, however, is not the old question of the boundary, or of the rival claims of Persia and Afghanistan. It is the future question of the part, if any, that Seistan is likely to play or is capable of playing in the politics of Central Asia, and in the diplomatic or military strategy of Russia and Great Britain.[222] Inspection of the map with the aid of a pair of compasses will show that the province of Seistan lies about midway between Meshed and the sea. Its situation, therefore, constitutes it a sort of advanced outpost of Khorasan, as well as a terra media through which any power desirous of moving southwards from Meshed, particularly any power that is covetous of an outlet upon the Indian Ocean, must pass; and through which must equally pass any power desirous of reaching Khorasan and Meshed from a south-


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easterly direction. The former aspect of the case indicates its value to Russia; the latter to Great Britain.

Seistan presents to Russia a positive and a negative value, of which it is difficult to say which is the more important. Should she at any time find it politic or necessary to absorb Khorasan, the possession of Seistan would give her the whole and not the northern portion only of that province. It would further establish her in a position of close and almost immediate proximity to the advanced Indian frontier in Beluchistan. At present there intervene between her own and the Indian border 500 miles of Afghan territory, which, though presenting not the slightest physical obstacle to advance, are tenanted by wild tribes much attached to their own independence, even if uninspired by any loyalty to their sovereign. In other words, advance through Afghanistan means hard fighting with Afghans by whomever it is undertaken. Solemn engagements would have to be broken, great forces collected, and daily risk incurred, while such an adventure was in course of execution. On the other hand, should a Russian force, desirousI will not say of invading Hindustan, because we are not at present called upon to discuss any such remote possibility, but of acquiring a position menacing and contiguous to Hindustan, take up its quarters in Seistan, the above-mentioned perils are thereby one and all avoided, no Anglo-Russian compact is violated, no savage Afghans require to be fought. The forward frontier of Russia would be brought over 300 miles nearer to the advanced frontier of India; and the change in position would involve a proportionately greater anxiety, outlay, and peril to the latter. Russia would be unlikely to march even from Seistan against Quetta; but she would have unlimited opportunities from this base of intriguing with trans-frontier tribes, and of nibbling at Beluchistan. How far her position against Afghanistan would be strengthened is also self-evident. Russia in Khorasan means Russia at Herat; and Russia in Seistan would mean Russia at Sebzewar and Farrah as well, the two most important strategical points on the march from Herat to Kandahar.

I do not for the moment lay stress upon the other aspect of the positive value to Russia of Seistanviz. as facilitating her approach to the southern seasbecause I assume that a Russian port upon the Persian Gulf or the Indian Ocean would no more be tolerated by any English minister or government than would an


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English port on the Caspian by any Czar. It is true that Russia turns longing eyes towards a maritime outlet on the south, and that of the two methods by which she can possibly attain thereto, encroachment in a southerly direction from Meshed viâ Seistan is one. This fact is of course an addition to the prospective value of Seistan in Russian eyes, but it postulates a condition of affairs so remote, and I would fain hope so inconceivable, that I will not expend words upon its further examination.

The negative value of Seistan to Russia is the inverse aspect of its positive value to Great Britain. In other words, Russia would like to get hold of Seistan herself, in order to prevent Seistan from being got hold of by Great Britain; and because, in the latter event, not only would the ambitious and far-reaching schemes that I have sketched be frustrated, but England would be in a position very seriously to menace the Asiatic status of her rival. Let me explain. I have already in the previous chapter indicated the acute commercial warfare that is now being waged between Russian and Anglo-Indian merchandise in Khorasan. I have shown that the advantage which she derives, and will continue to derive in increasing degree, from the Transcaspian Railway enables Russia to flood the markets of North-eastern Persia with her manufactures, and to undersell her sole competitor, viz. British India, in the bazaars of Meshed. I have shown that a critical epoch has been reached, and that without some help, in the shape of increased facilities of transport or shorter and cheaper trade routes, Anglo-Indian commerce must in the long run be vanquished. The one means by which the latter could compete on nearly even terms with her rival would be by adopting her rival's tacticsby pushing forward a railway on the south to match the Transcaspian Railway on the north, by conveying the manufactures of Bombay as are conveyed the manufactures of Moscow, not solely on mule-back and camel-back over vast distances at crushing expense, but by the potent auxiliary agency of steam. Such a railway starting from India must point, as its first objective, to Seistan.

The commercial importance of such a line will not, I think, be denied, as bringing India into closer connection with the bazaars of Khorasan. Not less obvious, however, would be the strategical advantage, as enabling England to occupy a flanking position in defence of that Afghan territory which she has undertaken to safeguard, and as preventing those


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developments of the Muscovite earth-hunger which I have sketched, and which might be fraught with peril to the harmonious relations between the two empires. Here I will pause; and will not go on to suggest that, if a commanding necessity ever arose, such a position might very effectively be utilised by an Indian army for offence, because I am loth to imagine a situation in which British or Indian soldiers will ever again be required to march in fighting order through Persia, or be forced into a policy of aggressive retaliation. The map, however, will assist the reader to form his own judgment.

There remain, however, two questions of practical importanceviz. the engineering possibility of constructing such a line, and the probable returns that might be expected from the country opened up. If the map be inspected, the physical contour of the region will suggest that the most natural, though by no means the shortest, method of reaching Seistan is by the valley of the Helmund from Girishk or Kandahar. The greater part of this distancenamely, that from Hazarjuft below the confluence of the Argandab to Rudbar, a distance of 160 milesis locally known as the Garmsel, or Hot Region, identical with the Garmsir of Southern Persia. No part of this unhappy neighbourhood has suffered more from the passions of man than the Garmsel. In olden times it was the scene of active cultivation, and the site of busy and populous cities. Brigands, outlaws, and the stormy trail of armies have converted it into a sandy and untenanted desert. But the testimony of those who have explored it, notably of Dr. Bellew, who marched this way from India with General Pollock, is enthusiastic as to the possibilities of recuperation. This is what he says:

The valley everywhere bears the marks of former prosperity and population. Its soil is extremely fertile, and the command of water is unlimited. It only requires a strong and just Government to quickly recover its lost prosperity, and to render it a fruitful garden, crowded with towns and villages in unbroken succession all the way from Sistan to Kandahar. Under a civilised Government there is not a doubt that Garmsel would soon recover its pristine prosperity, and then this part of the Helmund valley would rival in the salubrity of its climate that of the Tigris at Baghdad. When the curse of anarchy and lawlessness is replaced in this region by the blessings of peace and order, then Garmsel will once more become the seat of plenty. The advancing civilisation of the West must some day penetrate to this neglected corner,


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and the children's children of its present inhabitants may live to hear the railway whistle echoing over their now desert wastes.[223]

On the other hand, the children's children, who are probably by now beginning to be born, may live and die too without hearing it at all; and for this reason. A railway down the Helmund means a railway in Afghanistan; and as the Amir of that country has not yet been persuaded to allow a yard of rails to be laid in his dominions, and as, were such permission forthcoming, other and more important schemes would probably be first undertaken, the grandchildren in the Garmsel may perhaps after all not hear the whistle in their time.

But there remains another line of advance, shorter because more direct, and free from the above impediment, because it need not run through Afghanistan at all. It must be remembered that the Pishin Railway system of Great Britain has now been pushed forward to a point on the northern face of the Khwajah Amran range, that that range has been pierced by a tunnel, and that the present terminus, Chaman, is on the open plain, less than seventy miles distant from Kandahar. Now a line drawn from this frontier railway, whether at its termination or at some point short of Chaman, to Seistan, will be found to pass through Beluchii.e. allied territory solely, and according to the spot at which it strikes the Helmund valley, so would its transit of the desert be extended or abridged. The point of deviation usually suggested is that of Nushki, from which to the Sind-Pishin Railway at Chaman is less than one hundred miles, at Quetta less than ninety, and at Darwaza less than eighty. Across the desert from Nushki to the Helmund no physical obstacles are encountered. From the engineer's point of view the difficulties to be confronted would not be comparable with those so easily overcome by General Annenkoff.

We can conceive, without anticipating, a condition of affairs under which there need be no rivalry between the Afghan and the Beluchi routes, but which would admit of the best line being followed, through whichever territory it ran; and that would be the free acceptance by Afghanistan of a British protectorate. By some this step has been recommended as the only logical corollary, as assuredly it would be the most


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practical conclusion, of the previous phases of Anglo-Afghan relationship. Given such a protectorate, and England would not only before long be free to run her iron rails where and whither she pleased in Afghanistana line to the Persian frontier being obviously one of the first that in such a case would demand considerationbut, with the Afghans acting in concert with the British, and with Russia and Great Britain (as ex hypothesi they would be) coterminous powers, the objections which I have elsewhere so strenuously urged against a junction of the Indian and Russian railway systems in Afghanistan, and which I continue to hold, would be minimised, if they did not disappear. For in such a case, the buffer having vanished, the two empires would stand cheek by jowl in Asia, as do Russia and Germany in Europe; England would be as much committed to defend Balkh or Herat as she is now compelled to defend Portsmouth or Bombay; and the respective railways of the two powers would have a tendency sooner or later to be united. Such a consummation, however, even if realisable, is as yet far distant. It can only arise in the event of an independent Afghanistanwhich is the justification and outcome of our present policyproving to be impossible; and in our inability to venture any prophecy upon data so precarious, our plans must be constructed so as to harmonise with a more immediate future.

When we approach the question of the quality of the country opened up by a Beluchi-Persian railway, presuming it to be constructed under existing political conditions, we advance into a region in which the most conflicting evidence is forthcoming from our authorities. From the strategical point of view there are some who say that such a line would be vulnerable both from the north and west. There are others who find in the deserts on either side of the Helmund, and in the Helmund itself, an ample protection. I am not here concerned to engage in the strategical controversy, because there has probably never been a strategical railway since locomotion by steam was discovered about which the professors have not held diametrically opposite and contradictory opinions. It was so with the Transcaspian Railway, and it would be so with a Nushki-Seistan railway. Nor am I even concerned to discuss the strategical aspect of such a railway at all, because I am not a soldier, and shall probably be told that I am talking of what I know nothing about; although I may, in passing,


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confess that to my uninstructed vision the military advantages of such a line would appear to be considerable. I prefer, however, to treat it as a commercial scheme, and to assume that a subscribing public, as well as generals and colonels, wish to be able to form an opinion.

We will suppose, therefore, that our railway has reached Seistan. What will it find, and what will it do when it gets there? There are some who protest that the features of the country are hopelessly unfavourable to commerce or colonisation. They paint lamentable pictures of the physical amenities of Seistan. There is a famous wind called the Bad-i-sad-o-bist-ruz (or wind of 120 days), which blows steadily there from a north-westerly direction in the months between March and August, beginning soon after sunrise, abating at midday, and attaining its maximum strength after sunset. There is also a particularly horrible kind of fly that bites and even kills horses by its bite. At times of the year the climate, owing to the extent of marsh water stagnating under the sun, breeds fevers and ague. The face of the country is apt to be flooded; and communication is only kept up by the precarious method of tutins, a kind of raft made of reeds lashed together and strengthened by tamarisk stakes.[224] These critics even go so far as to include the whole country in the scope of their truculent denunciation, and to ask wherein lies the beauty or the money value of reed-beds, and sand-hills, and swamps.

Less sweeping, because better informed, and worthy of careful examination (by reason of the unequalled position of its author), although unfavourable in character, is the opinion that has been expressed by Sir H. Rawlinson. He has written as follows:

Though possessing great natural advantages, the province of Seistan is, in its present aspect, a wretchedly unhealthy country, only habitable for a few months in the year, and hardly worth the expense of government; while in regard to its strategical value, which is the point of view that has been chiefly regarded in India, great misapprehension prevails. So far from Seistan being, as has been so often stated, a convenient base for aggression upon India from the westward, it is in every respect inferior to Herat for that purpose.[225] To the south and


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south-east it is bounded by an impassable desert; while to the east it possesses one single line of communication along the Helmund, contracted and ill-supplied, and exposed to a flank attack from the northward throughout its whole extent from Seistan to Kandahar. Supposing, indeed, the Afghans to be in strength at Herat, Farrah, or Zamin Dawer, it would be quite impossible for a Persian army to march along the Helmund from Seistan to Girishk. The only military value of Seistan consists in its abundant supply of camels for carriage; and these animals are for the most part in the hands of the Beluchis, who are Afghan, and not Persian dependents, and who might thus be available for our own purposes, though hardly for those of our enemies.[226]

It is permissible to point out that, although the author of the above paragraph is fortunately still living, it was written at a time (1875) long anterior to more recent developments, and with a view to conditions which no longer exist. The question discussed by Rawlinson in dealing with the strategical controversy is the chance afforded to Persia of invading Afghanistan from the base of Seistan; and this has no relation whatever to the new problem created by the appearance of Russia within striking distance of Herat. A Persian army is now about as likely to invade Afghanistan as it is to march against St. Petersburg. But what Persians or Afghans would not, or could not do, European armies operating from railway bases may, and since 1885 alone it may be said that any previous military criticism upon Seistan has already become obsolete.

To the jeremiads of those critics who represent Seistan (parodying the phrase in which Persia as a whole was once described[227]) as consisting of two parts, a desert under water and a desert above water, must be opposed the evidence both of history and of existing facts. If their verdict be true, how comes it that this province was once so famous for its magnificent fertility, its dense population, and its splendid cities? What must be said of the square miles of ruins still encumbering the ground? Fertility in Persia is almost solely dependent upon water supply; and here, alone among Persian provinces, is enough water not merely to fill great canals


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as large as rivers, and a network of smaller ditches and dykes, but also very frequently to run to waste in superfluous swamps and lagoons. Let us, however, quote the opinion of eye-witnesses upon the actual capacities of the soil. This is what Ferrier said in 1845:

Seistan is a flat country, with here and there some low hills. One third of the surface of the soil is composed of moving sands, and the other two-thirds of a compact sand mixed with a little clay, but very rich in vegetable matter, and covered with woods of the tamarisk, saghes, and tag, and reeds, in the midst of which there is abundant pasture. The detritus and slimy soil which is deposited on the land after the annual inundation of the Helmund fertilises it in a remarkable manner, and this has probably been the case from time immemorial; at any rate, the number of ruins on the banks would lead one to suppose so.[228]

To this let me add the opinion of Sir F. Goldsmid:

The soil is of proved fertility. Wheat or barley is, perhaps, the staple cultivation; but peas, beans, oil-seeds, and cotton are also grown. Melons and water melons, especially the latter, are abundant; grazing and fodder are not wanting. By means of the canals in their ordinary course, and by occasional inundations, a system of profuse irrigation is put in force, which, with an industrious and a contented population, should be productive of most extensive grain cultivation.[229]

Finally, to both may be added the testimony of those who have visited Seistan since the Boundary Commission, and who report that its resources have already been wonderfully augmented, and that its capacities of production under a more scientific system of irrigation are enormous. The future of Seistan depends indeed upon the application of hydraulical skill to the course and overflow of the Helmund. The river now runs northward, and spends itself in superfluous swamps. There is nothing in the lie or in the levels of the land to prevent it from being turned southward, and entirely devoted to cultivation.

Nor should a concluding but most important consideration be forgotten. Though railways will not come in Persia with the headlong rapidity that some imagine, and though it is not desirable in many parts that they should, yet most of us look forward to a time when there will be some more rapid means of communication between the great cities and trade


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centres than is provided by dilapidated horses, laborious camels, and sore-backed mules. We contemplate a day when, whatever be the transverse communications from north to south, the main cities in the centre, from Kermanshah in the west to Kerman in the east, shall be united by steam lines, following the direction of the valleys and surface depressions, whose general inclination is almost without exception in a favourable directionviz. from northwest to south-east. From a trunk line so designed, with which must ultimately be connected the Indian system, a Seistan railway would be but a slight and that a natural diversion to the north. At the same time connection with the sea would be established by a line running either viâ Bampur to Chahbar, or viâ Regan and Minab to Gwadur; or, if a more easterly port be required in Beluch, i.e. British protected territory, to the excellent harbours of Pusni or Kalmat. Indeed, if the Sind-Pishin or Bolan Railway to the present Indian frontier be considered, because of its liability to destruction by flood, an insecure basis for a forward line to Seistan, the latter might perhaps start into independent existence as a purely Beluch railroad from the coast, through Panjgur towards the Persian frontier, while some authorities have recommended the connection of such a line with the Indian system by a railway from Kurrachi through Mekran. The Indian Ocean, in correspondence with such a railroad, would then play the part to Eastern and South-Eastern Persia that the Caspian Sea, in correspondence with the Transcaspian Railway, does to the north-east; and the combined powers of steam by sea and land would effect a revolution in a few years that may otherwise be awaited for centuries. Perhaps, to employ Bellew's phrase, neither our children nor our children's children will hear the whistle. But when we are long dead and gone and forgotten, may be some itinerant reader of books may pick our volume from the shilling stand of obsolete literature outside some antiquated shop in a back street of London, and congratulate us, even in our graves, on having anticipated and fondly endeavoured to promote what will then be an achieved consummation.


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Chapter 10

FROM MESHED TO TEHERAN

There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn. — DR. JOHNSON, Boswell's Life.

Persicos odi, puer, apparatus.

HORACE, Carm., Lib. I. xxxviii.

AFTER the serious political discussions contained in the last two chapters, it will be a relief to such of my readers as have passed through, if they have not altogether evaded, that ordeal, to turn to a chapter with more digestible contents. Having spent eight days at Meshed, I started upon the long chapar ride to Teheran. The distance is given by the Persians, and is therefore paid for by the traveller, as farsakhs. At the full complement of four miles to a farsakh, this would amount to 616 miles; but, though the Khorasan farsakh is famed beyond all others for its odious and seemingly inexhaustible length,[230] a compliment in reality to the funereal monotony of the road — the distance (comparing my own estimate with that of previous voyagers) is under rather than over 560 English miles. It is surprising how soon, if a man be riding alone and have nought to distract him but the paces of his steed and the thought of his destination, he can arrive at an approximately correct calculation of the distance he is covering from stage to stage. The route between Meshed and Teheran is divided into twenty-four stages, the post-houses being established at distances varying from fifteen to thirty miles, but averaging twenty-three miles apart. This


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distance I accomplished in the comfortable time of nine days, doing an average of sixty miles a day, but in reality combining days of seventy miles with shorter spans. This is slow rather than speedy travelling for Persia;[231] and I afterwards became easily habituated to journeys of seventy-five to eighty miles in the day. Telegraph officials and residents in the country seldom do less, and frequently more. The post which goes through from Meshed to Teheran without stopping, but with first claim upon the horses at each station, covers the distance in from five to six days. Dr. Wills reports having ridden from Isfahan to Teheran, about 280 miles, in thirty-nine and a half hours;[232] whilst officers travelling by day alone and resting at night have accomplished 120 miles between dawn and leaving the saddle.

Quick riding is indeed an accomplishment for which the Persians have always been famous, and notable records in which have been achieved even by their kings. Abbas the Great, 300 years ago, rode from Shiraz to Yezd in twenty-eight and a half hours, the Astronomer Royal being commanded to take the time. Malcolm gives the distance as eighty-nine farsakhs, or 303 miles;[233] but, though modern measurements have reduced it to 220 miles, it was still no mean performance. Agha Mohammed Khan, the founder of the reigning dynasty, fleeing to Mazanderan on the death of Kerim Khan Zend, rode from Shiraz to Isfahan — a distance, by whatever route, of not much under 300 miles — in less than three days. Fath Ali Shah, his nephew, upon succeeding to the throne, rode from Shiraz to Teheran, a distance of at least 550 miles, in six days. Fraser mentions the case of a Persian, Agha Bahrain, who kept the best horses in the country, and who once on the same Arab horse rode from Shiraz to Teheran in six days, rested three days, rode back in five days, rested nine days, and performed the journey a third time in seven days.[234] But the most remarkable, because the most sustained performance of which I have ever read was that of the dragoman who, in 1804, rode from Constantinople


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to Demavend (near Teheran), a total distance of 1,700 miles, in seventeen days, with the news of Napoleon's escape from Elba. On the other hand, when there is no purpose in haste, no rider can be so slow as a Persian. If he is not proceeding at a headlong gallop, he affects a dignified crawl; and in the whole of my chapar rides I never once met a native who was moving at more than a foot-pace on horseback.

As this is the first occasion upon which I have required to describe chapar riding from personal experience, and as I subsequently rode considerably over a thousand miles by the same means, I may as well here condense whatever of observation or suggestion I have to make upon the subject. I have already in Chapter II. (upon Ways and Means) supplied all necessary information as to cost and procedure. The basis of calculation there laid down will show that for four horses — self, gholam, postboy, and baggage (for I duly purchased my own experience by taking on this occasion, but on this only, an extra baggage animal, which cost me many a hard gallop in pursuit as well as a proportionate loss of time) — my journey from Meshed to Teheran cost 600 krans or, at the then rate of exchange, about 17l., exclusive of tips to the postboys and payment for the use of quarters at night, amounting to about 2l. more, and the cost of food en route, which will depend in each case upon the amount of tinned meat carried by the traveller. The journey will not in any case cost over 20l. My sole companion and attendant upon this journey was a Perso-Afghan gholam (mounted courier or kavass) of the British Legation at Teheran, who bore the imposing name of Nadir Ali Khan, and who was well posted in all the tricks of the road.

The postal system in Persia, about the inauguration of which I shall have something to say later on, is under the superintendence of a Minister of Posts; but as the present tenant of that office holds two other portfolios in addition, besides being President of the Council, it may be inferred that it is not regarded as one of commanding importance. The Government allows him a certain annual sum for the repair and equipment of every post-house upon the Government roads, as well as an annual allowance of barley and straw as fodder for the horses.[235] The Minister does


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not, however, work the system himself. That would be a shocking violation of all Persian usage. Each road is farmed to a publican, probably some merchant or wealthy person, who pays a certain sum per annum to the Minister for the privilege. He then provides the servants and animals at each station, and makes as much money out of the business as he can; the only check upon his parsimony being the fear of losing his contract in favour of a higher bidder at the end of the year. It is not surprising, therefore, that the post-houses are mostly in a state of extreme and disgraceful dilapidation, or that the horses are among the sorriest specimens of the equine race that were ever foaled. The system is a vicious one, and it is hard to say whether the traveller or the poor brutes whom he is compelled to flog along are the more to be pitied.

Let me, however, endeavour to balance the pains and the pleasures, if any there be, of chapar riding, so as to arrive at a fair verdict. The system has been variously described by travellers according to their tastes, endurance, and fortune, as an exhilaration, a tedium, or a torture; and there is perhaps something to be said for each opinion. Much depends upon the extent to which the road adopted is travelled upon, and, in consequence, supplied; something upon the season of the year or the weather encountered; a good deal upon the luck of the voyager. The route between Meshed and Teheran is but little traversed (except by pilgrims, who move in kafilahs, or caravans), and there are accordingly not above five or six horses, sometimes less, at each station. These I found to be for the most part underfed, broken-down, and emaciated brutes, with ill-regulated paces, and open sores on their backs that sometimes made it almost unbearable to bestride them. The best that were supplied to me would anywhere else be classified at a low level of equine mediocrity. To ride the worst was a penalty to which any future Dante might appropriately condemn his most inveterate foe in the lower circles of hell. Subsequently, however, upon the Teheran-Shiraz line, which is more travelled upon and better provided, I found a larger number and a superior quality of animals. They were generally tolerable and sometimes positively good; and when I succeeded in covering by their means an average of between eight and nine miles in the hour throughout the day, when they invariably cantered and sometimes galloped, it can be imagined that a day's ride of from seventy to eighty miles may become quite endurable,


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and, under favourable conditions of climate, at times almost pleasant. In the last resort, however, more depends upon the fortune of the traveller than upon any other consideration. If he can avoid clashing or competing with the Government post, which has universal priority of claim; if he is lightly equipped himself and does not require many animals; above all, if he can get ahead and keep ahead of any other party of travellers on the same road, he will fare passably well. If he is unlucky in any or all of these respects, he will leave Persia muttering deep and unrepeatable curses against a land of rascals and jades. That this is the more common experience may perhaps be inferred from the fact that the main solace of a European's life in Persia appears to be the desire to cover a specified distance in quicker time than it has ever been done before. A furious competition prevails. Where there is a telegraphic line along the route the wire conveys to anxious ears the news of the rider's progress; and a man is seldom so happy, or leaves so enduring a reputation, as when he succeeds in cutting the record.

At this stage let me describe the chapar-khaneh, and its meagre, but peculiar properties. Sometimes in the heart, sometimes on the outskirts of a town or village, sometimes planted in absolute solitude upon the staring waste, but usually in the neighbourhood of water, is to be seen a small rectangular structure, consisting of four blank mud walls surrounding an interior enclosure, with a stunted square tower rising above the gateway, and a projecting semicircular tower or bartizan at each corner. The whole presents the appearance of a miniature mud fort. And such indeed it is intended to be; for in a land till lately desolated by Turkoman forays, and where promiscuous thieving is indubitably popular, every possession, from a palace down to an orchard, has to be safeguarded from attack, as though the country were in a state of open war. Entrance to the chapar-khaneh is gained by a big wooden door in the gateway; and when this is closed it is unassailable except by ladders. Riding into the gateway, one observes a low seat or platform against the wall on either side, and two doorways leading into dark and dirty rooms on the ground floor. The gateway conducts into the interior court, which is an open space about twenty to twenty-five yards in length and twelve to fifteen yards in width. In the middle is a chabutra, or mud platform, usually occupied by fowls and filth, but


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designed for al fresco slumbers of the traveller in the summer season. The walls of the court, on two and sometimes on three sides, are pierced with holes or mangers, into which the chopped barley, or kah, is placed for the horses, and to which they are tethered in the warm weather. In the interior of the two side walls, however, are long dark stables for winter use, unlighted save by the low door, unventilated, and reeking with accumulated refuse. In one of these, along with the horses, the postboys and attendants usually sleep, stretched around a low fire. The interior walls of the court have at one time or another been faced with plaster; but this has uniformly peeled off, and the entire fabric looks what it is — mud. As the weary traveller rides in, the chaparchi, or post-house keeper, who sometimes wears the semblance of an official dress, comes out to meet him. Eager inquiries are exchanged as to the supply of fresh horses in the stables; and while these are being gratified or disappointed, the baggage is pulled off the exhausted beasts and piled upon the chabutra, and the English rider stretches


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himself at full length or boils a cup of broth or tea. His Persian attendant takes a pull at the kalian, which is always ready, and the wearied animals, stripped except for their tattered horsecloths, are slowly walked up and down for ten minutes by the postboy, and finally marched off to water. In a quarter of an hour, if lucky, sometimes not for one hour or even two, a fresh batch of horses having been brought out, and the traveller having selected the best for himself, he will remount, and will once again pursue the uneven tenour of his way. If, however, no fresh animals are forthcoming, or if he has been anticipated by some other voyager, then ensues the most heartrending experience of all. For, after a tedious wait of perhaps two hours, the same miserable brutes that have borne the burden of his last twenty-five miles' stage are brought out again to be urged and flagellated through twenty-five more. I confess that my sympathies were always with the beast rather than with his rider; and considering the pitiless daily, nay, almost hourly, task that is imposed upon these wretched crocks, it was


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sometimes a surprise to me that persuasion, however extreme, could extract from them anything more than a hobble.

But supposing the traveller to have reached the end of his day's journey and to have arrived at the post-house where he proposes to pass the night, what then? The answer to the question is contained in the projecting square tower above the entrance gateway. Access thereto is gained by stairways of almost Alpine steepness, fashioned in the mud at the angles of the court inside. Clambering up these with difficulty, we reach the flat roof that runs right round the building, and find that the tower consists of a single chamber, which invariably has two, sometimes three, doors (that are never known to shut), and usually a couple of open window spaces in the walls, so that it may literally be said to stand

Four-square to all the winds that blow.

This is the bala-khaneh, or upper chamber, specially reserved for the comfort of foreign guests, and within this forlorn and wintry abode, which is not much less draughty than the rigging of a ship, the wayfarer must spend the night. The interior has at one time been plastered and whitewashed. Its only decorative features are a number of shallow niches in the walls, in which Persian visitors have sometimes scrawled the most fearful illustrations, and occasionally, but not always, a fireplace. Of furniture it is absolutely destitute. To have the floor swept clean of vermin, to spread a felt or carpet in the corner and one's sack of straw upon it, to buy firewood and light a fire, to stuff up the open windows and nail curtains over the ramshackle doors — all these are necessary and preliminary operations, without which the dingy tenement would be simply uninhabitable, but which it is sometimes hard work to undertake in a state of extreme stiffness and exhaustion after a long day's ride upon a freezing winter's night. Even so, this aërial roost is sometimes too chill for endurance, and one is compelled to descend and seek refuge in the dank and cellar-like apartments below. In half an hour's time, however, when the work has been done, as the genial warmth begins to relax stiff joints and weary limbs, and as the samovar puffs out its cheery steam, a feeling of wonderful contentment ensues, and the outstretched traveller would probably not exchange his quarters for a sheeted bed in Windsor Castle. But it is upon the following morning,


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when, aroused at four or five A.M. in the pitchy darkness and amid biting cold, he must get up to the light of a flickering candle, dress and pack up all his effects, cook his breakfast, and finally see the whole of his baggage safely mounted in the dark upon the steeds in the yard below, that he is sometimes tempted to think momentarily of proverbs about game and candles, and to reflect that there are consolations in life at home.

A word more about the Persian post-horse, for a man does not ride from sixty to seventy of these beasts in the space of a few weeks without being driven to generalise somewhat upon the species. The traveller of course selects the best out of a bad lot for himself, but an eye must be kept on the chapar-shagird, or post-boy, who knows the 'form' of each animal to a nicety and who, if left alone is apt to consult his own rather than his employer's comfort. As you emerge from the post-house, and, after a short walk, try the paces of your new mount, there is a moment of acute suspense. Within 300 yards you know whether your next three or four hours are to be a toleration or an anguish. The pace which, after a little experience, a European usually adopts, is a sharp canter alternating with a walk. The Persians, when not cantering or galloping seem to prefer a rough jog-trot shamble, which on an English saddle is excruciating. In the whole of my chapar rides I only twice encountered a horse that could trot in English fashion. The post-boy carries, and each rider must carry, a long whip made of twisted leather with a leathern thong, and appalling are the whacks that are administered by the former, often without exciting the faintest response from his habituated steed. In this place it maybe well to remark that, though called a boy, the shagird is much more commonly a man. He does not ride upon a saddle, but usually sits perched upon the top of a vast pile of baggage with his legs sticking out on either side; nor does he use reins, but only a single rope or halter attached to one side of the bit. He is supposed to lead the way and to set the pace, but I soon found that seventy miles in the day could never be accomplished in that fashion, and that it was better even in a strange country to lead the cavalcade oneself. As a rule it is difficult, if there is light, to mistake the track; for though there is no road and the route is simply a mule track which crosses plains, climbs mountains, and descends gorges, sometimes, so to speak, a single rut, and sometimes a wide belt of parallel paths,


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yet the passage of countless animals has left such impressions upon the soil that the direction to be followed can often be traced in advance for miles. At night a stranger would be lost at once but for the guidance of the post-boy, whose sight and memory are unerring.

The best known characteristic of the Persian post-horse is his incurable predisposition to tumble. Most of them have bare knees in consequence, and the first law in mounting is to select an animal with some hair still adorning that portion. I could not make out that either a tight rein or a slack rein had very much to do with the occurrence of this phenomenon, and I ended by concluding that the Persian post-horse has a certain regulation number of falls in the year, which may be distributed either by accident or as he pleases, but the full tale of which some hidden law of necessity compels him to complete. The fact that I rode through the country from the east to the centre and from the centre to the south without a single fall, tended to confirm rather than to invalidate my theory, for there was no conceivable reason why I should be so favoured, except that others would have or had had to pay the price. It became quite a trite occurrence to hear the groan with which my Persian servant riding behind me sank or was hurled on to mother earth; while the chapur~shagird would be seriously disappointed at an entire day without a fall. There is this to be said for the instability of the Persian post-horse, that it appears very seldom to be vindicated at the lasting expense of his rider. The number of accidents or injuries that take place in proportion to the number of falls is ludicrously small. Two other tricks I noticed which were widespread and popular. Some of the meanest of the animals would very much resent being mounted, a curious proof that their memories had profited by experience; and the only approach to an accident that I had was when a horse from which I had dismounted ran away as I was putting my foot into the stirrup, and as nearly as possible pitched both himself and me down the shaft of an open kanat. The lifting of the right arm, whether with or without a whip, had, further, such a provocative effect upon the memory of these beasts that they would frequently swerve and spin right round to the left. The Persians, if peculiarly disgusted with a post-horse, sometimes revenge themselves by docking his tail, which incapacitates him from further use in a country where a tail is considered de rigueur; but this is a spiteful, if not a cruel act,


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from which strangers can afford to abstain. Perhaps I shall not inaptly conclude this digression upon the Persian post-horse and postal system if I quote the sententious observation with which Tavernier prefaced his Persian travels more than three centuries ago: 'A man cannot travel in Asia as they do in Europe; nor at the same hours, nor with the same ease.'

The road from Meshed to Teheran is one whose intrinsic attraction is so small that no one would ever be found to traverse it but for the necessity of getting from one place to the other. For the entire distance of 560 miles there is scarcely a single object of beauty, and but few of interest. The scenery, at any rate in the late autumn, is colourless and desolate. The road, or rather track, winds over long, stony plains, across unlovely mountains, and through deserted villages and towns. There is frequent and abundant evidence that the country traversed was once far more densely or less sparsely populated, and for that reason more carefully tended, than it is at present. The traveller passes towns which have been entirely abandoned, and display only a melancholy confusion of tottering walls and fallen towers. He observes citadels and fortified posts which have crumbled into irretrievable decay, and are now little more than shapeless heaps of mud. He sees long lines of choked and disused kanats, the shafts of the underground wells by which water was once brought to the lands from the mountains. The walls of the cities are in ruins and exhibit yawning gaps; the few public buildings of any note are falling to pieces; rows of former dwellings have been abandoned to dust-heaps and dogs. The dirty, desecrated cemeteries that stretch for hundreds of yards outside every town of any size in which the tombstones are defaced and the graves falling in, are not more lugubrious in appearance than is the interior, where the living seem to be in almost as forlorn a plight as the dead. The utmost that the traveller can expect in the way of incident — an expectation in which I have already said that I was disappointed — is that his chapar horse should tumble down, to break, if not its own knees, at any rate the paralysing monotony of the journey.

But though the route be thus devoid of external attraction, it has a twofold interest, historical and practical. The traveller is not merely pursuing the track that has been worn by countless thousands of pilgrims for at least 500 years, but he is following the stormy wake of armies, and treading in the foot-


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steps of great conquerors and kings. And if, in the desolation that gapes around him, he sees no hint or reminder of what these countries once were, at least he is able to form some judgment of what the combined horrors of war, pestilence, and chronic misgovernment — which is worse than either — have done for them, and in this blighted zone of crumbling cities and forsaken homes to read the tale of Persia's long decline.

The following is a table of the stations and distances between Meshed and Teheran:[236]

Name of station

Distance in farsakhs

Approximate distance in miles

Name of station

Distance in farsakhs

Approximate distance in miles

Meshed

Sherifabad

Kadamgah

Nishapur

Shurab

Zafarani

Sebzewar

Mihr

Mazinan

Abbasabad

Miandasht

Maiomai

Armian

Shahrud

6

7

6

7

5

7

7

6

7

6

7

4

7

22

29

17

25

18

24

32

20

23

23

24

17

27

Deh Mullah

Damghan

Ghushah

Ahuan

Semnan

Lasgird

Deh Nemek

Kishlak

Aiwan-i-Kaif

Kabud Gumbaz

Teheran

4

6

7

7

7

6

8

7

6

7

7

16

26

23

24

24

22

25

26

21

26

25

Total

154

559

Before proceeding further it may be well to state that there is an alternative route for the first three stages between Meshed and Nishapur. The postal service and stations being upon the other


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or southern route, this, which is a more northerly line, cannot be taken by chapar riders. It is, however, frequently adopted by caravans (other than camels), particularly in the summer; as though the road is much worse, and in parts excessively steep, it runs over higher ground (10,720 feet), and through scenery of quite exceptional verdure and beauty. It is a positive surprise to the traveller, within a few miles of the naked rocks and dusty plains of Meshed, to alight upon running water and a wealth of trees. The stages are as follows: — [237]

Name of station

Distance in farsakhs

Approximate distance in miles

Meshed

Jagherk

Dehrud

Nishapur

5

6

6

20

22

18

Total

17

60

Colonel Stewart and other friends accompanied me on horseback — after the prevailing Persian fashion, which for polite good-fellowship might be — commended elsewhere — for some distance outside the city gate. In deference to another excellent Persian habit, he lent me a horse from his own stables for the first stage; while, in obedience to a third, I proposed only to do one stage on the first afternoon, so as to allow servants and baggage to 'shake down,' and to inure myself for harder work on the morrow. After I had been riding across the level plain for an hour, one of those violent winds arose, which the traveller in the East knows by sad experience, and drove like a hurricane across the land, whirling heaven and earth into one savage thundercloud of dust. Eyes, mouth, and ears were filled and choked with the gritty storm, which was blowing straight in my teeth, and yet was perfectly warm. About seven miles after leaving Meshed we arrived at the base of the mountains, in reality the south-east extremity of the Binalud Kuh, which separates the plain of Meshed from that of Nishapur. The Jagherk-Dehrud road boldly crosses this range; but the postal route avoids so steep a climb by a divergence in a south-easterly direction, and mounts only the lower spurs and slopes.


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At the crest of each ridge, where the road, now rapidly ascending, topped the rise, grateful pilgrims wending to the holy city had, as they caught sight of the gilded cupola of the Prophet, piled little heaps of stone in pious thanksgiving. The symbolism of these erections is said to be that the pilgrim is building in anticipation a home for the next world, either for the dear departed, or for those who may survive him, or for himself. Every knoll was thickly covered with these emblems of devotion. The topmost of all, where the new-comer first discerns the sacred pile, is known as Salaam Tepe, or Kuh-i-Salaam. (the Hill of Salutation); and there is an analogous site upon the Dehrud road.

Here, as he first comes in sight of his destination, the excited Shiah Mussulman kneels, and strikes his forehead upon the ground, and sobs aloud at the recollection of the indignities that were heaped upon the martyrs of his faith; here he tears off little fragments of his dress, and ties them to a bramble or a bush, in order that the holy Imam may recognise them and plead for him in Paradise; here he unfurls his coloured banner; and here with loud cries of 'Ya Ali,' 'Ya Husein,' and 'Ya Imam Reza,' he presses forward to the long-sought goal. Many times I turned back myself to look, but the entire valley was wrapped in a tornado of dust, the white clouds of which rolled upwards like the smoke of a prairie fire.

At, the top of one of these hills is an upright slab of stone, which has been erected to commemorate the piety of a former Governor-General of Khorasan, who was exiled to this post after being both Sadr Azem, or Grand Vizier, and Sipah Salar, or Commander-in-Chief, at Teheran, and who earned a great reputation, particularly with pilgrims, for improving the Meshed road and adorning it with substantial caravanserais. His name still lives, both on the slab of slate and on the lips of many a grateful Meshedi.

Following the telegraph poles, and winding over a succession of bleak but undulating ridges, we passed the caravanserai of Turukh, situated by a stream. The road was thronged with pedestrians, with camels, and donkeys; and I even saw a wheeled vehicle which had stuck fast on one of the hills. At length in a hollow we came upon the domed caravanserai of Sherifabad, erected by the famous Ishak Khan of Turbat-i-Haideri, of whom I have spoken in the chapter on Khorasan, at the beginning of this century. Here it was that in 1831 the eccentric Dr.


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Wolff, travelling for the first time to Meshed, so narrowly escaped being taken a prisoner by a band of wild Hazaras. There is a small village round the caravanserai, and the chapar-khaneh stands hard by.

There was no sun in the early morning, and a cold white mist ran shivering along the mountains. Two hours after starting we passed the village and caravanserai of Sultanabad, where my baggage horse, seeing his opportunity, bolted down the intricate alleys of the village, and we had quite a game of hide and seek before we could drive him out again. There were many hundreds of travellers upon the road, chiefly going Meshed-way, and all or nearly all on horseback, a sign of greater affluence than the employment of a donkey. I was on the look-out for coffins of defunct Shiahs on their way to the great necropolis of Meshed; and from the descriptions of previous travellers recognised the ghastly burden as soon as I saw it. Some that I passed were wrapped in black felt, and slung on either side of donkeys. One man, however, was carrying a very long coffin in front of him on his saddle-bow, and must have had moments of strange emotion. Sometimes a regular corpse-caravan is met, which has been chartered to convey so many score of departed Shiahs to their final resting-place. But as frequently an amateur carrier is encountered, who, to pay the expenses of his own journey and leave a little for amusement at the end, contracts to carry the corpse of some wealthier fellow-citizen or friend. It was a long and stony and fatiguing ride to the next post-house at Kadamgah.

At Kadamgah the Dehrud route from Meshed descends from the mountains on to the plain and joins that upon which I travelled. The name means 'the place of the step,' the tradition being that the Imam Reza halted here on his way to Tus, and, in order to convince the local fire-worshippers of his superiority, left the imprint of his foot upon a black stone, which became a ziarat gah, or place of pilgrimage, ever afterwards.[238] Over the sacred spot a mosque was raised, not, as Eastwick says, by Shah Abbas, but by Shah Suleiman, and the sanctity of the site has led to its being peopled by a colony of seyids, who are as


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eminent rascals as are most of their brethren. The mosque stands on a raised platform at the upper end of a large garden, which has once been beautifully laid out in terraces, with flower beds, and tanks, and channels of running water, and which, though in a state of hopeless decay, is still overshadowed by considerable trees. Inside the mosque is a single chamber, entered by a coffered archway, and covered by a large dome. The sacred stone is inside; nor is it surprising to find that the Prophet's foot-marks are of more than ordinary size. All these great men had huge feet. I have seen Mohammed's footprint in the Mosque of Omar at Jerusalem, and Buddha's footprint on the summit of Adam's Peak in Ceylon; and in view of their prodigious magnitude I was surprised at the modesty of the Imam Reza in having been content with, comparatively speaking, so temperate a measurement. The exterior of the dome has once been covered with tiles; but all these have been stripped or have fallen off, though bands of a still perfect inscription encircle the drum and adorn the facade. From the garden of the mosque the stream flows down the middle of the roadway, past a remarkably stately row of pines,[239] between the chapar-khaneh and a large caravanserai. Above the shrine, on a hill some 500 feet above the plain, stand the village and fort of Kadamgah, whilst upon a corresponding hill on the opposite side of the valley which here opens into the mountains, is perched an old fortress.

An hour after leaving Kadamgah we entered upon the famous plain of Nishapur, whose praises have been sung by so many chroniclers of the past. Its wonders were expressed in multiples of the number twelve. It was said to have twelve mines of turquoise, copper, lead, antimony, iron, salt, marble, and soapstone; twelve ever-running streams from the hills; 1,200 villages, and 12,000 kanats flowing from 12,000 springs. Gone, irretrievably gone, is all this figurative wealth; but fertile, though far less fertile than legend has depicted, is still the plain of Nishapur. Not that fertility in these parts, at any rate in the late autumn, bears the smallest resemblance to its English counterpart. There is no visible green except in the square patches, topped with trees, that mark the villages. But these occur at intervals of almost every quarter of a mile, and the


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numerous ditches and banks show that the whole country is under irrigation. Its return of the grain sown is said to be tenfold; but the chief local products are now rice, opium, and tobacco. Ferrier, who passed this way forty-five years ago at a more favourable season of the year, spoke quite enthusiastically of its charms. 'Never had I before seen in Persia such rich and luxuriant vegetation; and, as the eye revelled in contemplating it, I could understand without any difficulty the predilection which ancient sovereigns had for Nishapur.'

The shattered walls and towers of Nishapur — 'the Nisaya or Nisoa blessed by Ormuzd, the birthplace of the Dionysus of Greek legend, and one of the "paradises" of írán' — with the roof and minar of a lofty mosque looming above them, were visible long before we reached the city. Passing through an extensive cemetery, whose untidy graves were typical of the squalor that environs death as well as life in Persia, and skirting the town wall on the southern side, we came to the chapar-khaneh, immediately outside the western gate. The walls of the city, which had at one time been lofty, were in a more tumbledown condition even than those of Kuchan. Great gaps occurred every fifty yards, and whole sections had entirely disappeared. In one place, however, men were at work rebuilding a bastion, lumps of clay being dug out of a trench at the bottom and tossed from hand to hand until they reached the top, where they were loosely piled one upon the other; though what purpose this belated renovation can have been intended to serve, I am utterly at a loss to imagine. An enemy could march into Nishapur as easily as he could march down Brompton Road, and would find about as much to reward him as if he occupied in force Brompton Cemetery.

The name Nishapur is popularly derived from nei (reed) or ni = no (new) and Shapur, the tradition being that Shapur built the town anew, or built it in what had been a reed-bed. The city was older, however, than Shapur, its legendary foundation being attributed to Tahmuras, one of the Pishdadian kings, fourth in descent from Noah; and its true derivation is from niw (the modern Persian nik) = good, and Shapur. This town is said to have been destroyed by Alexander the Great, and subsequently rebuilt either by Shapur I. or by Shapur Zulaktaf (the two are constantly confused in Persian tradition), who is further said to have erected here a huge statue of himself, which remained standing till


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the Mussulman invasion. Shapur's city, however, was not upon the site of the modern Nishapur, but considerably more to the southeast, where its ruins are still traceable round a blue-domed tomb to the left of the road. Nishapur, which has certainly been destroyed and rebuilt more than any city in the world, rose again under the Arabs, and became successively the capital of the Taheride dynasty, of Mahmud of Ghuzni, when Governor of Khorasan, and of the powerful Seljuk family, whose first Sultan, Togrul Beg, resided here, and brought it to the zenith of its splendour. A long line of eminent travellers testified to its magnificence and renown. In the tenth century, the Arab pilgrim El Istakhri found the city a square, stretching one farsakh in every direction, with four gates and two extensive suburbs. In the eleventh century, Nasiri Khosru declared that it was the sole rival to Cairo. An Arab wit said of its kanats and its people, 'What a fine city it would be if only its watercourses were above ground and its population underground!' Another writer, Abu Ali el Alewi, recorded that it was larger than Fostat (old Cairo), more populous than Baghdad, more perfect than Busrah, and more magnificent than Kairwhan. It had forty-four quarters, fifty main streets, a splendid mosque, and a world-famed library. It was one of the four Royal cities of the Empire of Khorasan.[240]

But now the cycle of misfortune had come round; and from the twelfth century downwards it may be said that if Nishapur was only destroyed in order that it might be rebuilt, it was no sooner rebuilt than it was again destroyed. No city ever showed such unconquerable vitality. No city was ever the sport of such remorseless ruin. Nature herself assisted man in the savage tenacity of his vengeance, for what a conqueror had spared an earthquake laid low. Three great earthquakes are recorded in the twelfth, the thirteenth, and the fifteenth centuries. The long career of human devastation was inaugurated by the Turkomans, who in 1153 A.D., in the reign of the great Sultan Sanjar, ravaged it so completely that the inhabitants on returning could not discover the sites of their homes. But if the Turkomans had chastised with whips, the Mongol hordes of Jenghiz Khan might be trusted to chastise with scorpions. They fell upon the city with flame and sword in 1220 A.D., under the command of Tului Khan, son of the conqueror; and the appalling measure of


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their cruelty is said by a credible historian not to have been filled until they had slain 1,740,000 persons, and razed the city so completely to the ground that a horse could ride over the site without stumbling. Fifty years later, Nishapur was rebuilt, but it would be tedious to relate the vicissitudes of misery through which it has since passed. Mongols, Tartars, Turkomans, and Afghans in turn made it their prey, and gradually reduced it to what in the eighteenth century was reported to be one vast ruin. Upon the death of Nadir Shah in 1747 it held out against Ahmed Abdali the Afghan; but after a six months' siege was taken by him under circumstances which recalled, if they did not equal, the atrocities of Jenghiz Khan. The conqueror, however, was as prudent as he was successful. He restored as ruler to the city the Turkish chieftain, Abbas Kuli Khan, who had resisted him, but whom he learnt to respect, and whose sister he married. The vassal repaid the compliment by life-long loyalty, and by an energetic restoration and adornment of the town. In the time of his successor, in 1796, Nishapur passed tranquilly into the hands of the Kajar usurper, Agha Mohammed Khan, and has ever since remained an appanage of the Persian crown. Fraser in 1821 computed its population as under 5,000, Conolly in 1830 said 8,000, Sir F. Goldsmid in 1872 gave the same figure; the latest estimate is 10,000, which, with the growth that might be expected in a long period of peace, ought not to be excessive.

To a great many English readers Nishapur will perhaps be known only as the last resting-place of the Persian astronomer-poet Omar el Khayam. (i.e. the tent-maker), whose name and works have been rendered familiar to the present generation by the masterly paraphrase of Fitzgerald, and by the translations or adaptations of many inferior bards. I remember reading in the preface of one of these latter the plaintive request that someone would take the volume and cast it as an offering at Nishapur before the poet's tomb. Had I possessed it, I should certainly have gratified the writer's petition, at the same time that I disencumbered myself of useless baggage by making the offering, although I fear that the condition of Omar's grave would have greatly shocked his English admirers. It stands in a neglected garden, which once contained flower-beds and rivulets of water, but is now a waste of weeds. There is no inscription to mark the poet's name or fame and it is to be feared that the modern Persians are


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as little solicitous of the dust of Omar el Khayam as a nineteenth-century citizen of London might be of that of Matthew

Paris or William of Malmesbury.

Nishapur possesses a Telegraph station of the Meshed-Teheran line worked by a Persian staff. It is also the meeting-point of several important roads in addition to the two from Meshed. On the south a road comes in from Turshiz, and on the north a track runs viâ Madan[241] (where are the turquoise mines) to Kuchan; while in a more westerly direction stretches the old long-forgotten trade route to the Caspian, which is believed to have been a link in the great chain of overland connection in the middle ages between China and India and the European continent. It ran from Nishapur to the Arab city of Isferayin in the plain of the same name, then struck westwards, and passing through the mountains by the defile known as the Dahaneh-i-Gurgan, through which the river Gurgan forces its way, descended the slope to the Caspian. The stages on this route are recorded in the itineraries of Isidore of Charax, and of El Istakhri, and the caravanserais built by Shah Abbas the Great are still standing, though in ruins.

About thirty-six miles in a north-westerly direction from Nishapur, on the first of the roads above mentioned, are situated the famous turquoise mines of Madan (i.e. mines), which from their proximity to the better known city have always been called the mines of Nishapur. Though turquoises are or have been found elsewhere in Persia,[242] and, it is sometimes said, in other countries, these may for all practical purposes be regarded as the only mines in the world that are worked or that repay working on a large scale, and as the source of 999 out of every 1,000 turquoises that come into the market. The mines, of which there are an immense number, actually worked, fallen in, or disused, are situated in a district some forty square miles in extent,


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which is rich in mineral deposits, there being a productive salt mine, a neglected lead mine, and sandstone quarries within the same area. The turquoises are found in a range of hills, consisting of porphyries, greenstones, and metamorphic limestones and sandstones, at an elevation above the sea which has never exceeded 5,800 feet or fallen below 4,800 feet. They are obtained in one of two ways, either by digging and blasting in the mines proper, which consist of shafts and galleries driven into the rock, or by search among the débris of old mines, and amid the alluvial detritus that has been washed down the hill-sides on to the plain. The finest stones are now commonly found in the last-named quarter. The mining, cutting, &c., give occupation to some 1,500 persons, who inhabit the two principal villages of Upper and Lower Madan and several small hamlets in the neighbourhood.

It is believed that in former times and under the Sefavi dynasty, when Persia touched the climax of her wealth and renown, these mines were worked directly by the State. In the anarchy and turbulence of the eighteenth century they were either neglected or left to the villagers, who extracted from them what they could. As order was re-established, control was resumed by the Government, which throughout this century has farmed them to the highest bidder. Abundant relics, however, exist of the reign of 'every man for himself' that preceded. There was no system or science in the working, and the clumsy and sporadic efforts of individuals have resulted in the roofs and sides of most of the old mines falling in and thus completely choking the most lucrative sources of produce. Moreover, the march of science has itself tended to make the work more unscientific, for gunpowder is now used at random where the pick once cautiously felt its way; and many of the stones are smashed to atoms in the process that brings them to the light.

Conolly relates that when Hasan Ali Mirza was Governor of Khorasan the turquoise mines were rented for 1,000 tomans, and the rock-salt mine for 300 tomans per annum. In Fraser's time (1821), 2,000 Khorasan tomans or 2,700l., were asked for the whole mines, and 1,300 tomans for the principal mine. In1862, Eastwick says the rent was only 1,000 tomans, or 400l. Ten years later the Seistan Boundary Commissioners found the total rent of all the mines to be 8,000 tomans, or 3,200l., though in 1874 Captain Napier reported the figures to be 6,000 tomans, or 2,400l.


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The rent remained at 8,000 tomans up till 1882, when the Shah very wisely thought that he could make a better bargain. In that year he leased the mines for a term of fifteen years to the Mukhber-ed-Dowleh, Minister of Education, Telegraphs, and Mines, the rent to be 9,000 tomans in the first year, and 18,000 tomans in each succeeding year.[243] The Minister took a few rich men into partnership, and the versatile and accomplished General Schindler, whose services are enlisted for whatever work of regeneration is contemplated (I wish I could say executed) in Persia, held the post of managing director for one year.[244] This syndicate appears to have found the system of working the mines itself unremunerative; for at the time of my visit I found that they had been sublet to the Malek-et-Tajar, or head of the Merchants' Guild at Meshed — the enterprising speculator who had also undertaken the Kuchan Road — and who was paying a rent of 10,000 tomans, or 2,850l., per annum as sublessee, himself subletting again to the villagers after the immemorial fashion to which every tenant in turn seems compelled to come back. He had just had a smart dispute with some of his own sublessees, who had discovered some larger and finer stones than he had bargained for, and whose tenancy he had accordingly terminated by the abrupt method of confiscation. In the past year (1890) the output of stones was estimated at not less than 80,000 tomans, or 22,850l.

It would be quite a mistake to suppose that by going either to Meshed or to Nishapur, or even to the pit mouth, the traveller can pick up valuable stones at a moderate price. Fraser tried seventy years ago, and was obliged to desist from the attempt by the ruthless efforts made to cheat him. Every succeeding traveller has tried and has reported his failure. All the best stones are bought up at once by commission agents on the spot and are despatched to Europe or sold to Persian grandees. I did not see a single good specimen either in Meshed or Teheran, though I


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made constant inquiries. I might indeed, to record my own experience, adopt the very words of Tavernier over two centuries ago: —

Formerly the Mesched jewellers brought some turquoises of the old rock out of Persia; but for these fifteen years last past there have bin none found. The last time I was there I could only meet with three which were but reasonable. As for those of the new rock, they are of no value, because they do not keep their colour, but turn green in a little time.[245]

Against the proverbial craftiness of the Oriental the would-be purchaser of turquoises must indeed be pre-eminently upon his guard. There is a plan by which the deep azure that should characterise the true turquoise can be artfully retained up till the very moment of sale. The stones are kept in moist earthenware pots or otherwise damp, until they are parted with. The purchaser hugs his trouvaille, only to see its colour fade from day to day, until it is turned to a sickly green. The commoner stones are much used in Persia and the East generally for the decoration of bridles, horse-trappings, dagger-hilts and sheaths; though even of the flat slabs so employed I could obtain no decent specimens; while the commonest of all are converted into charms and amulets, Arabic characters being engraved and gilded upon them so as to hide the flaws. A roaring trade in these trinkets is driven with the pilgrims at Meshed.

From this digression let me now return to my forward journey. The plain of Nishapur is separated from that of Sebzewar (which is 1,000 feet lower) by an undulating range of ugly hills over which the road passes. Fifteen miles from Nishapur, the big caravanserai of Zaminabad is passed, the hills are entered by a low pass, and after a while the post-station and hamlet of Shurab (salt water) are discerned in a hollow. It was during the next stage that my worst chapar experience in Persia befell me. The pitiful brute that I was riding smelt so abominably that I could barely sit upon his back, while he himself groaned (for I can call it by no other name) in a manner that testified to his own misery. Removal of the saddle soon showed the seat of mischief in a great open sore; but I only exchanged horses with the gholam to discover that his Rosinante was similarly afflicted. It was cruelty to man and beast alike to be compelled to ride these suffering


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skeletons for eighteen miles. A stretch of several miles across the level brought us to the station of Zafarani. There was once a magnificent caravanserai here, reported to be the largest in Persia. The Persians, eager for a fantastic interpretation wherever it can be suggested, explain the title (yellow or saffron) by a legend of a certain rich merchant who, when building the structure, mixed with the bricks some saffron which he had bought out of charity from a poor man, and which was forthwith converted by a miracle into gold dust, that is supposed to have glittered in the bricks ever afterwards.[246] The building, which is said once to have contained 1,700 rooms, besides baths, shops, and gardens (all of which have disappeared), has been attributed by some travellers to Shah Abbas. But Khanikoff very appositely pointed out that the style and the inscriptions in the Kufic character alike referred it to the Arab period, and he conjecturally placed its foundation in the reign of the Seljuk Malek Shah. Upon its ruins a fine modern caravanserai was built by the public-spirited Sadr Azem before mentioned. From Zafarani the road leads across the Sebzewar plain at no great distance from the mountains on the north, until the city of that name is reached. The entire town, whose central street is a very long covered bazaar (newly constructed when Conolly passed through in 1830), must be traversed before we arrive at the chapar-khaneh, close to the western gate.

Sebzewar (i.e. green-having) is the capital of a district of some fertility, which suffered terribly in the famine of 1871, and is only now beginning to raise its head again. Before that year the population of the city was estimated at 30,000. It sank at once to less than 10,000, but is now said to have mounted to 18,000. The town is surrounded by the usual wall of mud bricks, and on the north is commanded by a ruined ark or citadel on a mound. The legendary foundation of Sebzewar, it is needless to say, goes far back into the past, but its historical birth is more justly attributed to the Seljuk dynasty, the style of whose architecture can be detected in certain of its remains. Like most of its neighbours, it has been several times destroyed; Timur completing in 1380 A.D. the operation which Mohammed Shah of Kharezm had left imperfectly done. Whatever of prosperity it subsequently regained was obliterated in true Afghan fashion by the Afghan


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invaders in the eighteenth century. The modern city is not a century old, having been rebuilt and fortified by Ali Yar Khan, of Mazinan, one of the rebellious governors in Khorasan in the reign of Fath Ali Shah. A good deal of trade has latterly sprung up in Sebzewar, for it is a considerable centre of cotton cultivation, as well as the local entrepôt for the export of wool: and there is an Armenian commercial establishment in the town whose occupants trade with Russia viâ Astrabad and Gez,[247] exporting cotton and wool and importing sugar and chintzes. A coarse cotton cloth is manufactured in the bazaars, and rude copper pots are also fashioned from the produce of three mines in the neighbourhood, which are reputed to be the richest in North Persia and the proper exploitation of which is not unlikely to be undertaken by the Persian Mining Rights Corporation. Sebzewar is also said to be one of the strongholds of the Babis in North Persia.

Almost the only object of interest in Sebzewar to a stranger lies, if a bull may be permitted, outside it. This is an isolated minaret called by the Persians (in their legendary vein) Khosrugird,[248] which stands about four miles beyond the walls of the present town on the west, but was no doubt within the limits of the ancient city destroyed by Mohammed Shah of Kharizm. That any one should ever have been mystified by this tower, which has every feature of Arabic architecture about it, simply because it has lost the mosque which it once adorned, is difficult to believe. Riding out to inspect it in the early dawn, I found the mountain crests both to the north and the south of the town white with freshly fallen snow, the first of the winter. Glorious they looked as the rising sun shone on their glistening caps, and flushed the purples and reds of their lower skirts. O'Donovan, rather irreverently, but with some justice, compared the minaret at a distance to a factory chimney; but this illusion is


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dispelled as we approach. Then we see it to be a single lofty tower, 100 feet high, of brickwork arranged so as to form an exterior pattern on the surface, converging towards the summit, and adorned with two bands of Kufic inscriptions also in brickwork. The capital at the top is broken, and the shaft has, therefore, an unfinished appearance. It springs from a square plinth of mixed concrete and gravel, the whole of which to a depth of about six feet is exposed, and which stands upon a further terrace about eight feet high, in the corners of which are doors, and which is surrounded by low pillars and a low mud wall encircling the whole enclosure. Fraser ascended the tower in 1822 by an interior flight of spiral steps, and O'Donovan followed his example in 1880. The stairway is now in ruins.

No traveller who could read the Kufic character need ever have been in doubt as to the history of this interesting relic; for the inscription states that it was raised in the year 505 of the Hejira — i.e. in 1110 A.D. — when Sultan Sanjar ruled in Khorasan, in the reign of Sultan Mohammed, the son of Malek


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Shah the Seljuk. It suffered severe injury in the Afghan invasion in 1722, but was subsequently restored by Nadir Shah, and now stands the sole surviving reminder of a city and a splendour that have utterly perished.

Near Sebzewar the country was richly cultivated, especially with cotton. In less than an hour, however, the arable ceased, and in front and around stretched a desolate gravelly plain, in the middle of which in the distance a mountain with double cone stood up and expanded, as we drew near, into a small isolated ridge. Leaving this on the left, we turned towards the base of the snowy range on the north, and after a five hours' ride reached the village of Mihr, the first inhabited place that we had seen for over thirty miles. The post-house is in the very centre of the village, down whose main street runs a rapid and brick-coloured stream. Between Mihr and Mazinan I caught my first glimpse of a kavir, or salt desert, one of those strange and weird expanses, sometimes hard plain, sometimes treacherous swamp,


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which cover so large a portion of the centre of Persia, and about which I shall require to particularise later on. The white patches of sand glittered under a thin saline efflorescence, and at a little distance might have been mistaken for shallow pools. Mazinan was once a place of considerable size, and was itself the centre of a cluster of fortified villages and towns, but was destroyed by Abbas Mirza in 1831, in punishment of a rebel chief. It is now a most miserable spot, full of tumble-down or abandoned houses. A relic of bygone days exists in the shape of a big caravanserai on the outskirts of the village, built by Shah Abbas. A once far finer structure, the work of Mamun, the son of Harun-er-Rashid and murderer of the Imam Reza, is now in partial ruin. All around are the remains of other towns or villages not less dismal or deserted. As I rode out of Mazinan at 5.30 A.M. on an icy morning, the caravans of pilgrims in the two big caravanserais were already astir; and some loud-lunged seyid or haji would be heard to chant the note of invocation to Allah, which the whole body would forthwith take up in a responsive volume of sound that rang far through the crisp chill air. From the other side of the village came a chorus of similar cries; and with plentiful shouting and discord, another day for the holy wanderers began.

The mention of the pilgrims, or zawars, of whom I saw so much on each day's journey, and who all but monopolise the Meshed road, tempts me to vary the dull recital of my progress by a slight description of the human surroundings in which it was framed. The stream of progress appeared in the main to be in the opposite direction to that which I was pursuing. Sometimes for miles in the distance could be seen the kafilah, or caravan, slowly crawling at a foot-pace across the vast expanse. Then, as it came nearer, would be heard the melancholy monotone of some devout or musical member of the band, droning out in quavering tones a verse from the Koran; sometimes, in less solemn companies, a more jovial wayfarer trolling some distich from the Persian classics. As the long cavalcade approached, it would be seen to consist of every kind of animal and of every species of man. Horses would carry the more affluent, who would be smoking their kalians as they paced along; some would affect camels; mules were very common, and would frequently support kajavehs,[249] a sort of


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wooden pannier, with an arched framework for a hood, in which men as often as women were curled up beneath mountains of quilts. The donkey, however, was the favourite beast of burden. Tiny animals would bear the most stupendous loads, with pots and pans, guns, and water-bottles hanging on either side, and with the entire furniture of a household on their backs; the poultry of the owner perched with ludicrous gravity upon the top of all. It is a common thing for the poorer pilgrims to take shares in a donkey and to vary riding with walking. In the early morning the equestrians would often be seen fast asleep upon their asses, lying forward upon their necks, and occasionally falling with a thump on to the ground. Each kafilah would have a caravan-bashi, or leader, who not infrequently bore a red pennon fluttering from a lance. It was often difficult to discern the men's faces as they rode by shrouded in huge woollen blanket-coats, pulled up over their heads, while the stiff, empty arm-holes stood out on either side like monstrous ears. But, if it was not easy to discern the males, still less could be distinguished of the shapeless bundles of blue cotton that were huddled upon the donkeys' backs, and which chivalry almost forbade me to accept for the fairer sex. I confess to having once or twice, with intentional malice, spurred my horse to a gallop, as I was overtaking some party of wayfarers thus accompanied: for, to see the sober asses kick up their heels and bolt from the track as they heard the clatter of horse-hoofs behind, to observe the amorphous bundles upon their backs shake and totter in their seats, till shrieks were raised, veils fell, and there was imminent danger of a total collapse, was to crack one's sides with sorely-needed and well-earned laughter. There would usually be an assortment of beggars in every band, who would beg of me in one breath and curse me for an infidel in the next, or of tattered dervishes, who in Mussulman countries are beggars in their most offensive guise.

Not that every company we met or passed were pilgrims on pious mission bent. Far from it. Sometimes we would encounter


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merchants, absorbed and sedate; sometimes mullahs on sleek asses or mules; sometimes officials and soldiers; and sometimes whole families migrating. All classes and all ages were on the road: horsemen and footmen; rich men and poor men; seyids and scoundrels — a microcosm of the stately, commonplace, repulsive, fascinating Oriental world.

At night these varied and polyglot elements (for there will be pilgrims from many lands) seek shelter and sleep in the caravanserais erected at intervals of ten or fifteen miles along the entire route. I have so often spoken of these structures that I may here, in passing, describe what they are. The caravanserai is the Eastern inn. But with the name the parallelism ends: for no proud signboard, no cheerful parlour or burnished bar, no obsequious ostler or rubicund landlord welcomes your approach. The caravanserai, perhaps, contains a single custodian, and that is all. The wayfarer must do everything for himself. He stables his own beasts, piles together and watches his own baggage, lights his own fire, and cooks his own repast. As a rule, the building is a vast square or rectangular structure of brick or stone, built in the form of a parallelogram round an open court. The two exterior sides and the back walls are plain, and give the building from a distance the appearance of an immense fort — an idea which is frequently, and with full intention, sustained in the shape of projecting towers at the angles and a parapet above. In the front outer wall, or facade, is a series of large recessed arches, with a seat, or platform, about two feet from the ground. These are frequently used as sleeping-places in the warm weather. A huge gateway opens in the centre, with sometimes a tower and bala-khaneh overhead, and leads into the inner quadrangle, which is perhaps fifty yards square, and whose sides are divided into recessed compartments, open to the air, similar to those on the outside wall. In the superior caravanserais a doorway at the back of each of these arches leads into an inner cell, which is occupied on cold nights. Behind these, and reaching to the exterior wall, are long rows of hot, unlit stables, where the animals are lodged, and access to which is gained from the four corners. Such is the ordinary Persian caravanserai. In a few of improved style or recent construction, such as that at Borasjun, near the Persian Gulf — by far the finest that I saw in the whole country — there is a series of upstairs apartments for visitors of higher rank or means; but, as a


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rule, democracy is the prevailing law in the economy of the serai of Persia.

Perhaps the weirdest and most impressive of the many unwonted memories that the traveller carries away with him from such-like travel in the East is the recollection of the camel caravans which he has encountered at night. Out of the black darkness is heard the distant boom of a heavy bell. Mournfully, and with perfect regularity of iteration, it sounds, gradually swelling nearer and louder, and perhaps mingling with the tones of smaller bells, signalling the rearguard of the same caravan. The big bell is the insignia and alarum of the leading camel alone. But nearer and louder as the sound becomes, not another sound, and not a visible object, appear to accompany it. Suddenly, and without the slightest warning, there looms out of the darkness, like the apparition of a phantom ship, the form of the captain of the caravan. His spongy tread sounds softly on the smooth sand, and, like a great string of linked ghouls, the silent procession stalks by and is swallowed up in the night.

And how wonderful and ever-present is the contrast in Eastern travel to all life and movement at home! No heavy carts and lumbering wagons jolt to and fro between the farmyard and the fields. No light vehicles and swift equipages dash past upon macadamised roads. Alas! there are no roads; and, if no roads, how much less any vehicles or wagons! Thatched roofs and tiled cottages, lanes and hedgerows and trim fields, rivers coursing between fall banks, beyond all the roar and sudden, smoky rush of the train — these might not exist in the world at all, and do not exist in the world of the Persian, straitened and stunted, but inexpressibly tranquil in his existence. Here, all is movement and bustle, flux and speed; there, everything is imperturbable, immemorial, immutable, slow.

Between Mazinan and Shahrud, a distance of approximately one hundred miles, intervene four stages, which were formerly known as the 'Stages of Terror.' Here the western extremities of the Khorasan mountains, pushed out in long spurs of diminishing height from the knotted mountain cluster that surrounds the head-waters of the Atrek, descend on to the plain, and the road pursues a winding course through their lower folds and undulations. This entire mountain region was once desolated by Turkoman bandits, and through these valleys and ravines they


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dashed down in headlong foray upon the helpless bands of travellers making their way to or from Meshed. Sweeping up whatever they could get, driving off the animals, and chaining a few score of captives to their saddle-bows, they galloped off into their mountain-fastnesses with as much precipitation as that with which they had come. Already, along the route which I have described from Meshed to Mazinan, I had seen frequent proofs of their dreaded presence, in the shape of those small circular towers, dotted all over the plain like chessmen on a chessboard, which, from Ashkabad to Meshed, from Sarakhs to Farrah, and from Shahrud almost to Kum, marked the chosen hunting-grounds of these terrible moss-troopers of the border. In parts almost every field had one of these structures, into which, as soon as a rolling cloud of dust revealed the apparition of the enemy, the husbandman crept by a small hole at the bottom, and, rolling two big stones against the aperture, waited till the scourge had swept past. Similar evidence of the terror they inspired, and of the state of siege which self-preservation imposed upon their possible victims, is forthcoming along the entire belt of country above named, in the rude forts erected in every village as a refuge for the inhabitants. Once behind a mud wall the miserable peasants were safe; but woe betide them if caught in the open country — death or the slave-markets of Khiva and Bokhara were then the certain issue.

What the luckless peasant faced every day the timid pilgrim looked to encounter on this fateful stretch of road which I am about to describe. The most elaborate precautions were taken against the danger. An escort used to leave Shahrud and Mazinan twice a month, consisting of a number of so-called foot-soldiers armed with matchlocks, and a mounted detachment accompanying an old gun. At Miandasht the two escorts met and relieved each other. The support of the Mazinan detachment, consisting of 150 matchlock men and twelve artillerymen with their horses, was imposed, in lieu of the ordinary taxes, upon the villagers of that place; and even so late as 1872, when the Seistan Boundary Commissioners passed this way on their return to Teheran, they had to travel with an escort of eighty matchlocks, a 4½-pounder dragged by six horses, and 150 to 200 mounted sowars, between Mazinan and Shahrud.

Conolly, Fraser, Eastwick, O'Donovan, and other writers who journeyed with the pilgrim caravans have left inimitable accounts


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of the perils and the panics of their pious companions. A Persian is a coward at the best of times: but a Persian pilgrim is a degree worse than his fellows; and a Persian pilgrim in the vicinity of a Turkoman almost ceases to be a human being. There would be long delays and anxious rumours at the beginning; several false starts would be made and abandoned in consequence of some vague report; finally the caravan would venture forth, moving frequently at night, when the darkness added to, rather than diminished, the terror. First would come the matchlock men blowing their matches, and either marching on foot or mounted on donkeys; then the genuine cavalry, with flintlocks and hayfork-rests; next the great body of the pilgrims, huddling as close as possible round the artillerymen and the gun, which was looked upon as a veritable palladium, but of which it is not on record that it was ever fired. Soldiers again brought up the rear, and, wrapped up in dust, confusion, and panic, the procession rolled on. The noise they made, shouting, singing, cursing, praying, and quarrelling, signalled their approach for miles, and, if they escaped, it was the positive worthlessness of the spoil (for a Mussulman pilgrim leaves all his valuables behind him), rather than the hazard of capture or the awe inspired by the bodyguard, that was responsible for their safety. To their fearful imaginations every bush was a vedette of the enemy, every puff of wind that raised the dust betrayed a charge, every hillock concealed a squadron. Loud were the shouts and clamorous the invocations to Allah, and Ali, and Husein, and all the watchful saints of the calendar, when the end of the march was reached and God had protected his own.

It is only just to add that, if the panic of a multitude was despicable, the terrors of individuals were not unfairly aroused. Many are the tales that are still told of the capture of isolated travellers or of small bands; and there was scarcely a single peasant in the villages in this strip of country that had not, at some time or other, been pounced down upon in the fields or at the water-springs, and who, if happily he were ransomed after years of slavery, did not bear upon his person the lifelong imprint of cruelty and fetters. Colonel Euan Smith is in error in stating that it was upon this piece of road that M. de Blocqueville, the French amateur photographer who had accompanied the disastrous expedition against Merv in 1860, in order


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to take photographs and paint a battle-scene for the Shah, was seized and carried off, and not redeemed until he had been a captive for fifteen months and a ransom of 11,000 tomans (then equivalent to 5,000l.) was paid by his royal patron.[250] He was captured in the successful attack made by the Turkomans upon the Persian column while at Merv. It was here, however, that a Persian general in command of 6,000 men, halting behind his column for two or three moments to take a final pull at his kalian, was snatched up and swept away in full sight of his troops, and within a few weeks' time was sold for a few pounds in the bazaar of Khiva.

Whatever may be said of the designs of Russia on this province of Khorasan, not Persia only, but every traveller between Teheran and Meshed, owes her a lasting sense of gratitude for the service she has wrought in putting an end to this unmitigated curse. It was certainly not for unselfish reasons, nor in the interests of Persia, still less out of pure philanthropy, that Russia undertook her successful campaigns against the Tekke Turkomans of Transcaspia. But here we may afford to ignore motives, and may be content with congratulating both ourselves and her upon the fact. Since the victorious campaign of Skobeleff in 1881, and the subsequent annexation of Akhal Tekke, the Meshed-Teheran road has been absolutely secure. No guard is maintained or needed, the pilgrims have no special ground of appeal to Allah, and the traveller is startled by nothing more serious than the whirr of wings as a covey of red-legged partridges — which abound in these mountains — rises almost from between his horse's legs.

Leaving Mazinan, our road struck northwards towards the hills. In the grey morning light I discerned a numerous herd of wild deer, as large as red deer, at a distance of 300 yards from the track; but the bullets of my revolver had no other effect than to accelerate their disappearance. After fourteen miles we came to the deserted caravanserai and fort of Sadrabad.


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As the name implies, these edifices were raised by the great Minister, or Sadr Azem, before mentioned; but the fort and its garrison were practically useless: for the latter were only just strong enough to guard themselves, without turning a thought to the protection of others. A mile and a half beyond Sadrabad brought us to the Pul-i-Abrishum (or Bridge of Silk) — originally built by Nadir Shah, and recently restored — over the Abrishum River (a stream strongly impregnated with salt from salt-springs near its source), which flows down here from the north, and, under the name of the Kal Mura, subsequently disappears into a kavir to the south. The Kal Mura is generally regarded as the eastern boundary of Khorasan, and it marked the extreme north-west limit of the Afghan empire of Ahmed Shah Durani in the last century. At the time that I passed, the river-bed, which was about twenty yards in width, was absolutely dry. The rising sun just enabled me to take a photograph, which reveals a very typical Persian bridge, and I then hurried on.


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A few miles beyond we came to a spot known as the Chashmeh-i-Gez (or Spring of Tamarisks), where a scanty rivulet supplies a number of little pools and fertilises some patches of grass. This was a notorious and dreaded spot in the old days, for hither came the Turkoman robbers to water their horses after the long mountain ride, and here the luckless voyager was frequently swooped down upon and caught. It was close to this spot that Ferrier had a brush with them in 1845. The end of this stage is the remarkable-looking village-fort of Abbasabad, which rises in tiers upon an eminence, the lofty front being pierced with numerous windows and crowned with ruined battlements. Its inhabitants are the converted descendants of a Georgian colony of a hundred families, who were transported to this spot by Abbas the Great three centuries ago, as a link in his chain of military colonies along the northern frontier. He assigned them an annual allowance in coin (100 tomans) and wheat (100 kharvars), which after a while was not paid. In the third generation, being forbidden to use the Georgian tongue, they are said to have become Mussulmans; but traces of their mother language have been detected by some travellers in their dialect. During the Turkoman reign of terror there was said not to be a single adult man in Abbasabad who had not more than once been carried away captive.

A hilly ride over low, barren ridges, and up the gravelly bed of a valley known as the Dahaneh Al Hak, brings us to the squalid village of that name, where a corps of fifty militiamen were once stationed to guard the road. Through similar scenery and over undulating ground we mount 1,000 feet since leaving Abbasabad, and come at length to the magnificent caravanserai of Miandasht[251] (lit. mid-plain), whose lofty embattled walls and projecting towers resemble a vast fortress, and can be seen for miles. This was the central point of the 'Stages of Terror,' and here, one half the peril over, the pilgrims foregathered to exchange felicitations or foment alarms. There is an old caravanserai built by Shah Abbas, whose name appears above the gateway; but the huge castellated structure is a new erection of burnt brick, with a parapet and walls twenty feet high. A courtyard, in which the chapar-khaneh is located, connects the two, and water is provided


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from three large abambars, or subterranean reservoirs, to which access is gained by steep flights of steps.

Beyond Miandasht occurs what was formerly the most perilous part of the journey. The road winds in and out of low passes between rounded knolls, where every turn discloses a hidden hollow, and where every elevation might hide an ambuscade. The hills are bare and stony, or clad only with a diminutive scrub. They are alive with partridges, in pairs or in small coveys of five or six, which were so tame that they ran along the road and crouched till one was within a dozen yards.[252] Here is the peculiarly noted Dahaneh-i-Zaidar, the gully by which the Turkomans usually descended to make their attack, and at its mouth was the small, now dismantled fort of Zaidar, where was a garrison of fifty regulars. On emerging from the hills we see before us the twin-peaked mountain[253] above Maiomai, and, skirting its northern base, reach the village of that name, where is a fine caravanserai, built by Shah Abbas II., and some superb old chenars. It was in the bala-khaneh of the posthouse at Maiomai, which I occupied, that O'Donovan was besieged by an infuriated band of Arab hajis, and had rather a narrow escape; and it was in the caravanserai that Dr. John Cormick, for many years chief physician to Abbas Mirza, died of typhus in 1833.

The next march, from Maiomai to Shahrud, forty-one miles, used to be the longest in Persia, and has been bewailed by many victims. But, for postal purposes, it has now been divided by the station and chapar-khaneh of Armian. The first part of the road, along the base of the same mountain range, is very stony. Two small villages are passed, each dependent upon a single small rill, whose passage from the mountains can be traced by a thin line of poplars. Armian is picturesquely situated on a hill-side, with an abundant stream flowing down the road just outside the posthouse door, and subsequently fertilising a series of well-kept terrace-plots below the village. The first


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half of the ride to Shahrud is spent in winding in and out of the lower ranges that gradually dip into the plain of Shahrud, 1,000 feet below Armian. The snowy crown of the Shah Kuh (King Mountain), the highest point of the Elburz between Shahrud and Astrabad, had been before my eyes the whole day, and at its feet, I knew, lay Shahrud. About eleven miles before reaching the latter, the first view is caught of the level plain, some ten miles in width, on which were visible three detached green clumps. The two nearer were unimportant villages, the farthest and largest, nestling at the very foot of the Elburz, was Shahrud. So buried in trees is the town, that, after riding for some time between garden-walls and orchards, I found myself in the main street, almost unawares.

I have already, in a previous chapter, dwelt upon the strategical importance of the position of Shahrud. The town is a great meeting-point of roads, from Herat to Meshed, from Tabbas and Turshiz, from Yezd, from Astrabad and Mazanderan, and from the capital. It is situated in a plain, of whose fertility I could form no just estimate in the month of November, but whose productiveness and abundant water-supply are unquestioned. The Rud-i-Shah (or King's River) flows down the street outside the chapar-khaneh, but at this season of the year was little more than a rivulet, and reflected no honour upon its name. The defensive properties of the place struck me as contemptible, and appeared to be limited to a ruined citadel, and to two small mud towers, perched upon a conical hill above the town. Shahrud is celebrated for its local manufacture of boots and shoes, which are said to be patronised by the Shah and the Royal Family; for the redoubtable shabgez, or gherib-gez, which attacked O'Donovan here but spared me; and as an entrepôt both of the local products of Mazanderan and of Russian imports viâ Gez and Astrabad, through the agency of Russian and Russo-Armenian traders.[254] The Russian Caucasus and Mercury Company also keep an agent in the town. Its population is said to be 5,000. There is a Persian Telegraph-station here, and a wire to Astrabad, whence there is further telegraphic connection by Chikishliar with Kizil Arvat and Transcaspia — a line which is much used by the Russian Legation in Teheran in communicating with Ashkabad.


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Having arrived at Shahrud early in the afternoon, I spent some time in inspecting the town. It contains a large covered bazaar, not thatched, but properly roofed, and with spacious and well-appointed shops. My observations and inquiries tallied exactly with what I had heard at Meshed. All the sugar was Russian, all the tea was Indian, brought from Bunder Abbas viâ Yezd. The greater part of the coloured cottons and chintzes were Russian, but the white sheeting bore the name of a Bombay firm, and I saw, not merely a large pile of Manchester glazed calicoes with a Bombay label, but also a number of unbleached cottons direct from Manchester itself. This was a gratifying fact, considering that Shahrud lies within four marches of what is practically a Russian port on the Caspian. I bought some delicious white grapes for a few pence. A wine is made from them in Shahrud.

Though Shahrud is the capital of the district of Bostam-Shahrud, it is not the residence of the Governor or the seat of government. The latter is at the town of Bostam, three and a half miles in a north-easterly direction from Shahrud (from which it is concealed by a rocky hill), and higher up the course of the same river. Bostam, a Mazanderani proper name, is a place of superior fertility and luxury to Shahrud. It is, further, a site of great sanctity among Mohammedan pilgrims, for here was buried the famous Sheikh, or Sultan, Bayazid, the leader of a dervish sect, who died, and was interred in the court of a beautiful mosque, now much ruined, in the year A.D. 874. Attached to the same mosque, whose cupola was erected by a Mongol prince in A.D. 1313, is a shaking minaret, similar to those which I shall afterwards describe at Isfahan, and which can be made to vibrate by rocking it at the summit. Colonel Lovett has attributed this phenomenon to the elasticity of the bricks and cement employed, the latter becoming more elastic with age, and has compared it with the kindred phenomenon of slabs of elastic sandstone.[255] There is, further, at Bostam a curious brick tower, whose outer circumference is, so to speak, dog-toothed by a number of salient angles, similar to the tower of which I shall speak later at Rhey.[256]


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Already, upon arriving at the posthouse of Shahrud — which is unique in the possession of a threefold bala-khaneh — I had observed unfamiliar symptoms of refinement, in the shape of a druggeted floor and curtained doorways. On my return from the bazaars I was proceeding to make my toilet, and was already in a state of semi-déshabille, when, without the slightest warning, I became aware of a further act of official attention. Two Armenians first entered unannounced, both of whom could speak a little French. One was the agent of Messrs. Ziegler in Shahrud, the other of a firm named Tumanianz. I presumed that they had come out of curiosity, as they offered no explanation. But in the East such amenities cannot be resented, requiring rather to be interpreted as tokens of civility. Wherefore I continued my toilet while discussing the trade and commerce of Shahrud. Presently, however, the doorway of the bala-khaneh was again darkened, and a trio of Persian officials marched in, while a posse of attendants stood outside. They were succeeded by some menials carrying a tray, on which were two packets of tea and four sugar-loaves wrapped up in blue paper; following whom appeared two other individuals holding by the legs a kicking sheep, while a third balanced a couple of cane-bottomed chairs behind. I really think that I am justified in presenting this to my readers as a spectacle of no mean dramatic effect.

Scene. — A mud room in a Persian posthouse.

Dramatis Personae. — Englishman in flannel shirt, breeches, and stockings only; Armenian traders; Persian chamberlains; struggling sheep.

Dramatic Accessories. — Sugar-loaves and cane-bottomed chairs.

 

I now realised that I was the recipient of a formal deputation from the Prince-Governor of Shahrud, who had sent to welcome and to invite me to become his guest at Bostam, and that the Armenians had been despatched as a sort of advanced guard to reconnoitre and interpret. By their aid I was enabled to acknowledge the hospitality of the Governor and to accept his gifts — a process which naturally involved the return of an equivalent present to the deputies. Having pocketed a few tomans with much satisfaction, these worthies forthwith realised that no more business was to be done.


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Accordingly, they announced that the hour for repose had arrived, and bowed themselves out. For my part, I slew the sheep and had a capital leg of mutton for dinner.

Shahrud is rather more than the halfway stage between Meshed and Teheran, but it serves to divide the journey into two portions, of which it is difficult to determine which is the less attractive. There is a curious identity between their respective features: for, just as the Meshed-Shahrud section presents two cities of ancient fame, Nishapur and Sebzewar, so the Shahrud-Teheran section displays Damghan and Semnan and; just as the only structures worthy of observation in the first section are the minarets and towers of Sebzewar and Bostam, so, in the second, we must be content with the analogous monuments of Damghan and Semnan. Finally, to complete the parallelism, just as the first section terminates after threading the famous Turkoman passes, so does the second conduct us, on the penultimate day's journey, through the even more famous Caspian Gates that lead into the Plain of Veramin. Stones, sand, kavir, and execrable horses are the common prerogatives of both.

It was on one of the worst of these brutes that over a track scarcely less atrocious, I pursued my way to Deh Mullah ('the Village of the Priest'). The chapar-khaneh is on the outskirts of the village, which lies a little farther in the plain, and is remarkable only for a huge mound of clay, once crowned by a citadel, whose riven and crumbling walls stand up in melancholy ruin. The ride from Deh Mullah to Damghan is over rather better ground, but is unutterably tedious. On my right hand was the scarped red rampart of the Elburz, rising sheer from the plain, and, like a wall of brass, shutting off the defiles and gorges of that mighty range; and behind them, again, the steamy lowlands of Mazanderan, sloping to the Caspian. On the left, or south, whereas on most maps I see marked a salt desert, or kavir, my own notes record that, throughout the entire day's journey, the horizon was bounded on that side, at an average distance of about ten miles, by a range of hills of quite sufficient elevation to appear upon most maps, although I cannot find any trace of them upon the majority of those that I have studied. The road to Damghan passed several villages, one of which, Mehmandost, was evidently a favourite halting-place for travellers, as there were crowds of wayfarers and horsemen in the single street. About three miles from Damghan


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we rode through the ruins of a deserted city, Bostajan. A more sorrowful spectacle than an abandoned town of mud cannot be conceived. The buildings, and roofs, and walls gradually waste away into indistinguishable heaps of clay; but, so compact and solid but do these become in the process, that they last for scores, and sometimes for hundreds, of years. Nor is it fair to assume that, along with each deserted city or site, its inhabitants, as an item in the population, have been wiped off the face of the earth. Were such the case, one might be led to infer that Persia, which is now as sparsely peopled as Palestine, was once as densely crowded as China. I believe that this would be a false inference. Just as each great Persian monarch or founder of a dynasty, from Cyrus downwards, has shifted the capital and seat of government, so as to associate a fresh glory with his name, so has each petty governor or chieftain striven to emulate his sovereign by a new urban plantation; and, in a yet lower grade, each father of a family has thought to better himself and to transcend his forerunners by erecting a new abode. It is to this universal instinct, permeating every rank of life, not less than to the ravages of famine, disease, and war, that must be attributed the countless wasting skeletons of tenements and cities that litter the soil of Persia.

From a distance of some miles the two minarets of Damghan, the counterparts of that of Sebzewar, rise in view. They stand some way apart, in different quarters of the town. The better preserved of the two, which is mountable and has a small turret of later date at the top, with a door for the muezzin, is situated just off the main street of the town, and is in close proximity to a mosque — not, indeed, that to which it was originally attached, but a comparatively modern structure. Like the minar at Sebzewar, it is faced with bricks, so laid as to form geometrical patterns on the circumference, and has, further, a band of Kufic letters in high relief. The two minarets belong to the imamzadehs, or tombs of two saints, named respectively Jafir and Kasim; and, for an account of their shrines, as well of a third tomb raised over a saint named Mohammed, the son of Ibrahim, and called Pir-i-Alamdar, I cannot do better than refer my readers to the erudite pages of Khanikoff.[257] Damghan, though a considerable place, even


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in the present century, is now in a pitiable state of decay. The deserted ruins of a huge square citadel — a room in which used to be preserved and shown as the apartment wherein Fath Ali Shah first saw the light — rise above the cubical domes of the bazaar, are fast crumbling to pieces. I rode through the bazaar, which consists of a long covered street, far less cleanly and decorous than that of Shahrud. Through the town runs a stream, flowing down from a spring in the mountains called Chashmeh-i-Ali, where is both a summer residence of the Shah, and also a place of pilgrimage, as one of the spots where Ali's charger appears to have stamped so fiercely with his hoof as to leave a permanent indentation in the rock. On a hill-top near this miraculous site a further miracle exists in the shape of a spring, called Chashmeh-i-Bad (or Fountain of the Wind), which, if stirred at certain times, is said to produce a hurricane that blows everything to destruction.[258]

Damghan has a twofold historical interest — legendary and modern. It is always supposed to mark the site of the ancient Hekatompylos (or City of a Hundred Gates), the name given by the Greeks to the capital of the Arsacid dynasty of Parthian kings, although, with the exception of a number of mounds and of several underground conduits, built of large-slabs of stone, there does not exist, and is not on record as having existed, at Damghan a single remain that could be identified with so illustrious a past. Ferrier, I think erroneously, endeavours to combat this theory by the argument that the City of a Hundred Gates must mean a city in which many roads met, whereas at Damghan there are only two. He, therefore, prefers the Shahrud-Bostam site for that of Hekatompylos.[259] Apart, however, from the fact that more roads meet at Damghan than two, it is by no means certain that the Greeks, when they used this descriptive epithet, referred to city gates at all. The title was equally applied by them to Egyptian Thebes, where it has been conjectured to refer to the pylons, or gateways, of the many splendid temples by which the capital of the Rameses was adorned; and it may have had some similar application in the case of the Parthian city.


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Dismissing, however, the identity of Damghan with Hekatompylos as a question of purely speculative interest, we may find enough of romance in the history of the town under its modern name.[260] It is needless to say that Jenghiz Khan destroyed it once, or to add that Timur destroyed it again. That was a compliment invariably paid by those rival scourges of humanity to urban magnificence. Don Ruy di Clavijo, passing through Northern Persia on his embassy from the Castilian King to the Court of the Great Tartar in 1404, found still standing at Damghan two towers of human heads set in mud, which, but a few years before, the latter had erected as a trophy. Shah Abbas rebuilt the town and constructed its citadel. Here, in October 1729, Nadir Shah gained his great victory over the Afghan Ashraf, which heralded the final expulsion of the aliens in the following year. Here, in 1763, Zeki Khan, the savage half-brother of Kerim Khan Zend, being despatched to quell a revolt of the Kajar tribe, planted a garden with his prisoners, head downwards, at even distances; and here, in 1796, perished the miserable grandson of Nadir, Shah Rukh, from the effects of the inhuman torture inflicted upon him at Meshed by Agha Mohammed Shah. In the present century Damghan is said to have been finally ruined by a friend, instead of a foe, having never recovered from the encampment here, for three months, in 1832, of the army of Abbas Mirza on its way to Herat. No flight of locusts could have inflicted a more wholesale devastation. The population is reported now to be 13,000. I cannot credit it.

After leaving Damghan the road strikes due west, and traverses first a gravelly, and afterwards a richly-cultivated, plain to Ghushah, a place consisting only of two buildings — a caravanserai and a posthouse, which the exigencies of travel have conjured up in an otherwise untenanted expanse. The only interesting spot passed on the way is the deserted fort of Dowletabad, with a triple wall of enclosure, surrounded by a deep fosse. Sixty years ago Sergeant Gibbons, an Englishman serving in the army of Abbas Mirza, said it was 'one of the best little forts he had seen in Persia.'[261] Its chief, who had held out for some time against the exactions of the provincial Governor, offered Abbas Mirza a bribe


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of 30,000 tomans if he would continue him in the government. The Prince pocketed the money and carried off the chief to Meshed, the local Governor taking advantage of his absence to capture the fort. Like most other places in the neighbourhood, it is now abandoned and is rapidly falling to pieces.

Throughout this day, and, indeed, in all parts of my journey, I passed several of those great tumuli, or barrows, which have so puzzled the traveller in North Persia. They consist of immense circular or oval mounds, from fifty to a hundred feet in height, supporting, as a rule, no traces of buildings, but composed of solid masses of clay, worn smooth by the long passage of time. Local tradition, of course, assigns them to Jamshid — which is tantamount to a confession of utter ignorance as to their origin. By some they have been regarded as the sites of fire-temples, raised in the old days of Zoroastrian worship. I entertain very little doubt that they were mostly, if not all, raised as citadels or forts of defence for villages, long since perished, below. They are invariably to be found upon the plains where Nature has provided no ready means of defence, and where artifice was consequently required to create them. Many still exhibit upon their summits the crumbling, shapeless walls of the mud citadels by which they were once crowned. Good illustrations of this stage of existence are visible at Bidesht, near Shahrud, and at Jajarm, between Bujnurd and Shahrud. Where the tumuli (or kurgans, as they are called) are smooth and bare, the superstructure has entirely perished. A long line of these mounds is still traceable along the valley of the Gurgan, starting from Gumesh Tepe (or Silver Hill) — an obviously artificial erection — on the shores of the Caspian, and forming part of a triple line of earth ramparts, attributed to Alexander the Great, which extends as far as Bujnurd. The regularity of their occurrence in some places, as, for instance, between Kazvin and Teheran, has led to the plausible conjecture that they may also have been used as signal-stations, or beacons, from one camp to another. But, in either case, their purpose was military. There seems to be no ground for regarding any of them as sepulchral barrows.

The road from Ghushah lay over a desolate and uncultivated plain, and then gradually mounted, until, having traversed an easy pass in the hills, it suddenly dropped down upon a gloomy hollow, where stood the caravanserai and posthouse of Ahuan. The existing


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brick serai was built by Shah Suleiman Sefavi; an older one of stone, attributed to the Sassanid Nushirwan, is in ruins. The name Ahuan, which has apparently much perplexed previous travellers,[262] signifies antelope or gazelle,[263] tradition ascribing to this spot one of the astounding miracles by which the Imam Reza signalised the various stages of his eastward journey to Tus. Here he found a captive female antelope, which, detecting his sacred personality, found speech, and invoked the assistance of the saint on behalf of her motherless young. The Imam bade the hunter release the animal, and himself went bail for her reappearance. The antelope, however, found the joys of home too much for her plighted word, and failed to keep the tryst; whereupon the prophet, being appealed to, 'willed' her back again to her captor, with whom she remained a prisoner, or a pet, ever afterwards. Here the mountain range is entered that separates the plains of Damghan and Semnan. From the highest point of the dividing crest the latter city was visible, twelve miles away, lying like a green splash upon a floor of stones. The descent on the far side, though easy, is very stony, and cantering down was no pleasure. Meeting a closed carriage drawn by four horses, with two postillions, outriders, and a guard, I had a horrible momentary dread that I was in for an istikbal, or official entry; but was reassured by finding that the occupant was the hakim, or Governor, who presumably was making a tour through his not very extensive dominions.

Semnan is held remarkable in Persia for its extensive and well-irrigated gardens, for its ancient trees, for an old minaret which enables it to compete with Damghan, for a smart and well-preserved modern mosque, for its local manufactures of teacakes and blue cotton pyjamas, for the beauty of its women, and for the unintelligibility of its speech. Perhaps in none of these respects does it quite answer to expectation. There is a great deal of water flowing in rivulets down the smaller streets, which usually serve as watercourses in Persia as well us roadways; but the environs of the town did not appear to profit thereby to the full extent, although a good deal of tobacco is cultivated.


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Outside the bazaar is an open space in which there are some venerable chenars, and one magnificent veteran is enclosed in the bazaar itself, and protrudes his stupendous bole through the roof. The old minaret is also encountered in the middle of the bazaar, attached to the Musjid-i-Jama, which is in ruins. The tower is one hundred feet high and contains a hundred steps leading to the summit, which is fitted with a prayer-gallery. Earthquakes and age have caused it to slant. Fath Ali Shah's mosque, a little distance away, contains a spacious quadrangle, fifty yards square, and two fine aiwans, or recessed arches, set in tile-enamelled frames. Attached to it is a madresseh, or religious college. As for the teacakes, when Vambéry asked in vain for them, having heard of their fame as far away as in Herat, he received the truly Persian reply that, so great was the demand for these articles, and so enormous the export, that none were left for local consumption. I did not see the beautiful women any more than Vambéry found the teacakes. Upon the speech I am not qualified to pronounce; but so learned a philologist as Khanikoff, having made fruitless efforts to ascertain something by queries, came to no more definite conclusion than that it was a Mazanderan dialect, enriched by more vowels; whilst a legend relates that a savant who was once employed by a Persian monarch to report upon the languages spoken by his subjects illustrated that of Semnan by shaking some stones in an empty gourd before his royal patron.[264] Semnan is reported to contain 4,000 houses and 16,000 inhabitants — a probably altogether extravagant estimate. Jews are prohibited from residing here; but there are some twenty-five Hindu Buniahs engaged in trade, Semnan being the point where a route from Bunder Abbas, viâ Yezd and Tabbas, comes in from the south and supplies the northern provinces. A mud wall of the usual character, with flanking towers and gateways, and in the usual state of dilapidation, surrounds the town; and the Governor lives in a fortified ark (or citadel) projecting from the city wall on the north-west.

A long stony ascent leads us to one of the few interesting spots on the road between Meshed and Teheran. This is the remarkable mail-roost — for I can call it by no more appropriate name — of Lasgird. Here there has once been a citadel, built upon a lofty


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circular mound to a total height of perhaps eighty feet from the plain. The citadel has fallen into ruin and the buildings in its interior are a litter of rubbish and bricks. But the villagers have established themselves in the deserted enceinte, and, on the very top of the outer walls, have built a double storey of mud houses, which are only accessible by flights of crazy steps from the interior, and the most remarkable feature of which is a ledge or balcony built out from each storey with rude logs of wood plastered over with mud. Upon this rickety platform, which has nothing in the shape of a railing to prevent anyone from falling off, and which is full of holes, the inhabitants appear to live their outdoor life. The place, from a little distance, looks as if a gigantic colony of birds had settled there and built out their nests from the walls, the outer shape of the entire mound resembling a huge cask. It is entered by a steep stairway from the ground, mounting to a small postern, the door of which is a single block of stone swung on a pivot. I entered, and scrambled up the rude flights of steps in the interior, and poked my nose into some of the nests — I cannot call them cottages — in the upper storeys. The women were unveiled and steeped in squalor. The general condition of the tenements was very much like what the domestic economy of a rookery might be expected to be. Here the same dialect is spoken as at Semnan. The citadel is surrounded by a deep, broad fosse, converted into garden-plots, the revenues of which go to swell the endowment of the Imam Reza at Meshed.

After leaving Lasgird the route conducts through a hilly region which has been furrowed by winter torrents into deep gullies and ravines crossed by bridges. Upon descending again into the plain, the village of Deh Nemek (Salt Village) can be seen, at least twelve miles away, in the middle of an unutterably barren and repulsive desert. Few things are more treacherous in Persian travel than the false expectation induced by the sight of one's destination at the apparent distance of a few miles only, or more wearying than the disappointment that follows as the miles lengthen out into farsakhs, and the end never seems to come. What, in the distance, had appeared a settlement of two buildings only, turned out to be a village with a good many houses, hidden in a little semi-fertile depression of 'the level waste, the rounding grey.' In the succeeding strip of country — which is not less desolate — we pass, at the villages of Padeh and Aradan,[265] further


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specimens of abandoned, though not, as at Lasgird, re-inhabited, citadels on the top of great artificial clay mounds. When originally raised, and crowned with battlements and towers, these kalehs must have been imposing structures. They are now in a sort of intermediate stage between the recognisable fort and the indurated bare mound which I have discussed and explained in a preceding paragraph. Beyond Aradan an abundant stream descends from the mountains and separates into many channels, of which I must have crossed twenty in the space of half a mile. Cultivation improves in the same ratio, and at Kishlak (lit. winter quarters), which is khalisah, or Crown property, is responsible for the grain and fodder with which the royal stables are supplied at Teheran. This is the district of Khar, so often mentioned in earlier history and travel, and renowned as one of the granaries of North Persia. Here the route turns towards the north-west, and, at a distance of eight miles from Kishlak, enters a range of hills by a path which is commonly identified with, and which therefore raises the question of, the famous Pylae Caspiae (or Caspian Gates).

I do not here propose, and I have not the space at my command, to discuss that question at full length. Its essential points may be said to have been argued, if not determined, by the labours of previous writers; and I will, accordingly, refer my readers to the pages of Rennell,[266] Ouseley,[267] Morier,[268] Fraser[269] Ferrier,[270] Eastwick,[271] and Goldsmid.[272] The Pylae Caspiae were the pass through which Darius fled towards Bactria after the defeat of Arbela, and through which he was pursued by the army of Alexander. Information that may help us to identify it is to be found principally in the pages of Arrian and Pliny. The latter says that the pass itself was eight miles in length, and that no fresh water is encountered in a tract of twenty-eight miles;[273] the former reports that Alexander reached it in one day's rapid march from Rhages (Rhey).[274] Now


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the claimants to the distinction of being the veritable Pylae Caspiae are four in number. There is a pass called Teng-i-Shemshirbur, (or the Pass of the Sword Cut — the tradition being that it was hewn in the rock by one slash of Ali's scimetar), on the upper road from the capital to Shahrud, and just under the shadow of the Shahkuh, the highest peak of the Elburz, between Astrabad and Shahrud. This pass is 150 yards long and only 18 feet wide, between two perpendicular walls of limestone. Napier says, 'there can be little doubt that this is the Caspian Gates.' On the other hand, there can be no doubt that Napier is wrong. For, not only do neither the features nor length correspond in any particular, but the Sword Cut Pass is about 200 miles too far to the east. Burnes[275] selected as his candidate the Gaduk Pass in the Elburz, north of Firuzkuh, through which runs the ordinary road to Mazanderan. Among the northern passes leading from Irak Ajemi into the Caspian provinces, those of Sawachi, near Firuzkuh, and the Teng-serenza, just beyond that place, have also been mentioned, both of them being precipitous rocky defiles of a character that might be supposed to justify the name of gates.[276] Morier, however, who visited them, and was at first impressed by the verisimilitude of their features, soon recognised that, in addition to other respects, they failed in the essential element of distance, being ninety miles east of Teheran, and, consequently, not within a day's march even for Alexander. Accordingly, he suggested, and Fraser, Ferrier, and Eastwick have supported with much wealth of argument, the choice of the pass to which my journey has now brought me, between the plains of Khar and Veramin.

This pass is known as the Sirdara, or Ser Dereh, or Sardari, probably Ser-i-dareh (i.e. Head of the Valley). It is entered by a narrow passage or gateway on the south-east, and winds tortuously through a projecting spur of the Elburz range, that here runs forward in a south-westerly direction into the great central desert. My notes represent it as being nearly six miles in length.[277] A salt stream flows down the valley bottom, and encrusts its banks with a white efflorescence. At times the pass opens into a little plain, and then again contracts. In the centre is an old


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deserted building with towers at the corner, and at the western exit are the remains of two old castles or towers. The place has evidently been strongly fortified and guarded, according to the standards of an age that knew no guns; and this very fact tends to sustain the likelihood of its having been the recoguised mountain passage in a bygone day. Furthermore, the distance from Rhey — which is about forty miles — corresponds sufficiently with the reckoning of the classical writers. On the other hand, there remain the considerations, which I feel it impossible to ignore, that the pass itself does not, in its material features, in the least justify the description of pyloe, or gates, or the statement of Pliny that it was artificially fashioned, and so narrow in parts as only to admit a cart; that, leading, as it does, through a quite subordinate spur of the main range, it would be surprising that it should have attained a celebrity so far in excess of other, and much more remarkable, defiles; and, above all, that, as it does not conduct directly to the Caspian, but leaves the main range of the Elburz still to be pierced, there appears to be no sufficient reason for its being known as the Caspian Gates.[278] The first, however, of these difficulties is to some extent met and obviated by the suggestion of Sir H. Rawlinson — whose acquaintance with the orography of Persia is unrivalled — that the real Caspiae Pylae are not the Sirdara Pass, but a defile in the same range a few miles to the north, known as the Teng-i-Suluk, which he saw and examined in 1835, and whose physical characteristics, although little known, correspond with the accounts of the classical authorities, besides containing a shorter route between Rhages and the Plain of Khar.

I cannot help thinking, indeed, that some such solution must be accepted, or at least anticipated, by those who attach a becoming value to the statements of the Greek and Roman writers. Nor can the very important fact be left out of sight, that European travellers, passing northwards from Isfahan to Mazanderan, to the Court of Abbas the Great at Ferahabad or Ashraf, on the Caspian, less than 300 years ago, have left descriptions of the defile or defiles by which they penetrated the Elburz in this very


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part, that correspond with sufficient exactitude with the words of Pliny. Starting from Mahalleh Bagh, which a Persian geographer identifies with the Plain of Khar, both Pietro della Valle, in 1618, and Sir Thomas Herbert, accompanying Sir Robert Sherley and Sir Dodmore Cotton, in 1627, proceeded through a defile, which they describe in very similar terms, to Hablah Rud and Firuzkuh, whence they continued their march to the Caspian. Of this defile Pietro della Valle says that, after leaving Mahalleh Bagh, he entered a deep and very narrow valley (una profonda e angustissima valle), with lofty mountains on either side (i monti son sempre altissimi delle bande), and in some turnings so narrow that to conduct a litter through it was a critical undertaking (che ci diede fastidio per far passar la lettiga), and that through this valley flowed a rivulet of salt water. Herbert, in his inimitable phraseology, says: 'The greater part of this night's journey was through the bottoms of transected Taurus, whose stupendious forehead wets itself in the ayery middle region; the fretum, or lane, is about forty yards broad even below, and bestrewed with pibbles; either side is walled with an amazing hill, higher than to reach up at twice shooting; and for eight miles so continues, agreeing with the relation Pliny and Solinus make of it; a prodigious passage, whether by art or nature questionable; I allude it unto nature, God's handmaid.' The description of these writers does not essentially differ from that left by A. Chodzko, formerly Russian Consul at Resht, of the pass which he visited in company with Sir H. Rawlinson, in 1835. He calls it Gardan-i-Sialek, and describes it as a tremendous defile, 2,500 yards long, with bare precipitous rock walls, from 650 to 1,000 feet in height, the passage between them being only thirty feet wide in its broadest and five feet in its narrowest part.[279] On the other hand, it is quite credible that the passes of Pliny, Della Valle, Herbert, and Rawlinson, may not be the same Caspian Gates through which Darius fled and Alexander marched; and that there may be more than one claimant to the title. This is, on the whole, the most probable solution, the Sirdara pass, in the opinion of the most learned critics, corresponding more accurately to the account of Arrian (cf. also Quintus Curtius and Amm. Marcellinus), than does any other pass to the north or east.[280] It cannot, however, to my


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mind, conceivably be identified with that of Pliny, nor is it likely to have been the Caspiae Pylae to which so much geographical importance was attached by Strabo.

It was soon after emerging upon the plateau beyond the pass that an isosceles cone of perfect shape and dazzling whiteness rose in view above the browns and greys of the nearer ranges, and disclosed to my enchanted vision the mighty Demavend. From that day, for over a month, I never, except in the mist of early morning, lost sight of the lordly spectacle, which always overhangs Teheran, and which attended me on my southward ride to a distance of 160 miles. What Fujiyama is to the Japanese, Demavend is to the Persian landscape. Both are ever-present, aerial, and superb. Both have left an enduring mark upon the legends of their country;[281] and if the peerless Fuji has played a far greater part in the art of Nippon than has Demavend in that of Iran, it is because the Japanese, while not inferior in ingenuity, are a vastly more imaginative people.

Traversing a level, uncultivated plain, we reached the village and posthouse of Aiwan-i-Kaif,[282] fording a rapid but muddy stream which flows over a broad bed outside. The name indicates Portal, or Hall, of Delight, although other derivations have been suggested — viz. Aiwan-i-Kai (i.e. Hall of the Kaianians — tradition interpreting a ruin in the neighbourhood[283] as a palace of


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Cambyses), and Aiwan-i-Key (or Royal Drinking-hall). Whichever it be, the place appeared to me to have no attractions for the modern votaries of Epicurus. A great many of the houses had no occupants, and seemed to have been abandoned; and ill-advised would the monarch be who sought refuge in so squalid a retreat. Between Aiwan-i-Kaif and Kabud Gumbaz (Blue Dome) the River Jajrud descends from the mountains, and was divided at this season of the year into at least twenty-five different channels, straggling over a pebbly bed — in all, quite a quarter of a mile in width. I forded all these, and at Kabud Gumbaz encountered the first returning symptoms of proximity to that civilisation to which I had now been a stranger for nine days, in the shape of a vast pile of letters (the first I had received since leaving England) and a good hack sent out for my use by a friend in Teheran. Right gladly did I speed over the Plain of Veramin, whose ruins, presenting in the distance the appearance of four solitary columns, rose from a mound far away in the hollow of the plain. From a distance of quite ten miles the flash, as of a beacon fire, on the horizon showed where the sun's rays splintered on the golden dome of Shah Abdul Azim. Formerly the caravan route lay past this sanctuary and round the base of the range which separates the plains of Veramin and Teheran. Still is that line followed by the pilgrims, upon whom, whether starting for or returning from Meshed, it is incumbent to call and do reverence at the prophet's shrine; but pack animals and the postal road now both cut off an angle by striking in a due northerly direction over the ridge itself. Mounting to the summit of the pass, the new road winds up and down through dusty folds, until, the northern crest being reached, far down upon the plain that expands below is seen spread out the belt of verdure, topped only by a few edifices, that marks the capital of Persia. Beyond, again, at a distance of about seven miles from the city, rises the abrupt ferrugineous face of the Elburz range, like a prodigious rampart of rusty corrugated iron. The first appearance of Teheran is agreeable after a long journey, but in no sense imposing. As I descended the slope and drew Teheran nearer, it was difficult to believe that that green band could shroud a great city with a population of nearly 200,000 souls. The only buildings that rose to any height above the level of the tree-tops appeared to be a large mosque, with four tile-covered minarets, that looked from a distance like painted


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organ-pipes, and, upon nearer approach, like sham Corinthian columns; one or two detached towers, and a domed structure whose roof consisted only of skeleton ribs of iron, like the frame work in which a schoolroom globe is hung. The latter turned out subsequently to be the Takieh, or Theatre of the Passion Plays, within the precincts of the palace. Outside the walls on the southern side are a large number of brick-kilns, a monopoly of which industry is possessed by the Grand Vizier.[284] Here, too, are the slaughter-houses, the lease of which brings in an income of 2,230l. per annum. Entering the fortifications by a gaudily decorated gate at some distance from the populated quarter, I rode quite two miles through the streets before reaching the British Legation, which is situated on the northern outskirts of the city.

SUPPLEMENTARY ROUTES BETWEEN MESHED AND TEHERAN

TEHERAN TO SHAHRUD (the summer or mountain route, viâ Demavend, Firuzkuh, and Chasmeh Ali, 237 miles). J. B. Morier (1814), Second Journey, cap. xxiii. Captain Hon. G. Napier (1874), Journal of the R.G.S., vol. xlvi. p. 62 seq. (1876).

Routes between Teheran and Meshed taken by General A. H. Schindler in 1876, and described, with a map, in the Zeit. d. Gesell. f. Erd. zu Berlin, 1877, pp. 215-229: 1. Semnan, southern route, viâ Frat, to Damghan; 2. Maiomai, northern route, viâ Sherifabad, to Miandasht; 3. Miandasht, southern route, viâ Khan-i-Khodi and Dashtgird, to Abbasabad; 4. Abbasabad, northern route, viâ Ferumed and Jagatai, to Plain of Juwain, and thence south-east, viâ Tabbas, to Sebzewar; 5. Nishapur, north-west route, to Madan (Turquoise Mines), and thence south-west, viâ Shurab, to Zafarani.


Chapter 11

TEHERAN

Over the utmost hill at length I sped,

A snowy steep — the moon was hanging low

Over the Asian mountain — and outspread

The plain, the city, and the camp below.

SHELLEY, The Revolt of Islam, Canto V

TEHERAN,[285] the modern capital of Persia, has frequently been spoken of by travellers, with some suspicion of contempt, as a new city. In the sense in which they use the word — i.e. in the historical sense — it is by no means a new, but, on the contrary, an ancient city. In another sense — viz. structurally — it was made a new city by Agha Mohammed Shah, a century ago, and still more by his nephew and successor, Fath Ali Shah; and has become a yet newer city — so new that the visitors in the first half of this century would barely recognise it — during the last twenty years. Before I trace the incidents of this twofold renaissance, I propose to say something of the antique, forgotten, but withal not uninteresting Teheran of the past. Research can never be quite wasted upon the origin and youth of a great capital.

It has been conjectured that the name Teheran is identical with the Tazora that appears in the Theodosian tables as near to Rhages (Rhey). In the tables, however, it is not the Median Rhages, but a place of the same name near Yezd, that is spoken of; and the identity cannot therefore be sustained.


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Whatever its origin, Teheran must have been for long a small and insignificant place, for neither of those indefatigable geographers, El Istakhri and Masudi, whose travels illumine the tenth century, allude thereto, although they have much to say of the adjacent Rhey. The earliest irrefragable mention is in the pages of Abu Abdullah Yakut in A.D. 1179-80. His account, which is borne out by several native historians,[286] represents the primitive Teheranis as troglodytes, living underground in a semi-savage state, at war with their neighbours, and in revolt against the sovereign. However this may be, the locality soon became quite famous for its rivulets and gardens, and a more normal and respectable city sprang into existence. Hamdallah, in the fourteenth century, described it as a town of some magnitude and importance, and as preferable, both for climate and water-supply, to Rhey. Don Ruy di Clavijo, the Spanish ambassador to Timur, halting here on July 6, 1404, delivered himself of a somewhat balancing opinion: — [287]

The city of Teheran was very large, but it had no walls; and it was a very delightful place, well supplied with everything; but it was an unhealthy place, according to the natives, and fevers were very prevalent.

Shah Tahmasp, the second of the Sefavi dynasty, seems to have been the first to favour it with a royal patronage; but Shah Abbas the Great, having fallen ill there from a surfeit of fruit, vowed he would never enter the place again. By him the province and city were placed under the government of a Khan.

At this time Teheran was visited by more than one European; and the descriptions of the Italian, Pietro della Valle (1618), and of the Englishman, Sir Thomas Herbert (1627), are so curious as to be worthy of reproduction. I quote from a translation of the former that appears in 'Pinkerton's Travels: —

Teheran is a large city, more spacious than Cashan, but not well peopled, nor containing many houses, the gardens being extremely large, and producing abundance of fruit of various descriptions, of such excellent quality that it is sought for by all the circumjacent


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country. The Khan ordinarily resides here. All the streets are watered by a number of considerable streamlets, which, serpentining in the gardens, contribute not a little to their fertility. The streets, moreover, are shaded by beautiful, lofty plane-trees, called in Persia chinar; some of them are so extremely thick that it would take from two to three men to clasp them round. Excepting these, Teheran possesses nothing, not even a single building, worthy of notice.

More humorously the English traveller, whose tender susceptibilities appear to have been inflamed by the Teheran ladies: —

Seated is Tyroan in the midst of a large level or plain. The Houses are of white bricks hardened by the Sun. The City has about 3,000 Houses, of which the Duke's and the Buzzar are the fairest; yet neither to be admired. The Market is divided into two; some part thereof is open and other part arched. A Rivolet in two branches streams through the Town, serving withal both Grove and Gardens, who for such a favour, return a thankful tribute to the Gardiner. The inhabitants are pretty stately, the Women lovely, and both curious in novelties; but the jealousies of the men confine the temper of the weaker sex; yet by that little they adventured at, one might see vetitis rebus gliscit voluntas.[288]

Under the later Sefavi kings Teheran sometimes became the temporary residence of the Court; a palace was built here by Shah Suleiman; and here Shah Sultan Husein received the Turkish Ambassador. Tavernier incidentally notices, but did not apparently see, the town; Chardin calls it a petite ville du pays. It was taken and pillaged in the Afghan invasion, but is mentioned by Hanway (as Toehiran) in the catalogue of Von Mierop's stages to Meshed in 1744.[289] It was here that Nadir, on his return from India, convoked a meeting of all the priests of religion, with a view to promulgating a new national faith. Here he blinded his son, Reza Kuli Khan, and here that helpless individual was afterwards murdered.[290] Kerim Khan Zend added to and altered the existing Ark or citadel, but did not often occupy it. Ali Murad Khan stayed there while marching against Mazanderan. With the rise of the Kajar dynasty, at the close


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of the same century, the first epoch of the city's political ascendency began. The seat and cradle of the Kajar family was at Astrabad; but this was too remote and too far situated to the East to suit the expanding ambitions of the eunuch candidate for the throne. For some time, while his fortunes were yet insecure, and while his sovereignty was practically limited to Mazanderan, Agha Mohammed fixed his residence at Sari; but, as he turned his eyes and aspirations southwards, and the dream of a Pan-Iranian kingdom became capable of realisation, a more accessible capital was required. Accordingly, he selected Teheran, and its elevation to metropolitan rank is commonly dated from 1788. It was not till seven years later that his rivals were all removed, and that he found himself firmly seated upon the throne; but what had been perhaps in the first place a choice of necessity remained the selection of prudence. Rebellion had been effectively stamped out of life in the south. The Afghans had ceased for awhile to be hostile or formidable. On the other hand, at Teheran, the successful usurper was within easy reach of his own patrimony and tribesmen; and he was in a better position to watch the only enemy of whom he had real apprehension — Russia. The same considerations, aggravated rather than diminished by the events of the present century, have compelled his successors to endorse his judgment; and, whatever may be said against the site, there is very small likelihood, as long as Persia escapes dismemberment, of Teheran being dethroned from its position.

Agha Mohammed, though he elevated Teheran to the rank of his capital, either had not the taste or did not reign long enough to confer upon it any of the external distinction with which his predecessors on the throne had always striven to adorn their seats of government. Olivier, who was there, in 1797, the year of the king's death, reported the city as being little more than two miles in circuit, and as containing a population of only 105,000, 3,000 of whom belonged to the court, or army of the Shah. Fath Ali Shah, however, had more regal ideas. Under his rule the city increased in size, importance, and display. In 1807 General Gardanne, the French Envoy, found it containing a population of over 50,000 in winter, though all but deserted in summer, when the Court was away, and the inhabitants had retired to their yeilaks, or summer quarters, on the mountains. A very


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nearly identical estimate was made by the English travellers Morier and Ouseley, who were at Teheran within the next few years. The former said it contained 12,000 houses, the latter a population of from 40,000 to 60,000, figures which practically coincide. As such, or, at any rate, not very much larger, it remained during the first seventy years of this century, before it experienced the entire renovation at the hands of Nasr-ed-Din Shah, which I shall presently describe.

What, however, was the appearance of the city in this first epoch of modified rejuvenescence? The narratives and the illustrations of a long series of minute and accomplished writers enable us to ascertain with absolute certainty. Planted in the hollow of the plain, and surrounded only by the stark desert, with few or no suburbs, and with clearly-defined outline, stood the city — a fortified polygon, between four and five miles in exterior circuit, surrounded by an embattled mud wall twenty feet high, flanked with circular towers, and defended by a moat forty feet in width and from twenty to thirty feet in depth. The wall was mean and in parts ruinous, the ditch was clumsy and broken down — in both respects, that is to say, profoundly Persian. Six gates of somewhat gaudy construction, adorned with glazed tiles, admitted to the interior, where 'the streets were narrow and filthy, with uncovered drains in the middle,' and where the only building of any pretentiousness was the citadel, or ark, in the northern part of the town. This contained the Diwan-khaneh-i-Shah, or Dar-i-khaneh (i.e. the Royal Palace). Beyond the city walls the country palace of Kasr-i-Kajar, built by Fath Ali Shah, upon an eminence to the north, was the sole object that relieved the brown monotony of the surrounding plain. Demavend soared loftily over all — the one noble feature in the landscape. Such was the Teheran that met the eyes of Malcolm and Harford Jones and Ouseley, and the long train of soldiers, diplomatists, and writers, who, escorted by brilliant cavalcades and equipped with costly presents, marched up hither from the Gulf in the first decade of the present century, to court the superb graces of Fath Ali Shah.

Up till the year 1870 this, with few alterations, remained the Teheran with which a wealth of writers has made us familiar. In this circumscribed city the British Legation, or Mission, as it was called, was situated in the southern part. The grounds originally belonged to one Mohammed Khan, the Zam-


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burakchi Bashi, or Commander of the Camel Battery, which was one of the favourite military toys of Fath Ali. Upon this individual his sovereign bestowed that especial mark of confidence for which Persian monarchs have always been famous, by inviting him, spoute suâ, to part with his property, which was forthwith transferred to the English Elchi. Sir Gore Ouseley built upon it a commodious house, whose Italian portico and pillars were a perpetual record of Europe in the heart of Asia. The Russians originally occupied a Legation in another part of the town, but, after the assassination of their Minister, Grebayadoff, in 1828, they moved for greater security into the precincts of the Ark. Until its disappearance, or rather expansion, in the years 1870-2, this transitional Teheran was in every respect an Oriental city — contracted, filthy, shabby, and what the French so well denominate as morne.

Nasr-ed-Din Shah, among other titles to distinction, may claim to have made his city a capital in something more than the name. After being twenty years upon the throne, it appears to have occurred to him that the 'Point of Adoration (Kibleh) of the Universe' was framed in a somewhat inadequate setting. Accordingly, Teheran was suddenly bidden to burst its bonds and enlarge its quarters. The old walls and towers were for the most part pulled down,[291] the ditch was filled up, a large slice of surrounding plain was taken in, and, at the distance of a full mile from the old enclosure, a new rampart was constructed upon Vauban's system, copied from the fortifications of Paris before the German war. A good deal of the money sent out from England by the Persian Famine Relief Fund in 1871 was spent in the hire of labour for the excavation of the new ditch, which has a very steep outer profile, and for the erection of the lofty sloping rampart beyond. There is no masonry work upon these new fortifications; they are not defended by a single gun; they describe an octagonal figure about eleven miles in circuit; and, I imagine, from the point of view of the military engineer, are wholly useless for defence. Their main practical service consists in facilitating the collection of the town octroi. Nevertheless, Teheran can now boast that it is eleven miles round, that it has European fortifications, and twelve gates; while its interior features have developed in a corresponding ratio.


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That the city has yet much to do before it realises the full aspirations of its royal Haussmann is evident as soon as we enter the gates. These consist of lofty archways, adorned with pinnacles and towers, and presenting from a distance a showy appearance, which has caused to some incoming travellers paroxysms of delight. A closer inspection shows that they are faced with modern glazed tiles, in glittering and frequently vulgar patterns, depicting the phenomenal combats of Rustam, or the less heroic features and uniform of the modern Persian soldier. After entering the gates, where a guard is stationed, we are again in the open country, for on most sides the city has not yet grown up to its new borders, which embrace a large extent of bare, unoccupied desert. This passed, a ride through squalid suburbs brings us to the more central and pretentious quarters of the town. At every turn we meet in juxtaposition, sometimes in audacious harmony, at others in comical contrast, the influence and features of the East and West. A sign-board with Usine à Gaz inscribed upon it will suddenly obtrude itself in a row of mud hovels, ostentatiously Asiatic. Tram-lines are observed running down some of the principal thoroughfares. Mingled with the turbans and kolahs of the Oriental crowd are the wide-awakes and helmets of Europeans. Through the jostling throng of cavaliers and pedestrians, camels, donkeys, and mules, comes rolling the two-horsed brougham of some Minister or grandee. Shops are seen with glass windows and European titles. Street lamp-posts built for gas, but accommodating dubious oil-lamps, reflect an air of questioning civilisation. Avenues, bordered with footpaths and planted with trees, recall faint memories of Europe. A metalled and watered roadway comes almost as a shock after weeks of mule track and rutty lane. Strange to say, it does not appear to be mistaken by the inhabitants for the town sewer. We ride along broad, straight streets that conduct into immense squares and are fringed by the porticoes of considerable mansions. In a word, we are in a city which was born and nurtured in the East, but is beginning to clothe itself at a West-End tailor's. European Teheran has certainly become, or is becoming; but yet, if the distinction can be made intelligible, it is being Europeanised upon Asiatic lines. No one could possibly mistake it for anything but an Eastern capital. Not even in the European quarter has it taken on the insufferable and debauched disguise with which we are familiar in the hideous streets of Galata and

 

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Pera. Its most distinctive features retain an individuality of their own, differing from what I have noticed anywhere else in Central Asia. Jeypore is sometimes extolled as the finest specimen of a native city, European in design, but Oriental in structure and form, that is to be seen in the East. The 'rose-red city' over which Sir Edwin Arnold has poured the copious cataract of a truly Telegraphese vocabulary struck me, when I was in India, as a pretentious plaster fraud. No such impression is produced by the Persian capital. Though often showy, it is something more than gilt gingerbread; and, while surrendering to an influence which the most stolid cannot resist, it has not bartered away an originality, of which the most modern would not wish to deprive it.

In the northern part of the new town, but outside the line of the old walls, is situated the principal square or public place of Teheran. This is known as the Tup Meidan or Meidan-i-Tup-Khaneh — i.e. Gun Square or Artillery Square, from the fact that it is surrounded by the artillery barracks, and that it contains a park of rusty cannon, dating from an obsolete past. The length of this fine meidan, which is cobble-paved, is 270 yards, its width 120. On the longest, i.e. the northern and southern, sides, it is surrounded by low one-storeyed buildings, where the guns are housed and the men quartered; on the western side is the Arsenal, in front of which some twenty-five venerable smooth-bores, 24-pounders, and wholly useless, rest upon their ancient carriages. The eastern face is entirely occupied by a fine building with an ornamental plaster facade, which is now tenanted by the Imperial Bank of Persia. In the middle of the square is a great tank, fenced round by an iron railing, with some cast-iron statuettes, and with four big guns planted at the corners and covered with tarpaulins. Its most distinctive features, however, are the gateways by which it is entered or left, and which are regarded by the Persians as triumphs of modern architectural skill. They are certainly, as the accompanying illustration will show, very imposing and original structures, and, with their light arcades and fantastic fronts, present a handsome appearance from a distance, though a closer scrutiny of the coarse tile-work with which they are faced is apt to destroy the illusion. Of these gates the two principal and most striking are those which lead from the two southern angles of the square, opening on to streets which skirt the outer wall of the Ark, or citadel, on either side, the entire intervening


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space being occupied by its courts and buildings. From the southeast corner the Nasirieh Gate leads down to the eastern entrance to the palace and to the bazaars. From the south-west corner the Dowlet Gate conducts to the Khiaban-i-Almasieh (or Avenue of Diamonds), from which the western or public entrance to the Ark and palace is gained. Upon this gate, when the Shah is in Teheran, floats the royal standard.

Two other meidans are worthy of notice. One is the Meidan-i-Mashk, a vast open space, over a quarter of a mile in length, which is used as a Champ de Mars, or parade-ground, for the garrison, and where I witnessed a military display which I shall afterwards describe. This meidan is a little to the northwest of the Tup Meidan, and is reached by a gateway opening out of the so-called Street of Ambassadors, which leads from the northwest angle of the Gun Square. The remaining square, called the Meidan-i-Shah, is outside the gardens of the Ministry of War, and the more southerly portion of the palace enclosure. It contains a large tank in the centre, and a colossal brass gun, known as the Tup-i-Murvarid, or Cannon of Pearls, which has always been an especially sacred bast, or sanctuary, for the fugitive criminal, a veritable 'horns of the altar,' in Teheran. Successive chroniclers of the capital have given different and inconsistent accounts of this monster cannon, some alleging that it was brought by Nadir Shah from Delhi, where it was originally decorated with a string of pearls near the muzzle, others that it was cast by him in Persia. Sir R. K. Porter says that it was the same gun that Chardin saw in the meidan at Isfahan; but, as I cannot find that Chardin saw or described any particularly big gun there, I am loth to accept this explanation. Elsewhere I have read that the gun was cast by Kerim Khan Zend at Shiraz, and that, having been kept for some time under cover in an imamzadeh there, it acquired a sacred character, which it has retained since its removal to the Kajar capital. Jehangir Khan, the late Minister of Fine Arts, informed me, however, that, according to Persian historians, this cannon is one of the Portuguese ordnance captured by the allied Persians and British at Ormuz in 1622.[292] Whatever be the truth, its


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semi-sacred character is unimpeachable. An artillery guard is stationed hard by, and barren women make a pilgrimage hither, and pass beneath the gun, in order to promote the object of their desire.

The most distinctive feature, however, of this smaller meidan is the great arched gateway leading from it, and used as the Nakkara-Khaneh (or Drum Tower), whence, every evening, at sundown, is discoursed, from prodigious horns, kettledrums, cornets, and fifes, the appalling music which is an inalienable appurtenance of royalty in Persia, and is always sounded at sunset from some elevated gallery or tower in any city blessed with a royal or princely governor. Over two hundred years ago it used to disturb the slumbers of Tavernier and Chardin at Isfahan, where it was sounded at sunset and at midnight; the truth being, as the former writer sagaciously observed, that 'the musick would never charm a curious ear.' It is commonly supposed that this practice is a relic of the old fire or sun worship, that luminary being saluted both at its rising and setting by respectful strains. Whether this be so or not I cannot say. What is certain is that it has for long


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been an Oriental attribute of royalty; and, in a letter from the French traveller, Bernier, written in 1663 from the Court of the Great Mogul at Delhi, where there neither was, nor, so far as we know, ever had been, fire-worship, I have come across the following passage, describing the practice as it prevailed there and then, in terms which exactly fit the sonorous and portentous discord which is evoked every evening by the band of brazen-lunged youths to whom I used to listen with a sort of horrified fascination at Teheran: —

Over the great gate there is a large raised place which is called Nagar Kanay, because that is the place where the Trumpets are, or rather the Hoboys and Timbals that play together in consort at certain hours of the day and night. But this is a very odd consort in the ears of an European that is a new comer, not yet accustomed to it; for sometimes there are ten or twelve of these Hoboys, and as many Timbals that sound all at once together; and there is a Hoboy which is called Karna, a fathom and a half long, and of half a foot aperture below; as there are Timbals of brass or iron that have no less than a fathom in diameter, whence it is easie to judge what a noise they must needs make.

Bernier goes on to say that at first he found this royal music quite insufferable; but that afterwards it was very pleasing in the night time, when it seemed 'to carry with it something that is grave, majestical, and very melodious.' Verily de gustibus non est disputandum. The same practice is still kept up by some of the native princes in India.

From the Tup Meidan, as I have indicated, two streets run in a northerly direction towards the outer walls. These streets or avenues — for they are planted with poplars — are regarded as the crowning glory of modern being, in fact, the nucleus of European Teheran. The more westerly of the two, known to the Persians as Khiaban-i-Dowlet, has been sometimes described as the Boulevard des Ambassadeurs, from the fact that the representatives of several foreign Powers have acquired residences upon it. Of these, by far the most spacious and imposing is the Legation which shelters the representative of Her Britannic Majesty. At the distance of nearly half a mile from the great square, a fine gateway, upon which Her Majesty's initials are carved in stone, conducts on the left hand into a large wooded enclosure, where nothing at first is visible but a dense growth of trees, interspersed with winding pathways and


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runnels of water. This delightful grove, which, as the result of only twenty years' growth, shows of what the Persian soil under irrigation is capable, conceals the main building of the Legation, as well as four other substantial detached houses, accommodating the various secretaries. The principal structure is a low building occupying three sides of a court, and terminating at one end in a campanile, or clock-tower, of Byzantine design, in which a large clock tells the time after the English fashion and according to the hours of the English day. On one side is the Chancellery; in the centre are the reception-rooms and Minister's quarters; on the other side are the spare rooms. The building opens by a verandah at the back on to a lovely garden, where swans float on brimming tanks of water and peacocks flash amid the flower-beds. The design was the work of Major Pierson, R.E., of the Indo-European Telegraph Department, who may be credited with a very successful result. The coolness and seclusion of the entire enclosure is one of the most agreeable and uncommon features in Teheran. The Turkish Embassy and the Legations of several others of the Great Powers are in the same street, or near at hand. Russia, however, is elsewhere accommodated; the residence of her Minister being, as I have pointed out, in the older portion of the town, near the bazaars. In the same quarter as the British Legation are situated the establishment and chapel of the American missionaries. The Armenian church, where British subjects used to be interred, and which contains the tomb of a son of Sir Walter Scott, was near the former British Mission in the old city.

To a stranger, possibly also to a native, the most interesting portion of Teheran is the great quadrilateral, containing the Ark or Citadel, and occupying a space of probably nearly a quarter of a mile square on the southern side of the Tup Meidan. Since the demolition of the old town there is nothing in the appearance of this enclosure to identify it with a citadel in the ordinary acceptation of the term; for, although it is surrounded by mud walls, it is in no sense fortified, and is now merely a vast collection of courts, gardens, and buildings, the greater part of which appertain to the Royal Palace. Let me, therefore, attempt to give some description of the latter, so far as its somewhat haphazard and unmethodical interior arrangements will admit. Parts of the building remain in exactly the same state as they were, when viewed in the opening years of the century


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by the successive envoys of the British and Indian Governments. But the major part of the enclosure does not now answer to their description and has been so much altered by the reigning Shah in the reconstruction of the past twenty years, as to need a fresh historian.

Upon entering by a modest and wholly undistinguished gateway from the Khiaban-i-Almasieh, the visitor finds himself in a small irregular courtyard, planted with trees. From this he is conducted into another and larger paved court, in the centre of which is a long raised hauz or tank, the water lapping noiselessly, in the Persian style, over the level brim. On either side of this is a paved causeway, beyond which are flower-beds and rows of poplars, planes, and pines. The entire upper end of this court is occupied by a handsome building, the centre of which, when the heavy curtains that shield it are raised, is open to the public gaze, disclosing the Talar or throne room, and the famous white marble throne, standing upon a dais in the centre. Upon this throne on certain public occasions, and particularly at the festival of No Ruz or New Year (March 21), the Shah displays himself to the people in a fashion not essentially different from that in which Darius and Xerxes appeared in royal state before their subjects in the talars of Persepolis 2,300 years ago.[293]

On either side of the throne room, and opening into it, are apartments sumptuously decorated in the Persian style with mural ornamentation and oil paintings. In these the ministers and honoured guests are entertained with coffee and kalians before and during the royal levées. The Talar itself is a spacious chamber, whose flat ceiling is set with mirror panels, and whose walls are embellished with the aineh-kari or mirror work, small facets ingeniously and artistically fixed in plaster, so as to produce a thousand angles and coruscations, in which the Persians are so undeniably clever; and with oil paintings of the various princes of the Kajar family. Round the lower part is a dado or wainscoting of alabaster carved in relief, and adorned with painted flowers and birds. In the centre of the room stands the Takht-i-


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Marmor, or white marble throne of Kerim Khan Zend, wrought of marble of Yezd, and brought from Shiraz.[294] This great structure, which does not in the least degree resemble a throne according to Western ideas, but might rather be compared to an elevated platform surrounded by a pierced marble balustrade, rests upon low twisted pillars and upon the shoulders of grotesque figures representing jins or divs. Two steps supported by recumbent lions lead up to it, and the throne itself consists of a two-fold terrace, upon the back part of which, supported by a pearl-embroidered cushion, sits, or rather kneels (this being the Persian substitute for sitting), upon State occasions the King of Kings. In front of the throne is a place for a fountain, running water being another of the appurtenances of Eastern royalty.[295] The roof of the front part of the throne room, where it is open to the garden, is sustained by two immense columns with deep spiral flutings, also of Yezd marble, and constructed by order of Kerim Khan for his palace at Shiraz.

A passage from the court of the Talar leads into another and larger court, where is the main and State entrance into the palace. It was under a threshold, opening out of the arcade between the two, that were deposited by Agha Mohammed Shah the bones of Nadir Shah and Kerim Khan,[296] that he might have the exquisite luxury, as he passed in and out, of trampling upon the dust of his hereditary foes. Here are a large doorway, and a broad flight of carpeted steps, leading up between great bronzes and porcelain vases to the State apartments. As I mounted them three times during my stay at Teheran, and became familiar with the rooms to which they conduct, I may here describe the latter. At the top of the staircase is the Shah's library, a small room which has been neatly fitted, after the


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European manner, with bookcases behind glass doors, and in which I saw several well-bound European books. It is reported to contain many Arabic MSS. of inestimable value. Upon the left hand at the top is the entrance to the new Museum, a great hall or gallery, constructed after the return of the Shah from his first visit to Europe in 1873, to contain not only the Royal Regalia, but also the vast collection of objets d'art and curiosities, which the generosity of foreign crowned heads, or his own whims, have enabled him to amass during a reign of over forty years. This extraordinary chamber, which with its contents alternately resembles an Aladdin's palace, an old curiosity shop, a prince's wardrobe, and a municipal museum, consists of a long parallelogram, crowned by a series of low domes, with plaster decorations in white, blue, and gold, there being a number of deep recesses, terminating in windows along one side; while the partition between these recesses, and the remaining walls of the room, are fitted with glass cases, in which are displayed, side by side, treasures of priceless value and the most unutterable rubbish. The central part of the chamber, which is, in part, tile-paved, contains a number of immense porcelain vases, mostly from Europe, candelabra, lustres, armchairs covered with a thin plating of real gold, etc., whilst upon tables or under glass cases are disposed with some slight effort at arrangement, but in ludicrous juxtaposition, Swiss musical boxes, Persian antiquities and specimens, meteorolites, European purchases or presents, and heads of game shot by His Majesty.

Perhaps the objects in this bizarre collection that most attract the stranger are the infinity of gems, cut, uncut, or set in every variety of fashion, that are seen behind the glass panels. Here are the enamelled and bejewelled arms of the great Sefavi kings, here the swords of Timur, Shah Ismail and Agha Mohammed Shah, here the magnificent Abbas' coat of mail. A square glass case contains a vast heap of pearls, four or five inches deep, into which one can plunge the hand and spill them in cascades and handfuls. Upon a separate stand appears the globe of jewels which was constructed out of his loose stones by the reigning Shah, at a cost (exclusive of the gems, provided by himself) of 320,000l., and which is looked upon as the artistic chef d'oeuvre of his reign, Its alleged value, with the stones (75 lbs of pure gold, and 51,366 gems, weighing 3656.4 grammes) is 947,000l.


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It is a little difficult to determine the respective countries amid the flash of the various stones; nor does the artist appear to have been as good a cartographer as he was a craftsman. However, as well as I could discern, the sea is composed of emeralds, England and France of diamonds, Africa of rubies, India of amethysts, and Persia herself of the national stone — turquoises.[297] I can imagine the day when some future and less economical sovereign, or possibly even some conqueror from the north, shall handle this glittering plaything in a more practical spirit, and shall perhaps desire to ascertain by personal experience the worth of the constituent elements into which his curiosity may suggest that it should be again resolved. At the upper end of the room, beneath glass cases, are a number of royal crowns, dating from the Sefavean days to modern times, prominent among them being the mighty head piece, pearl-bedecked, and with flashing jika or aigrette of diamonds in front, which is worn by the King at No Ruz, and was so familiar an object upon the head of Fath Ali Shah, as depicted in the illustrations, English and Persian, of the early part of the century. Here, too, is a superb tiara, manufactured by order of the present Shah, in Paris. The number of jewelled swords, scabbards, epaulettes, and cups, vases, boxes and kalians, is enormous, while in separate glasses repose huge, solitary, uncut gems. At the upper end of the chamber stands a throne of modern shape, if not of modern construction, viz., a lofty chair exquisitely enamelled and completely covered with rubies and emeralds. I shall have something to say presently about the history of this beautiful work of art. I was informed that the Shah, when he uses this hall, as he not infrequently does, as an audience chamber to the Ministers and Foreign Representatives at No Ruz, prefers to stand near the lower end of the hall to occupying the throne itself. Upon the walls on the right hand side of the room are displayed a heterogeneous collection of the treasures or trifles which the august traveller has brought back from Europe. Here are suspended the ribbons and stars of a multitude of orders, including the Garter, and an imposing array of Russian decorations. Elsewhere are arrayed gorgeous sets of silver-gilt plate, enamelled snuff-boxes, gold and silver


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vases, a case containing photographs of the English Royal Family, dating from the Shah's first visit in 1873, specimens of filagree work, and a number of objects in ivory and bone, ranging from the most delicate Chinese workmanship to a collection of six-penny toothbrushes (classification, with a vengeance!). From the walls depend a number of mediocre or execrable oil paintings, and large panels of glazed tile-work, representing different scenes in the life of the present sovereign. The three finest jewels possessed by the Shah are said to be a huge uncut ruby, once the property of Aurungzebe, which shimmers at the top of what is called the Kaianian crown; a large diamond, set in a ring, which was sent by George IV. as a present to Fath Ali Shah, and was said by the gossips to have opened at once the gates of the capital and the heart of the monarch; and beyond all the Daria-i-Nur, or Sea of Light, the sister diamond to the Kuh-i-Nur (Kohinoor), or Mountain of Light, which is the property of the British Crown. Both jewels are said to have descended from Timur to Mohammed Shah, the puppet whom Nadir spared at Delhi, but whom he considerately relieved of all his chief valuables, including these diamonds and the Peacock Throne. Upon Nadir's death, the Kuh-i-Nur went with Ahmed Shah Durani into Afghanistan, and descended to Shah Shuja, from whom it was taken by Runjit Singh, the Lion of the Punjab, whence it passed by conquest into the possession of the English Crown. The Daria-i-Nur remained in Persia, and has been worn by its successive sovereigns. Fath Ali Shah immortalised his own vanity at the same time that he considerably lowered the value of the stone, by causing to be scratched upon it his own name.[298] He was in the habit of wearing it in one of the bazubands or armlets which he bore upon State occasions, between the shoulder and elbow; but it is also sometimes worn in a belt, and in other settings. I asked to see this jewel, but it was shut up in an iron box that lay upon the seat of the elevated throne: and it appeared that in the absence either of the key or of the Grand Vizier, I think the latter, it could not be shown.

Such, as well as I can remember them with the assistance of


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my notes, were the chief contents of the Royal Museum.[299] In a country that is always bewailing its lack of money, and which cries aloud for the regeneration that might so easily spring from the construction or repair of roads, bridges, caravanserais, and other elementary public works, it can excite but one feeling. to see all this impotent wealth piled up, secreting beneath a glass case that which should serve to populate entire districts and to enrich great communities. How much worse is it when we know that the treasures here displayed do not stand alone, but are supplemented by hoards of specie and bullion stored in the vaults below, which the lowest estimate values at three millions sterling and the highest I will not say at what figure. Patriotism need not be so very difficult an attribute in royalty, when it is able to stop short of the treasure-house and the money-bags.

Below the Museum are a number of vaults, known as the Chinee Khaneh, or Porcelain Room, where vast quantities of Sèvres, Dresden, old Worcester, and other porcelain are stored, the gifts of European sovereigns to the present and preceding kings. There is also an Aslaheh-Khaneh, or Armoury, containing curious arms, and the Shah's rifles and fowling-pieces; and a gallery wherein is hung a large collection of the paintings of the late esteemed artist, Abul Hasan Khan Ghaffari, styled the Sani-el-Mulk. These last-named apartments I did not see.

On the other side of the top of the staircase is a room, sometimes called the Council Chamber, in which I was admitted to a private audience by the Shah. It was empty on all the occasions when I saw it, save for an object standing in the corner by the window. This was the Takht-i-Taous or celebrated so-called Peacock Throne, said to have been brought, by Nadir Shah from India in 1739-40, and identified by a long consensus of writers (I know of no divergent opinion) with the famous Peacock Throne that stood in the Diwan-i-Khas at Delhi (where its site is still shown) and that was the main ornament of the glittering court of the Great Mogul. From a study of all the extant authorities bearing upon the question, I had come to the conclusion that this claim could not be substantiated, and that the throne at Teheran, exquisite work of art though it be,


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was a fraudulent pretender to the honour of having supported the majesty of the Great Mogul. Let me deploy the chain of reasoning by which I had arrived at this conclusion. The standard reference to the original Peacock Throne at Delhi is contained in the well-known description of the French jeweller Tavernier, who visited that capital in the year 1665 in the splendid reign of Aurungzebe. He wrote as follows: —

The largest throne, which is set up in the hall of the first court, is in form like one of our field beds, six feet long and four broad. The cushion at the base is round like a bolster; the cushions on the sides are flat. The under part of the canopy is all embroidered with pearls and diamonds, with a fringe of pearls round about. Upon the top of the canopy, which is made like an arch with four panes, stands a peacock with his tail spread, consisting all of saphirs and other proper coloured stones. The body is of beaten gold enchas'd with several jewels, and a great ruby upon his breast, at which hangs a pearl that weighs fifty carats. On each side of the peacock stand two nosegays as high as the bird, consisting of several sorts of flowers, all of beaten gold enamelled. When the king seats himself upon the throne there is a transparent jewel with a diamond appendant of eighty or ninety carats, encompass'd with rubies and emeralds, so hung that it is always in his eye. The twelve pillars also that uphold the canopy are set with rows of fair pearl, round, and of an excellent water, that weigh from six to ten carats apiece. This is the famous throne which Tamerlane began and Cha Jeban finish'd, which is really reported to have cost 160 million and 500,000 livres of our money.[300]

Now contrast this with the Persian claimant to the title. I have purposely caused to be reproduced an engraving of the Takht-i-Taous at Teheran, in order to accompany and elucidate my argument. It is certainly a platform, or, as Tavernier calls it, a Field-bed Throne; as were the majority of those employed by the sovereigns of the East. It is further a sumptuous and a beautiful work of art. The entire fabric is overlaid with a plating of gold, which is exquisitely chiselled and enamelled, and is absolutely encrusted with precious stones, among which rubies and emeralds are the most prominent. Seven bejewelled legs sustain the plat-


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form, access to which is gained by two steps, decorated with salamanders. An elegant balustrade containing inscriptions in panels runs round, and the lofty back, which is one mass of gems, rises to a point in the centre whereupon is fixed a circular star of diamonds, with scintillating rays, made to revolve by a piece of mechanism at the back. On either side of the star are two bejewelled birds, perched on the edges of the back-frame, and facing each other. Now there is in the fabric thus delineated and reproduced above very little except general shape that tallies with Tavernier's detailed description. There is no trace or sign of a canopy, or of the means by which a vanished canopy could


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have been added to the existing throne. Above all there is no peacock.[301]

At this stage, however, I felt compelled to remember that Tavernier, while particularly describing the Peacock Throne, had also left on record that 'The Great Mogul has seven thrones, some set all over with diamonds, others with rubies, emeralds, and pearls;' and that Hanway had reported Nadir as carrying off nine other thrones in addition; and it might be therefore that the Teheran throne, though not the Peacock Throne, was one of the rifled thrones of the Emperors of Hindustan. Such a theory seemed to find a momentary corroboration in the description given by another Frenchman, Bernier, in the same century, of a throne (clearly not the Peacock Throne of Tavernier) at Delhi. The throne that he saw was supported by six high pillars or feet of massive gold, set with rubies, emeralds, and diamonds. Its value was estimated at forty millions of rupees (a rupee at that time was equivalent to half a crown) or to sixty millions of French livres. And yet, to maintain the confusion, this too was a Peacock Throne, for he added: —

The art and workmanship of this throne is not answerable to the matter; that which I find upon it best devised are two peacocks covered with precious stones and pearls, which are the work of a Frenchman called ____ that was an admirable workman.

Nevertheless, this could not be the Teheran throne; for the latter has seven legs; nor was an acute observer like Bernier likely to have committed the error that Morier did, and mistaken its winged supporters for peacocks.

In this dilemma, but with the growing conviction that the modern Takht-i-Taous had a very shadowy connection, if any at with the plundered treasures of Delhi, I turned to contemporaneous records. I found in Malcolm[302] that Nadir Shah was so fond of the real Peacock Throne of the Great Mogul that he had an exact duplicate of it made in other


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jewels. This left two Peacock Thrones to be demolished between his death and the end of the last century, a catastrophe which in the anarchy and violence of those times would have been in itself no unlikely occurrence; but it left the Takht-i-Taous unexplained, as under no circumstances could the latter be described as a duplicate of Tavernier's original. Now, however, I came across a passage in Fraser's 'Khorasan' in which he mentions that an old Kurd told him in 1822, that 'when Nadir Shah was murdered and his camp plundered, the Peacock Throne and the Tent of Pearls fell into our hands, and were torn in pieces and divided on the spot.' Any Kurd might certainly have been trusted to handle such an object as the Peacock Throne in the unceremonious manner here described, and, assuming the veracity of this particular Kurd, I witnessed with some delight the disappearance of the real Peacock Throne, or one of the two, from the scene.

A phrase in Morier's account had now set me thinking that the Takht-i-Taous at Teheran must be a modern structure after all. In the same passage which I have quoted in a footnote, he adds: 'It (i.e. the throne) is said to have cost 100,000 tomans' (equivalent at the beginning of the century to about 100,000l.);[303] herein clearly implying that an account or a tradition of its cost prevailed at Teheran, which was far more likely to be the case with a new than with an old fabric, and which was extremely unlikely to have been the case with an object carried off in plunder from a remote country seventy years before. At this stage, accordingly, I referred my doubts for solution to Teheran itself, and after an interval of some weeks was interested and (I may confess) rejoiced to hear, on the authority of the Grand Vizier and the former Minister for Foreign Affairs,[304] that, as I suspected, the Takht-i-Taous is not an Indian throne at all. It was constructed by Mohammed Husein Khan, Sadr (or High Priest) of Isfahan, for Fath Ali Shah when the latter married an Isfahani young lady, whose popular sobriquet, for some unexplained reason, was Taous Khanum or the Peacock Lady. The King is further said to have been so much delighted with the throne, that it was made a remarkably prominent feature in the


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ceremonies that commonly ensue upon marriage. Here, therefore, at one fell swoop, toppled down the whole of the brilliant hypothesis, which has sustained scores of writers, and provided material for pages of glowing rhetoric. From the same authorities I learned that the original Peacock Throne of Nadir Shah (i.e. the survivor of the two facsimiles) was discovered in a broken-down and piecemeal condition by Agha Mohammed Shah, who extracted it along with many other of the conqueror's jewels by brutal torture from his blind grandson Shah Rukh at Meshed, and then had the recovered portions of it made up into the throne of modern shape and style, which now stands at the end of the new Museum in the palace at Teheran, and to which I have alluded in my description of that apartment. In this chair, therefore, are to be found the sole surviving remnants of the Great Mogul's Peacock Throne, and the wedding present of Fath Ali Shah must descend from the position which it has usurped in the narrative of every writer in this century, without exception, who has alluded to it.

Beyond the room in the palace containing this beautiful impostor, which, with a respectful iconoclasm, permissible, I hope, to the student of history, I have endeavoured to depose from its false pinnacle, extend a series of chambers of some size, but no merit, exhibiting an extravagant and often farcical contrast of the Oriental and European. Illustrations, snipped from the English illustrated newspapers appear side by side upon the walls with photographs of the Shah and his little boy favourite, the Aziz-es-Sultan, and with inferior copies of Italian oil-paintings. Here is a picture of the Paris Exhibition and the Eiffel Tower; there a deplorable oleograph of an Alpine village, both hung in a room adorned with Persian plaster-work and spread with Persian carpets. I noticed here, what I observed in the other palaces that I visited, that the Oriental intellect seems to derive a peculiar gratification from the display of duplicates. Thus, the King's son, the Zil-es-Sultan, has, in his town residence, a long row of facsimile portraits of himself hanging upon a single wall. Similarly, in the royal abode, I noticed in one place two large copies of a semi-nude Venus or Magdalen of the later Italian school, absolutely identical, hanging on either side of a doorway; and the same phenomenon was constantly repeated. The impression left upon me by all inspection of many modern Persian residences of


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size and magnificence, was this: that whereas the Persian taste, if restricted to its native art or to the employment of native styles, seldom errs, the moment it is turned adrift into a new world, all sense of perspective, proportion, or beauty, all aesthetic perception, in fact, appears to vanish; and in proportion as its choice will have been correct and refined amid native materials, so does it become vulgar and degraded abroad. I am sometimes not sure that our own countrymen can escape the same impeachment, particularly when I observe rich Englishmen triumphantly carrying away from Japan the gaudy embroideries that are made for them alone, and which no civilised Japanese gentleman would admit into his house.

The rooms of which I have been speaking look out on to a vast garden court, which is entirely surrounded by the various buildings of the palace, and which I consider to be by far the prettiest and most effective portion of the entire enclosure. This great garden is divided by paved avenues and gravel paths into flower beds, tanks, and extensive lakes. Magnificent pines and cypresses, as well as the more familiar plane and poplar, line its alleys and create a pleasant shade. It is called the Gulistan or Rose Garden. Little iron bridges cross the numerous channels, often lined with blue tiles, down which the water runs in perpetua motion; the pools are alive with fish and decked with swans and waterfowl; elegant kiosques are seen amid the trees. It was in this lovely garden, and under an entrancing sun and sky, that I witnessed a royal Salaam, or Levée of the Shah, to which I may devote a few words in passing. It was the replica, on a smaller scale, of the great ceremonial that takes place at No Ruz.

The theory of the Court Levée in Persia is not that the subjects attend upon, or are introduced to, the sovereign, but that the sovereign displays himself to his awestruck and admiring subjects. Accordingly, the two central and essential attributes of the scene are the monarch being gazed at on the one side, and the audience gazing on the other. Very little else transpires, and not more than half-a-dozen persons play any other part than that of statues during the ceremony. I will describe, however, exactly what takes place. Upon entering the palace I was conducted to a chamber where the regulation coffee and kalians were served. Soldiers and officials were pouring pell-mell into the palace on every side. Bands were aimlessly tuning up or playing


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in different corners. Officers in every variety of uniform were marshalling troops in every variety of disorder. Mirzas (i.e. government clerks) and accountants were hurrying to the scene of action. The royal executioner, clothed in red, was stalking about, while some attendants carried the fellek, a red pole about eight feet in length with a double loop or noose of cord attached to the middle, into which are fixed the upturned soles of the culprit condemned to the bastinado. He was the Persian counterpart of the roman lictor with his axe and rods. The members of the Royal or Kajar tribe were all congregated together, and wore the old court costume, which was obligatory on all alike at the beginning of the century, and which consists of a lofty and voluminous Kashmir (more, probably Kerman) turban, big, flowing Kashmir cloaks, and the well-known red leggings, or chakshurs, which the English ministers and plenipotentiaries were obliged to pull on over their breeches when attending the audiences of Fath Ali Shah, but of wearing which they were ultimately relieved by treaty. Here I was met by the Lord Chamberlain, or master of the ceremonies, known as the Zahir-ed-Dowleh (Supporter of the Government), a young man of magnificent stature and singularly handsome countenance, who belongs to the Kajar House, and is married to a favourite daughter of the Shah. This gorgeous individual was clothed in a resplendent white frock coat and trousers beneath his Kashmir robe of state; a jewelled sword hung at his side; a portrait of the Shah set in diamonds depended from his neck; and he carried a silver wand or staff of office. I was conducted to a room next to that in which the Shah was about to appear, the uplifted sashes of both apartments opening on to the garden, where, on the broad, paved pathway running in front and down the central alleys between the tanks and flower beds, were disposed in order the various participators in the ceremonial. A little to the right of the middle spot stood the Naib-es-Sultaneh, the third son of the Shah and Commander-in-Chief of the army, standing at the head of a long line of field-marshals and generals. His bosom blazed with decorations, and was crowned by a light-blue ribbon that might have been mistaken for that of St. Patrick. Next to him, also in field-marshal's uniform and with a tiny sword, stood the diminutive favourite of the Shah, whose features had become so familiar in Europe during the royal journey of the preceding summer. Next in order, and accentuating the ludicrous contrast, came a tottering


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veteran, the oldest field-marshal in the Persian army; then a row of full-blown generals; finally, the officers of the so-called Cossack regiments, including two Russians. In front and in the middle stood alone the former Ilkhani of the Kajar tribe, a white-bearded elder, once out of favour with his sovereign but long since reconciled.[305] Behind stood the solid and forbidding figure of the Kawam-ed-Dowleh, Minister of Foreign Affairs; and beyond again the various functionaries, each in his due rank and position. The whole of the assemblage was now arranged, every man stood shoulder to shoulder with eyes fixed in front, and absolute silence prevailed.

Suddenly a cry was raised. The Shah appeared in the room adjoining that in which I was placed and took his seat upon a gilded chair in the window. His principal ministers accompanied him and stood in the background. As the King appeared every head was bowed low, the hands outspread and resting upon the knees. Bands struck up the royal air in different parts of the garden, and guns banged away at a slight distance. The Ilkhani of the Kajars now, acting as spokesman of the entire assembly, exchanged formal compliments with the King, who spoke in short, brusque sentences in reply. Then a mullah, standing behind, recited in a loud voice, the Khutbah, or prayer for the sovereign. This done the Poet Laureate advanced, and, pulling out a sheet of paper, read a complimentary ode. Meanwhile the bands went on playing different tunes in different parts, and the guns boomed noisily outside. When the ode was at an end, the Shah rose from his chair, and slowly stalked from the chamber; the troops, with very little attempt at precision, slouched past the windows; and a waving mass of helmets, plumes, and turbans was seen disappearing through the garden entrance. Such is a Levée as held by H.I.M. Nasr-ed-Din Shah at Teheran.

Upon another occasion I was conducted over the rest of the palace (with the exception, it is needless to add, of the anderun,


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or private apartments). Among the many apartments which I saw, and to which my previous general description will apply, I will only here notice the Naranj-khaneh or Orangery; a particularly pretty building, with water flowing down a blue-tiled channel in the middle between double rows of orange trees. It was from here that a passage led into the old anderun; the new ladies' quarter being on the other side of the palace enclosure.[306] At the further end of the Gulistan, on the eastern side, rises the great twin-towered pavilion called the Shems-el-Imaret, or Sun of the Palace, which is such a conspicuous object from the exterior of the palace, on the side of the bazaars. This remarkable structure, which is, in my opinion, a triumph of fanciful architecture, is built in the form of two towers, sloping inwards towards the top, and terminating in two elegant kiosques. A slender clock-tower, with a European clock, rises from the roof between the two. On the outer or street side — for it is built upon the exterior wall of the Ark — its surface, which is entirely covered with brilliantly painted tiles, is unrelieved by a single window, lattices of pierced brickwork answering that purpose. On the inner or garden side it possesses a number of balconies and stained-glass windows, while a large Italian portico in the centre opens on to a flight of steps leading down to the edge of an extensive lake. This beautiful pavilion was begun by the Shah twenty-five years ago, and is certainly a very creditable specimen of the fanciful ingenuity that still lingers in modern Persian art. I had thought from the blank outer walls and from the air of mystery that surrounds this building that it must at least contain the royal harem; but this was not the case. Strangers are sometimes admitted to the interior, in some of the chambers of which are to be seen yet other among the many costly presents that have been sent to the Shah and his predecessors by European sovereigns. Here, for instance, are the Gobelin tapestries, representing the Crowning of the Faun and the Triumph of Venus, that were given by Louis Philippe to Mohammed Shah; and here is the great mechanical clock, with moving figures and peacocks, that was intended as a present from the Queen to the Emperor of China, fifty years ago: but, either having been rejected by him or never having got as far, was bestowed upon the Persian monarch.


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At the further extremity of the Gulistan rises the extraordinary circular structure, the arched ribs and girders of whose open roof I had seen from a distance as I approached Teheran, rising above the low level of the housetops. This is the Takieh, or Theatre, built for the annual performance of the Tazieh, or Passion Play of Persia.[307] I entered and looked around. The building was entirely empty, save for some chained beasts, a curious use to which to put so consecrated a structure. It consists of a great rotunda, in the centre of which is a circular stone platform, mounted by steps and ramps (for the animals employed in the play). This is the stage. An open passage runs round, succeeded by five tiers of stone seats, which, on the occasion of the performances, are packed with veiled women. Between these, numerous gangways lead to arched passages, through which the actors come in. On one side is a lofty marble mimbar, or pulpit, i.e. a small platform at the head of a steep flight of steps, whereon stands the mullah, who directs or interprets the ceremonies. Above the stone tiers rise three stories of loggias, or boxes, with fanciful brickwork and light arcades.[308] Some of these, which conceal the ladies of the Royal harem, are shielded with green lattice screens. From the upper rim of the building rise the great arched and iron-bound traverses of the roof. It was originally intended to


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cover the whole with a dome, the Shah, it is said, having been so much impressed with the Albert Hall in London, as to long for a reproduction in Teheran; but the substructure was found to be inadequate to the burden. Accordingly, these spans were thrown across and awnings are stretched over them when the play is acted in the heat of the day; the precise counterpart of the velarium of the Roman amphitheatre. As the drama is prolonged into the evening, light is gained from thousands of candles fixed in lustres against the walls. The electric light was introduced for a time, but is said to have been abandoned or to have proved a failure.

Such are the main features of the Royal Palace at Teheran.[309] I have described them at some length, as they are eloquently typical of the life of mingled splendour and frippery, and of the taste, half cultured and half debased, of the Persian monarch and, it may be said, of the Persian aristocracy in general. It is shocking, for instance, to our eye, but not to a Persian's, to see this beautiful garden, which Nature has co-operated with ingenious art to render pleasing, surrounded by hideous daubs of Persian soldiers painted upon the plaster walls, with the exaggerated disregard of all verisimilitude or proportion that might be expected of a street urchin who had stolen a brush and a pot of paint. In different parts of this building must be stored away an infinity of presents and works of art in addition to those which I saw. For in this century alone the various embassies who competed so gallantly, and it must also be said so extravagantly, for the favour of Fath Ali Shah, brought with them a mass of European objects and curiosities, from panelled coaches down to mechanical toys, not one tithe of which are exposed to view in the State apartments. Many, no doubt, have never been looked at since the day on which they were presented; or, having been playthings for a week, have been relegated to lumber rooms for a lifetime.

For a great capital Teheran is singularly destitute of those immense religious edifices, whether mosques or madressehs, which tower, too often in a state of utter ruin, above the housetops of most Oriental towns. The reason is that, only having become a capital, so to speak, in later life, the city has found no patron to endow it with the great structures that have immortalised the seats of government of earlier kings. Fath Ali


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Shah, it is true, built the Musjid-i-Shah, a mosque crowned by a small gilt dome; and other edifices of some importance, but no distinction are to be found in the Musjid-i-Madr-i-Shah, or Mosque of the King's mother, and the Madresseh-i-Khan-i-Mervi. It has been reserved, however, for the present reign, for the wealth of a subject, and for the decade not yet complete, to raise a fabric which, however far it may fall below the exquisite artistic beauty of earlier monuments of the Mohammedan style, is yet calculated, by its ambitious design and vast extent, to confer a lustre upon the epoch and the men that produced it. This is the yet unfinished Musjid-i-Sipah Salar, or mosque of the Commander-in-Chief, whose four lofty and glittering minarets, entirely covered with bright tiles and terminating in florid capitals, looked to me at a distance like immense organ pipes protruding through the trees. This building, or rather range of buildings, for it includes both a mosque and a madresseh, or college, was commenced by the late Mirza Husein Khan, the statesman who negotiated the Reuter Concession of 1872, and who, after being successively Sadr Azem (Grand Vizier), Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Sipah Salar, died in comparative exile as Governor-General at Meshed. With the endowments which he bequeathed for the purpose, the incomplete works have been resumed by one of his surviving brothers, Yahia Khan, the Mushir-ed-Dowleh, of whom I shall have something to say later on, and are now slowly approaching completion. I went over the buildings, which are on a very grandiose scale. A lofty archway leads into a quadrangle, in whose centre is a large tank. On the right is the principal facade with the four minarets; an immense dome was being constructed over the prayer-place in its interior. Opposite the entrance is a smaller recess, now used for purposes of devotion, but opening into a long, vaulted prayer-chamber, with four rows of stone pillars, fifty in all, and a broad, shallow mihrab, or prayer-niche, tile-adorned, at the end. In a corner of the building a library was being fitted with wooden shelves, elegantly carved; and outside was a tank for purposes of drinking or ablution, with an iron railing and taps all round. The effect of the entire range of buildings is spacious and handsome, and the gaudy enamelled tiles give it a brave appearance. It does not require much discrimination, however, to realise how ineffably inferior are these modern specimens of the ceramic art of Persia to the exquisite productions of an earlier age; or how, neither in


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design, execution, nor glaze, do they deserve to be considered works of art at all.

The bazaars of Teheran occupy a very considerable space in the old city; although, in common with the rest of the capital, they have experienced a much-needed renovation in the reign of the present king. The main entrance is from the street opposite the Shems-el-Imaret, and conducts, through an open courtyard containing a pool of water, and known as the Meidan-i-Sebz, into the dim, vaulted arcades which are so familiar to the wanderer in Eastern lands. The Teheran bazaars are vaulted throughout with a succession of low brick domes, and open frequently upon small courts or squares. They contain a number of spacious and well-built caravanserais; and there are few objects of Eastern use or consumption — from a saddle-horse to a tea-tray, — which cannot be there procured. European merchandise is exhibited on every other stall, and one of the first and most obvious discoveries is, that Persia clothes itself from Europe. Another of the most widely-spread but unintelligible of modern Persian tastes is abundantly illustrated, and can be inexpensively gratified, in the Teheran bazaars. This is the fondness, which seems to permeate all classes, from the Shah downwards, for lustres, candelabra, candle and lamp shades, and glass vases or ornaments of every conceivable description. I never entered a Persian prince's or nobleman's house without encountering a shop's window full of these articles, as a rule proudly stacked, as though they were rare treasures, upon a table; and I imagine that a Persian would have no hesitation in pronouncing the Crystal Palace to be the maximum opus of the world's architecture. I shall say nothing about the manner of shops or mode of selling, about the division of trades or scenes of barter, in the Teheran bazaars; for the reason that they are the same as in every other town in the East, and have been so frequently described as to be familiar even to those who have not seen them. I will merely say that, in arrangement, width of passage, size of shops, and general structural convenience, they are in advance of almost any Oriental bazaar that I have elsewhere seen, though inferior to those which I afterwards saw at Isfahan and Shiraz, and which may also be seen at Tabriz; but that, as a field of exploration for the curio-hunter or stranger, they are the most disappointing in the East. The vendors ask the most impossible


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prices, and exhibit a stolid indifference to the offers of the would-be purchaser. The sale of curiosities, carpets, and stuffs is almost wholly conducted by dellals, or itinerant dealers, who bring their stores on donkey-back to the residences in the European quarter. From them must be procured the silks, brocades, or velvets, the metal work or enamel work, the embroideries or carpets, the painted mirrors or pen-cases, which the collector may wish to take back to Europe. The foremost among these dellals, alike for the quality of their wares and the scale of their prices, appear to be the Jews. But the passing traveller will find it difficult to procure anything of much value, the rarities being commonly bespoken in advance by resident customers, and some weeks being required before a fresh stock can be collected by the dealers among their private clients. Such a place as a shop whither, after European fashion, one can go and see a large variety of articles spread out, before making one's choice, is unknown in Persia.

The street scenes in Teheran are not to be compared, from the artistic point of view, with those that may be witnessed either in the great Indian cities or in the old capitals of Central Asia. With the Kajar Dynasty, a hundred years ago, came in a new and soberer fashion in dress as well as a change of rulers. The turban has gradually disappeared and is worn only by merchants, hajis, seyids, and mullahs. The flowing robes and daring colours of the East, such as one may see alike in Benares and Bokhara, have been exchanged for tight-fitting garments of European or semi-European cut, and for neutral tints such as dark blues, browns, greens and greys, with a very plentiful admixture of uncompromising black. There is manifold jostling in the streets and bazaars, and everywhere are the contrast and variety so inseparable from Asiatic life, and from a crowd where three out of four men are mounted; but there are not the kaleidoscopic change and glitter that bespeak the true and unredeemed Orient. A good deal of colour, however, as well as of noise, is lent to the street life of the capital by the number of soldiers, in every variety of uniform, who are seen lounging about the streets, and by the military bands, which play in the public squares,[310] their favourite tune being the


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so-called 'Royal Air,' which has considerable merits, and was, I believe, composed by the French bandmaster, M. Lemaire. Soldiers in Prussian helmets, soldiers in sheepskin shakoes, soldiers in cloth busbies, soldiers with sartorial reminiscences of nearly every army in Europe, are encountered on all sides. Very apparent too are the city police, about 300 strong, organised and commanded by an Italian, Count Monteforte, who, after being an officer in Bomba's army at Naples, retired to Austria, and was passed on either by the Emperor of that country, or, more probably, by himself, to the service of the Shah. They are constantly to be seen hanging about the guardhouses which are scattered through the town, and their black uniform, with violet velvet facings, is decidedly smart and picturesque. Queerest, however, and most parti-coloured of the street figures of Teheran are the shatirs, or royal runners, who precede the Shah whenever he goes out, running in front of his horse or carriage. They strike a stranger, unacquainted with the Court history of Persia, with amused astonishment, their costume being an apparent cross between that of a liveried servant and a harlequin at a pantomime. They wear white stockings, green knee-breeches, a red coat with large skirts and green breast-facings, and a tall erection upon the head, surmounted by a sort of coloured crest like a cock's comb. In their hand they carry a staff or wand. Some writers have too hastily attributed this amazing uniform to the fanciful taste of His reigning Majesty: therein at once exaggerating the fancy and ignoring the conservative instincts of that monarch. As a matter of fact, this dress is a faithful reproduction of that which was worn by the shatirs of the Sefavi kings in the halcyon days at Isfahan, two and three centuries ago; and what is apt to look ridiculous in a semi-modernised court and capital was, no doubt, in thorough keeping with an age and a ceremonial of almost barbaric splendour.[311]


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Estimates of the population of Teheran vary between poles as remote as is the case with every statistical calculation in Persia. I was informed, however, that the most reliable computation, determined upon a joint reckoning of the births and deaths in the city and of the amount of food brought for consumption into its bazaars, fixed the present total at from 200,000 to 220,000; though, on the other hand, some old residents would not admit a larger figure than 175,000. Twenty years ago, before the structural changes of which I have spoken were commenced, the most generous estimate of the total was 120,000. — a fact which is in itself the best justification of the policy of the royal aedile. The capital is said to contain about 4,000 Jews, possessing ten synagogues and several schools, and engaged for the most part in trade, as dealers, vintners, and physicians. Here, as elsewhere in Persia, the Jews are obliged to walk circumspectly; but they are not subject to the outbreaks of religious fanaticism which sometimes occur farther south, in the more bigoted atmosphere of Isfahan and Shiraz, and of which I shall require to speak when writing about those cities. There is also a large colony of Armenians (1,000) in Teheran, with two churches of their own, to which I have before alluded; but the Persian Armenian will also more appropriately come up for discussion when I treat of the settlements in Azerbaijan and at Julfa. There are further said to be several hundred Parsis, or Guebres, in the capital, mostly engaged in correspondence with their mercantile head-quarters at Yezd and Kerman.


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The gardeners of the British Legation were once almost wholly recruited from this class.[312]

But by far the most startling consequence of the new order of things is the increase in the number of Europeans now resident in the capital. As late as 1851 Mr. Binning reported that the only European foreigners were the staffs of the various Legations, a few officers in the army (the majority having left because they could not get their pay), two or three French and Italian shopkeepers, and an Englishman employed by the Shah to translate the foreign journals to him and to edit his own pet newspaper. In 1865 Mr. Mounsey found this total swollen to fifty. But at the time of my visit, in the autumn and winter of 1889, it was estimated to have risen to nearly 500 persons. The increase is not in the official element. They — i.e. the diplomats, the officers of the Telegraph Department, a few Austrian and Russian officers in the army, and one or two other employés of the Persian Government — remain at about the same figure. So, it may be said, do the missionaries, the merchants, and the few globe-trotters who may be annually driven by a vagabond fancy to Teheran. It is in the large number of speculators, small traders, would-be concessionaries, wandering chevaliers d'industrie, et hoc genus omne — all the goodly crew, in fact, who live to illustrate the phrase that 'where the carcase is, there will the eagles [surely a mistranslation for vultures!] be gathered together' — it is in these that the main increase has taken place; and in time we may expect the streets of Teheran to present as many models of the sartorial degradation of Europe as do those of Cairo or Constantinople. The elements of this polyglot, but, unfortunately, monochrome, society are necessarily thrown somewhat together; and in their idiosyncrasies, foibles, combinations, rivalries, and projects is to be found an inexhaustible fund of local gossip, as well as almost the sole source of non-political interest.

There is but one Embassy at Teheran — that which is occupied by the representative of the Sultan: a compliment which could hardly fail to be exchanged between the two great Mohammedan Powers. Europe is, however, represented by


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six Legations — those of Great Britain, Russia, France, Germany, Austria, and Italy. A Belgian Minister Resident was also expected at the time of my visit, and a Dutch Chargé-d'Affaires had been appointed by his Government. America sent a Minister Resident for the first time in 1883. Most of these diplomats possess comfortable residences situated in large and well-shaded compounds, similar, though inferior, to that belonging to the British Minister. I could not ascertain that, with the exception of the British and Russian Ministers and the Turkish Ambassador, they have much, if anything at all, to do; and, to the majority of their number I should imagine that the post offers itself either as an honourable exile or as an interesting repose.

Teheran has been much abused as a capital. It has been attacked for having no river — which is true, although of such Persian cities as are better endowed in that respect it must be said that, during four-fifths of the year, the river is seldom more than a streamlet. Lady Sheil went so far as to declare that, as a capital, it had nothing whatever in its favour. I do not agree with these opinions. Looking at the question mainly from a political point of view, I am disposed to think that Teheran is about the best capital that Persia could produce, and that Agha Mohammed Shah showed to the full his statesmanlike foresight in selecting it as his seat of government. The objections to the present site are mainly advanced on sanitary grounds. The water supply is indubitably meagre and costly, an attempt to divert the River Karij to the city having been abandoned,[313] and the entire needs of the population being dependent upon kanats dug from the Elburz. Situated, moreover, in the hollow of the plain, it is said that the infiltration of the surrounding moisture causes malarial fevers, which have already produced an increase in the recorded cases of typhoid. It is further said that the drainage is atrocious, which is probably true of all Persian towns. At Teheran the system adopted has one advantage, which, if not conducive to health, is, at any rate, less obnoxious to the senses than the paraded abomination of other Eastern cities. Each house is


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provided with a shaft, sunk into the ground to a depth of thirty or forty feet, from the bottom of which four lateral shafts run into the soil. When all these are filled, the whole is closed and sealed up. This certainly does not sound very nice: but between Oriental systems of sewerage it would be difficult to discriminate.

On the other hand, the city is situated at all altitude of 3,800 feet above the sea; during the greater part of the autumn, winter, and spring months the climate is delightful; and, when the scorching heats of summer begin to prevail, there is an easy and rapid retreat to the mountain slopes, where life under tents and the trees, though not exhilarating, is endurable. But the grounds upon which I should prefer to rest my defence of the site are political. Here, too, adverse critics have declared that the city lies exposed to Russian attack and invites aggression. I do not agree. Teheran is nearly 500 miles by road from the Russian frontier at Julfa, on the Araxes, whence, as conducting to the north-west capital, Tabriz, an invasion would doubtless begin; and, if Persia did not stop Russia before those 500 miles were passed, she would never stop her anywhere. The sole remaining alternative on the north is the Resht-Kazvin route, crossing the main range of the Elburz, than which an army posted for purposes of defence could not solicit a better position. If, on the other hand, as I have argued in my chapter upon Khorasan, invasion were to come from the north-east quarter, how much better would the Shah be able to meet it from Teheran, than from Isfahan. The choice of a capital must, however, in the main, be determined, not by its exposure, or the reverse to a single possible enemy, but by its central or centralising position, and by its ready command of the routes leading to the most valuable provinces of the kingdom. It is in this respect that Teheran is so admirably placed. Situated but little more than midway between the eastern and western capitals, Meshed and Tabriz, it commands the important provinces of which they are the governing centres. At the same time, it is in close proximity to, and in easy yet defensible communication with, the northern maritime provinces, for which it may hereafter require to strike a blow. Lastly, it stands as a sort of advanced outpost to the elder capitals of Isfahan and Shiraz, upon which, in the event of disaster in the north, it would always be possible to fall back. So far, therefore, from thinking that Persia would be the better or the stronger for a change of capital to a more southerly site, I


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should regard such a movement as the voluntary abandonment of a strategical position of no mean advantage, and as an encouragement to Muscovite cupidity.

Among other semi-European attractions of Teheran at the time of my visit was the possession of a racecourse and an annual race-meeting. It is true that in neither respect were European standards rigorously maintained. For instance there was no turf; but, as a Persian horse seldom, if ever, treads upon turf in the course of a life-time, it would clearly have been superfluous to humour him on this solitary occasion. The gravelly plain outside the city, which is flat enough and big enough to race upon for a whole day without stopping, accordingly answered the purpose very well. Nor was there a 'ring' at Teheran, betting being an imprudent venture when the winner was so uniformly apt to be drawn from the stable of the sovereign. The jockeys were small boys, clad in loose trousers and coloured tunics. The races were of various lengths, the most important being the longest, which completed the circuit of the wall no fewer than six times. Eastwick, who has left the most minute account of the Teheran race-meeting that I know,[314] measured the course, and found it to be two miles minus thirty and a half yards in circumference; so that eleven and three-quarter miles was the length of what I might call the 'Cup course' at Teheran. This distance he saw covered in what seems to me the very respectable time of twenty-six minutes twenty-nine seconds. It must be remembered that in a country where all movement is on horseback, and where very long distances require to be covered by that means, endurance is of greater average value than speed. Nor do the Persians, so far as I know, advance the ludicrous defence of short-distance speed-tests with which we are familiar in countries nearer home — that they are indispensable to improve the breed of the native animal.

In no respect are Teheran and its environs more peculiar, and in no fashion can the nature and circumstance of Eastern royalty be better typified, than in the number of royal palaces and country seats which may almost be said to crowd the suburbs of the capital. It is as though all the present and past royal residences in the neighbourhood of London — Kew, Hampton Court, Chiswick, and Greenwich Hospital, were kept for the sole use of the sovereign, and in his or her absence were allowed to fall


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into unarrested decay. Of these Persian palaces the one that is best known in history is the Negaristan (or Picture-gallery) built by Fath Ali Shah,[315] and the favourite country resort of himself and his colossal seraglio. In those days the Negaristan was more than half a mile outside the walls of the contracted Teheran, whose history and disappearance I have chronicled; but the more ambitious projection of Nasr-ed-Din Shah has brought it well within the limits of the modern city; whilst his mercantile instincts have lately induced him to sell the grounds in plots for building sites. In the early part of the century it was described as a lovely retreat, with umbrageous gardens, interspersed with imarets (Pavilions), kolah Feringhis (octagonal kiosques, so called because their shape was supposed to resemble a Feringhi's, or European's, hat), cascades, and tanks. Sir R. K. Porter, who visited and described it in 1818, went into positive raptures over its beauty. It was a 'Hortus Adonidis,' a 'bower of fairy-land,' 'the very garden of "Beauty and the Beast," ' whilst the palace itself was 'an earthly imitation of the houris' abodes.' And when the susceptible baronet came to the bath-room, his poetical transports could scarcely find words in which to depict the image of the sporting naiads and the uxorious monarch looking on. The place is never occupied by the present Shah, and is now fast falling to ruin. The name was given to it in consequence of the contemporary oil-paintings by which it was, and still is, adorned. Fath Ali Shah never built or occupied a palace anywhere without immortalising himself, and his regiment of sons, and his crown and jewels and throne, and, above all, his wasp-like waist and ambrosial beard, in canvas, upon the walls. There are two such paintings in the Negaristan. One is a somewhat undistinguished picture of the Shah and some of his sons, but the more widely known is an illustration of the monarch surrounded by his sons and chief ministers of State, seated upon the Takht-i-Taous, and receiving in solemn audience the plenipotentiaries of European Powers. The Shah and his sons occupy the end of the apartment, and upon either wall advance to his presence two long lines of life-size figures — fifty in all; those in the place of honour, nearest the sovereign, being the rival representatives of Great Britain and France. An historical anachronism appears to have been perpe-


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trated here, with a view of representing, not so much a single incident, as the events of an entire period. Accordingly, Sir John Malcolm, Sir Harford Jones, Sir Gore Ouseley, and the French General Gardanne, all figure in the pictures, being recognisable both by their uniforms and their features. The Englishmen's dress consists of a three-cornered cocked hat, laced red coat with huge skirts, white breeches, and the then obligatory Persian red stockings pulled up above the knee. These paintings, which possess the very highest historical importance, and which in so dry a climate have been admirably preserved, were the work of Mohammed Hasan Khan, one of the most eminent artists of the period. As works of art, whilst violating all laws of perspective and all requirements of light and shade, they are yet admirable also, and, in their stiff angularity of pose, suggest no unfair idea of what was then the most rigid and ceremonious Court of the East.

In an upper chamber of the same pavilion, Mirza Abul Kasim, the Kaimakam,[316] or Grand Vizier, of Mohammed Shah (the father of the present monarch), was strangled in 1835, by order of his royal master, who therein followed an example set him by his predecessor, and set one himself that was duly followed by his son. It must be rare in history to find three successive sovereigns who have put to death, from jealous motives only, the three ministers who have either raised them to the throne or were at the time of their fall filling the highest office in the State. Such is the triple distinction of Fath Ali, Mohammed, and Nasr-ed-Din Shahs.

An adjoining pavilion was devoted to the anderun, or ladies' quarter; and here the visitor is conducted to a subterranean bath-room, in the centre of which is a circular pool, lined with blue tiles, whilst at the extremity of the chamber is an inclined plane of polished marble,[317] down which it is understood that the shiftless naiads, over whom Sir R. K. Porter waxed poetical, used to slide into the arms of their royal adorer, and were by him pitched into the pool — a feat of no common exertion, con-


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sidering that it is at some distance. I will refrain from reflections about the 'vanished peals of laughter and the songs once warbled by ruby lips,' leaving such flights of the fancy to the late American Minister in Persia, who was well qualified to bear the vacant mantle of Sir R. K. Porter.[318]

Outside the walls the most conspicuous eminences and the most advantageous sites have likewise been monopolised by the palace-building craze of the Kajar dynasty. Of these edifices the most prominent in any view of Teheran is that known as the Kasr-i-Kajar (Castle of the Kajars, irreverently transliterated by the English sergeants who came to Persia in the first quarter of the century to instruct the native army, as 'Castle Cadger'), or Takht-i-Kajar — i.e. Throne of the Kajars. It is situated upon an elevation about two miles to the north of the modern walls. From a distance this building has a most imposing appearance, for it rises from a base of foliage in a number of white tiers, one above the other, culminating in a sort of castle at the top.[319] The Persians entertain the most grotesque notions of its architectural importance, and have been known to assert its superiority to Windsor Castle or Versailles. A nearer approach dissipates the fond but foolish illusion. It is then seen to merit comparison with a European palace, whether of sovereign or of subject, about as appositely as might a harbour bumboat with a man-of-war; the successive tiers consisting only of earthen terraces faced with brick, and once adorned with lakes and fountains, which, like most such things in Persia, have gone to ruin. The palace at the top contains a variety of pictures of scenes and persons dating from the time of Fath Ali Shah, and in one of the pavilions in the grounds is, or was, a portrait of the English 'Beau Brummel' of Persia, Istarji, or Strachey, who accompanied Sir John Malcolm's Mission, and created such an impression as an Adonis that Fath Ali Shah composed an ode in his honour and had his picture painted for most of his palaces here and at Isfahan. In the Kasr-i-Kajar he was framed between the mythic heroes, Zal and Afrasiab — an apotheosis which I am not aware that any other Englishman has ever attained. When the King moved with the


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pick of his harem in the summer months to Sultanieh, the rest of the ladies were left behind in this castle. He is said to have contented himself with the modest total of one hundred upon these occasions, but Persian tradition fixes the number of the disconsolates as seven hundred.

Other palaces, or summer villas, or shooting-boxes of the Shah, on the northern side of the capital, are Sultanetabad, 600 feet above Gulahek on the hill-slope, a building constructed by the present Shah, and adorned with Persian frescoes of European, and particularly of English, scenes, among which may be noticed the Lobby of the House of Commons, the interior of a fine London restaurant, and the nave of a cathedral; showing that His Majesty has most accurately discerned the three leading influences


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in the lives of Englishmen;[320] Eshretabad, a very pretty place, of which I give an illustration, where the main pavilion is occupied by the Shah, and seventeen smaller pavilions, situated round a lake, by the ladies who accompany him (a creditable reduction from the standards of his great grandfather), and where also is to be seen a painting of Fath Ali seated in durbar with the foreign ambassadors before him; Niaveran, or Nioberan; Agdasieh, near Niaveran; Nejefabad; and Suleimanieh, of which I have spoken in Chapter II. These are all in the immediate neighbourhood of Teheran, and the majority of them are situated on the hill-slope known as Shimran,[321] a cultivated belt extending for a length of about twenty miles along the base of the great scarp of the Elburz, that towers like a prodigious natural rampart above the plain of Teheran on the north. Fath Ali Shah set the example of retreat to this cooler, because more elevated, site; and the large number of trees and gardens which have been planted in consequence of its since universal adoption is said to have had a very appreciable effect in lowering the temperature and increasing the rainfall of the capital.

One result of the royal partiality for suburban residences has been the construction or the improvement of the roads that lead thereto from the city. A very passable road, planted for the most part with trees, leads to Gulahek on the north; and another such road, affording the solitary carriage-drive of Teheran, conducts between stiff rows of poplars in a straight line north-east, towards yet another villa, known, from the rocky eminence on which it is placed, as Doshan-Tepe (or the Rabbit Hill). The rock is an ugly excrescence from the plain at the distance of three miles from the city; and the palace is from the outside a yet uglier excrescence upon the rock. It is, however, a favourite hunting-lodge of the Shah's when he goes shooting in the neighbouring mountains, which are kept as a royal preserve. At the foot of the rock is a large and shady garden, where, in a long row of cages or dens, are kept the wild beasts of the Shah's menagerie. The animals themselves struck me as fine specimens, but they were badly housed, and their number was small. The popularity of the place, however, as


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a sort of Iranian Jardin des Plantes, or Zoo, is evidenced by the rent of 500 krans per annum exacted by the crown from the lessee of a small coffee-house at the entrance of the garden. In the neighbourhood of Doshan-Tepe are two other royal shooting-boxes, Kasr Firuz to the south, and Surkheh Hissar to the north. Further to the east is a more considerable hunting-lodge on the banks of the Jajrud.

The Shah, as I have indicated, is not the sole patron of the slopes of Shimran. His sons and the nobility in general have followed the royal example, and there are many tasteful and beautiful residences perched on the hill-sides or hidden in the valleys. Of these, by no means the least agreeable is the summer residence of the British Legation in the village of Gulahek, about six miles from the northern gate of the capital, and said to be 700 feet higher in elevation. The seignorial rights of this village — the lordship of the manor, in fact — were presented by Mohammed Shah to Sir John Campbell in 1835; the grounds and garden, in which stand the Minister's residence, were the gift of the reigning sovereign. Under the terms of these concessions the villagers of Gulahek, which consists of about 100 houses, enjoy quite peculiar privileges, being exempt from the obligations both of conscription and of the billeting of troops. Their assessment is payable to the British Government, and is levied by the Legation. Petty jurisdiction is exercised among them by a village kedkhoda (or headman), who is nominated by the British Minister, and is responsible to the member of the Legation invested with Consular functions. As at Teheran, there are more than one edifice in the enclosure belonging to the Mission; but the main building alone is of any size. This is supplemented by a great Indian durbar-tent, which is pitched outside and serves as a dining and drawing room during the summer months. The surrounding garden is a dense thicket of trees, and, though not comparable with what we style a garden here, is yet far better adapted to the torrid climate, from which its shade in the summer affords an invaluable protection. The recent purchase of a neighbouring garden, with its water-supply (every gallon of the precious fluid having a well ascertained and costly market value), has added to the attractions of a residence without which it would be impossible for the staff of a European Legation to remain at the capital during the hot months. Russia is similarly favoured in the possession of the


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village of Zargandeh, a little to the north-west of Gulahek, for which they claim analogous privileges. The French lease a residence at Tejrish, a mile higher up the mountain, where, in the court of an imamzadeh, is what claims to be the largest chenar in Persia. The Turks own grounds in the same neighbourhood. The Germans were till recently tenants of the English in Gulahek, and now live at Dizashub. The Austrians are leaseholders at Rustamabad.

Before I quit the northern outskirts of Teheran I must pay the tribute of one more parting paragraph to the mighty mountain-sentinel Demavend. The shapely white cone, cutting so keenly and so high into the air, becomes so familiar and cherished a figure in the daily landscape, that on leaving Teheran and losing sight thereof (which, if he be journeying in a southerly direction, he does not do for 160 miles), the traveller is conscious of a very perceptible void. Demavend is a volcano, not, as some have said, wholly extinct, but rather in a state of suspended animation. There is no record of eruption during the historic period, but columns of smoke are sometimes seen to ascend from the fissures, particularly from the Dud-i-Kuh (or Smoky Peak) on the southern side. It is very strange that no mention is made of the mountain by Chardin, whose keen vision overlooked but little; or by Pietro della Valle, who passed almost at its base. Hanway, in 1744, speaks of it as 'the great mountain Demoan on which the Persians say that the Ark rested.' The first to accomplish the ascent — the Persians having always believed and declared, like the Armenians in the case of Ararat, that it was not to be climbed by mortal man — was Mr., afterwards Sir, W. T. Thomson, in 1836. The French naturalist, Aucher Eloy, met Thomson coming down from the top, and himself ascended a few days later. Since that date Demavend has been frequently ascended by members of the various Legations in Teheran, the climb being neither difficult nor dangerous, but intensely fatiguing. For long an irreconcilable divergence between the trigonometrical and other calculations of its height, arrived at by different travellers or men of science, prevailed, the estimates ranging from 14,500 to 21,500 feet. General Schindler, as the result of a combined trigonometrical and barometrical measurement, gives the true altitude as 19,400 feet.[322] From the summit, which


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consists of a crater filled with snow and ice, a horizon of 50,000 square miles is unrolled in clear weather. This is what Mr. Stack, in 1881, had to say of the view: —

The crater is some 200 yards in diameter, girt with a ring of yellow rocks of nearly pure sulphur, exhaling a pestiferous smell. The hollow is entirely filled up with snow. From the rocks Teheran can be seen, and the Kohrud Mountains 160 miles south of it; the Great Kavir can be dimly perceived through its haze of heat to the south-east; while to the north — a faint blue field under the horizon — stretches the Caspian behind the cloudy forests of Mazanderan. On the right hand and on the left were mountains of from 10,000 to 12,000 feet in height; we over-looked them all with their thinly-scattered snows. But what a lifeless prospect! Teheran so many miles away, and all the rest mere desert and crag and desolation, with here and there a village lost on the bare mountain-side.

I now pass to the environs of Teheran on the south, and shall conclude this chapter with some brief notes about the sole localities that there invite attention — viz. the shrine of Shah Abdul Azim, the remains of Rhey, or Rhages, and the ruins of Veramin. A Persian city — much more a Persian capital — is ill off that cannot boast of some noted imamzadeh, or saint's tomb (literally, descendant of an Imam), to serve as an object of pilgrimage and magnet of attraction. Teheran is thus endowed in respect of the mausoleum and sanctuary of Shah Abdul Azim. Reposing beneath a golden-plated dome, whose scintillations I had seen from afar while riding towards the city, the remains of this holy individual are said to attract an annual visitation of 300,000 persons. I find that most writers discreetly veil their ignorance of the identity of the saint by describing him as 'a holy Mussulman, whose shrine is much frequented by the pious Teheranis.' It appears, however, that long before the advent of Islam this had been a sacred spot, as the sepulchre of a lady of great sanctity, in which connection it may be noted that the shrine is still largely patronised by women. Here, after the Mussulman


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conquest, was interred Imamzadeh Hamza, the son of the seventh Imam, Musa el Kazim; and here, flying from the Khalif Mutawakkel, came a holy personage named Abul Kassem Abdul Azim, who lived in concealment at Rhey till his death in about 861. A.D.[323] Subsequently his fame obscured that of his more illustrious pre-


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decessor. Successive sovereigns, particularly those of the reigning dynasty, have extended and beautified the cluster of buildings raised above his grave, the ever-swelling popularity of which has caused a considerable village to spring up around the hallowed site. The mosque is situated in the plain, about six miles to the south-south-east of the capital, just beyond the ruins of Rhey, and at the extremity of the mountain-spur that encloses the Teheran plain on the south-east. A narrow-gauge line of rails — the only railroad in working order in Persia — runs from a station near the southern gate of the city to the shrine, which is also approached by a tolerable cart-road. Of the railway I shall have occasion to speak hereafter. At a short distance from the terminus — for the line goes no farther — we come to the portal of a covered and crowded bazaar, leading down to the main gateway of the mosque. But the warning of a chain stretched across the entrance teaches us that this bazaar is bast, or sanctuary; and, where the Mohammedan criminal of the deepest dye can enter and abide with impunity, the Christian visitor must pass aside. By skirting the bazaar it is possible, however, to arrive at a side court of the mosque, adjoining the main quadrangle with the minarets and the golden dome, and into this no one seemed to object to our entering. To any but a Mussulman visitor there is nothing to be seen except the crowd.

Far more interesting than the sanctuary or the worshippers of the saint are the famous, but fast-disappearing, ruins to which it stands in such close proximity. I shall not here discuss the question whether the remains still visible at Rhey are those of the famous Rhages or not. That they are those of the Arabian Rhey there can be very little doubt, but whether the latter occupied precisely the same site as the Parthian and the Achaemenian Rhages is perhaps more open to question. Sir H. Rawlinson is, I believe, inclined to identify the latter with certain of the ruins in the neighbourhood of Veramin; nor is it out of keeping with the traditions of most Oriental cities of any great size that they should at different epochs of their lifetime have occupied different sites. Leaving the vexed question, however, to the savants, I shall here, in narrating the history of Rhages, or Rhey, assume the identity of the two names.

First comes the mythical period, starting from a legendary foundation by the patriarch Seth, and illumined by other great


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traditional names. This we may dismiss. In the Vendidad, however, occur the names of Ragha and Varena among the stations in the wanderings of the Aryans, which have an undeniable resemblance to Rhages and Veramin. Next comes what may be termed the nebulous period, of which little definite is known, but echoes of which, loud though uncertain, have echoed down the galleries of time. The Rhages of this period was contemporary with Babylon and Nineveh, and was reported to be a great city containing over a million souls. This was the Rages to which the Tobias of the Apocrypha set forth from Nineveh, guided by an angel in disguise, to recover the ten talents deposited with Gabael by his father.[324] This, too, is supposed to have been the Ragan of Judith,[325] where Nabuchodonosor smote Arphaxad in the mountains. It is mentioned in the Behistun inscription as the place where the troops of Darius son of Hystaspes captured the rebel Mede Phraortes. Hither too came Alexander, in pursuit of Darius, on the eleventh day of his march from Ecbatana (Hamadan). The city is said to have been rebuilt by Seleucus Nicator, and in the succeeding century to have been made his capital by Ashk, or Arsaces, the founder of the Parthian empire, about B.C. 250. Finally comes the third, or historical, period, dating from the Arab conquest, when, if we are to believe one tithe of what Arab and Persian histories have related, it was a most phenomenal place. One such chronicler, a native of Rhey himself, fired by a patriotism which exulted in the lordly manipulation of figures, has left on record that the city contained 96 quarters, each with 46 wards, each with 40,000 dwelling-houses and 1,000 mosques, and in each mosque 1,000 lamps of gold and silver, the total population amounting to 8,000,396 persons. By other writers it was termed the First of Cities, the Spouse of the World, the Market of the Universe. Of more certain knowledge are the facts that it was the birthplace and one of the favourite residences of the renowned Harun-er-Rashid; that it was captured by Mahmud of Ghuzni from the Buyah dynasty in A.D. 1027; that it became one of the two great cities of the Seljuk sovereigns, the residence and the sepulchre of Togrul


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Beg, and one of the capitals of Alp Arslan, the Great Lion.[326] In the tenth century El Istakhri had declared it to be the most flourishing city in the East after Baghdad, and had eulogised the hospitality and politeness of its people;[327] but in his discriminating praise we may find a sufficient corrective of the arrogant boastings to which I have previously referred. Now fell the twofold catastrophe which, throughout the East, wherever of population, of pride, or of opulence great examples were to be found, is associated with the names of Jenghiz Khan and Timur. The troops of the former took the city by storm in A.D. 1221, on which awful day, says a local historian, '700,000 respectable persons' were slain. In the next century the Great Tartar completed the work of destruction; and Don Ruy di Clavijo, passing in 1404, found it 'a great city, all in ruins; but there appeared towers and mosques; and the name of the place was Xaharihrey (i.e. Shahr-i-Rhey).[328] The town, however, revived sufficiently to become one of the seats of government of Timur's younger son Shah Rukh; and here his grandson, the nerveless Khalil Sultan, who bartered an empire for the love of the fascinating Shad-el-Mulk (Delight of the Kingdom), lived a fitful career of romance, and died. From the death of Shah Rukh the final decline of Rhey may be traced; and succeeding centuries have witnessed the steady decay and obliteration of its remains, until they have reached the sorrowful condition in which they may now be observed.

The fullest and most accurate account of the existing ruins of Rhey is to be found in the pages of Ker Porter,[329] accompanied by a careful plan. Some of the walls and towers traced by him cannot now be so clearly defined, the lapse of time, the advent of the railway, and the unexhausted inclination of the Teheranis, when they are in want of bricks to build a house, to get them from Rhey for nothing, having combined to still further reduce the great heaps of débris which mark the site. Porter traced the remains of a strong citadel on a projecting rocky ridge above the


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plain. This was, no doubt, the arx, or acropolis, and its outline can still be satisfactorily determined. Below this was a lower fortified enceinte, or citadel; and encircling this, upon the plain, was a vast space surrounded by fortified walls, with its entrances masked by three great square towers, the whole forming a triangle with the arx as its apex. Such, briefly stated, appears to have been the form of the fortified part of ancient Rhey. At present the line of walls has resolved itself into prodigious mounds of broken brick and clay, from which coins have, constantly been recovered, and to which visitors to Teheran are in the habit of going out with a spade or shovel for an afternoon's private excavation. They seldom return without some fragment of exquisite tile-work, still gleaming with that flame-like iridescence which is a perished secret of the past, but which is indescribably beautiful even upon the minute chips and splinters that are, as a rule, the sole reward of the spade. I am not aware that any scientific or systematic excavation has ever taken place in the mounds of Rhey, and it is one of the tasks which I should consequently recommend to the labours of archaeologists.

There are, however, other and more substantial relics of the ancient city. The most conspicuous of these is a great circular tower, locally known as the Nakkara-Khaneh (or Drum tower) of Yezid, which too ardent writers, with no apparent justification, have identified with the sepulchre of Togrul Beg, and with the mausoleum of the lovers Khalil Sultan and Shad-el-Mulk. It is a great fabric, built of brick, entirely hollow inside, and roofless, from sixty to seventy feet in height and one hundred and twenty feet in exterior circumference, the outer surface being broken into a series of projecting angles, similar to the towers which I have previously noticed at Jorjan and Bostam. Around the summit is, or, rather, was, a cornice decorated with a Kufic inscription. This structure has unfortunately been subjected in the last few years to a restoration so complete that it now presents the appearance of a brand-new fabric. The surrounding ground has been converted into a garden, with tanks and trees, and a stairway, constructed in the wall, leads to the summit. From this point some idea may be gained of the outline of the ancient city. At a little distance to the east, and at the foot of the mountain, stands a second ruined tower with Kufic cincture, of which, as it has not been restored, I present a photograph. Above this are the remains of a stone citadel, on the rock.


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One relic there used to be at Rhey of the famous period of the Sassanian kings. This was a semi-obliterated bas-relief of a figure mounted on horseback and armed with a spear, which was sculped on a smoothed surface of rock, above what I have called the arx. The globe-crowned headdress and the style left no doubt as to the period of the sculpture, though insufficient to warrant an identification with any individual among the monarchs,


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whose likenesses at Naksh-i-Rustam and Shapur I shall describe later on. In the latter part of Fath Ali Shah's reign, however, this bas-relief, in the true spirit of Persian restoration, was effaced to make way for a sculpture representing the long-bearded monarch spearing a lion; and no one now seems to be aware of the history of this wanton palimpsest.[330] At some distance lower down, another smoothed surface of rock, rising above a pretty pool known as the Chashmeh-i-Ali (or Fountain of Ali), exhibits Fath Ali Shah seated in high relief, with his Court — a nineteenth-century imitation of the Sassanian model, which has also been copied by Nasr-ed-Din Shah on the road through the Elburz into Mazanderan, and of which it is difficult to say whether it is more pompous or absurd. An adjoining panel exhibits the same sovereign under a parasol, holding a falcon upon his wrist. This is the sum total of what is to be seen at Rhey. In a desolate valley of the mountain-range at whose feet it lies is situated, at a considerable elevation, the circular 'Tower of Silence,' or place of exposure of the Parsis of Teheran. Like its well-known namesakes at Bombay, it consists of a hollow tower, in which the bodies of the dead are exposed upon ledges, to be devoured by birds of prey; but, unlike the structures of Bombay, its interior can be seen by climbing to a higher point of the mountain.

Between thirty and forty miles in a south-easterly direction from Teheran are the remains of yet another dead capital, Veramin. The present town is dominated by the walls of a great mud fort, flanked with bastions and sloping inwards from the base. It was this great structure (of which there is an excellent likeness in Mme. Dieulafoy's book) which I had seen upon the summit of its mound while riding towards Teheran across the northern skirts of the plain of Veramin, and which the fickle light had transformed into huge detached pillars of mud. The village also contains the ruins of what was once a most noble mosque, attributed to Sultan Abu Said, the son of Sultan Mohammed Khodabundeh (i.e. Slave of God), whose tomb I have mentioned at Sultanieh. Scattered about the plain are other great kalehs, or similar earthen fortresses, with towering walls of unbaked bricks


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fused into a mass as solid as cement and as imperishable as stone. Among these Eastwick characterises as the most remarkable a great artificial mound at Asiabad, 200 feet high, 350 feet long, and 300 feet broad, on whose summit are the remains of what is said to be an old fire-temple, built with unbaked bricks with alternate layers of stone, and rising to a maximum height of nearly forty feet. A third kaleh, known as Kaleh-i-Iraj (Rhages?), near the village of Jafirabad, encloses with a thick mud wall, fifty feet high, a space, according to Eastwick, of 1,800 yards by 1,500, or nearly a square mile.[331] The date and era of these prodigious structures are unknown and disputed; there is no hazard in referring them to a remote antiquity; but, whatever their age, they recall a past when Persia was more powerful and more populous, even if less pacific or secure, than now; and their silent witness accentuates the pathos of the country's ruin.


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Chapter 12

THE NORTHERN PROVINCES

For the King of the North shall return, and shall set forth a multitude greater than the former, and shall certainly come after certain years with a great army and with much riches.' — Daniel xi. 13.

IN Chapter II. I have disembarked the newcomer to Persia at Resht, or rather at Enzeli, in the south-west corner of the Caspian, and have conducted him from thence to the capital; in Chapter VIII. I have begged his company as I ranged over the whole of Khorasan from the Herat border in the east, to Astrabad in the west; in the last chapter I have shown him the plain of Teheran, bounded on the north by the stupendous barrier of the Elburz Mountains. But on the far side of those mountains, where their northern skirts descend in wooded flounces to the Caspian, and between Resht and Astrabad, extends a range of country, marked by so strange an individuality, and so unlike anything else that is to be seen in any other part of Persia, that a work professing to treat of that country as a whole would err seriously in omitting any notice of it. Readers who have followed me so far will have pictured, and have justly pictured Persia, at least in the winter months, as for the most part a colourless, waterless, and treeless expanse, where wide deserts, with whose monotony the eye aches, roll their sandy levels to the base of bleak mountains, whose gaunt ribs protrude like the bones of some emaciated skeleton through a scanty covering of soil. And yet within a few miles at the most of this cheerless scene, severed by a single but mighty mountain range, lies another Persia, so rich in water that malarial vapours are bred from the stagnant swamps, so abundantly clothed with trees of the forest, that often a pathway can scarcely be forced through the intricate jungle, so riotous in colour that the traveller can almost awake with the belief that he has been transported in sleep to some tropical clime. These extraordinary characteristics, and this amazing change, are exhibited by the northern maritime provinces of Mazanderan and Gilan. Mazanderan signifies Maz


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(a Pehlevi, or old Persian word for mountains) and anderun (within, the inner part, whence its application to the women's quarters in a house), i.e. the hollow between the mountains and the sea. Gilan has been commonly said to be derived from a word signifying mud; and this would certainly be appropriate to a region in which that is the chief tangible commodity, and which an experienced and sympathetic traveller has summed up as 'moist, muggy, villainous Gilan.' But this derivation is disputed by some professors, though I am not aware that they have found anything to suggest in its place. The name is, no doubt, adapted from the Gelae, who inhabited the south shores of the Caspian, and who bequeathed a title both to the sea, the country, and the principal local manufacture.[332] The characteristics of these two provinces are so similar, if not identical, a slight difference of latitude being the only serious disparity to which they can lay claim, that I propose to treat them in conjunction. Mazanderan starts in the neighbourhood of Astrabad on the east, and runs for a distance of 220 miles along the coast to an unimportant river, which is the boundary of Gilan. From this point Gilan continues round the south-west curve of the Caspian for a further distance of 150 miles, terminating in the mountain district of Talish. It is this transmontane maritime belt, 370 miles in length and with a breadth varying from twenty to sixty miles, with which I am called upon to deal.[333]


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When discussing the political and strategical aspects of the Astrabad-Shahrud position in Chapter VIII., I undertook to say something more upon a future occasion of the former city and of the province of which it is the capital. Politically, Astrabad looks in the main towards Khorasan and the East. Physically, it must be classified with the Caspian provinces, to which in climate, vegetation, and character of inhabitants, it bears the closest resemblance. Furthermore, any visitor to Mazanderan is so likely either to start from Astrabad, if he be coming from the East, or to end his journey there if he have started from Teheran, that some mention of its features seems to be appropriate in this connection.

Astrabad city[334] (i.e. the town of either astra star, or aster mule), sometimes called by the Persians Dar-el-Muminin or Gate of the Faithful, from the number of Seyids living there, is said by Fraser, who is incomparably the best authority upon the Northern provinces, to have been founded by Yezid ibn Meklub, or Muhallab, an Arab chief of great celebrity, and general of the armies of the Omeyah Khalif Suleiman about 720 A.D.[335] Its subsequent history is somewhat obscure. Of course it was levelled in the universal cyclone of Timuride destruction in 1384 A.D. In later history it became famous as the headquarters of the Kajar


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Tribe, one branch of whom was settled here, and at the fort of Ak Kaleh on the Gurgan; and one of whose chieftains raised the standard of revolt against Nadir Shah and seized the town in January 1744, while Hanway happened to be residing there, innocently bent upon the quixotic task of conducting a large trading caravan to Meshed, and attracting to the English net the commerce of Central Asia. Nadir Shah took summary vengeance upon the rebels, and ordered the Kajar stronghold of Kaleh Khundan in the city to be razed to the ground. The subsequent rise and ascendency of the Kajar tribe brought Astrabad into a prominence that it had not before enjoyed; but in this century the members of that tribe have been dispersed in positions of mark throughout the country; whilst Astrabad has acquired another and more sinister importance as the armed outpost against Turkoman attack. Of this desultory guerilla warfare I have before spoken. Its significance has usually been thought sufficient to justify a Royal Governor at Astrabad, and the province has suffered in proportion.

The town is at once one of the most picturesque and ragged in Persia. The circuit of its mud walls, flanked with round towers and defended by what was once a deep ditch, is about 3½ miles; through which four gates admit to the interior. But walls, towers, and ditch are in a state of like decay; the forest has encroached almost to the outskirts of the city, and a jungle of brambles and briars, the favourite haunt of the wild boar, fills the moat and assails the ramparts. Nor does the city occupy the whole of the interior space; for here, too, are deserted and overgrown patches more frequented by wild animals than by man. Nevertheless, the town is most picturesquely situated; the wooded slopes of the Elburz descending almost to its gates; and the outlook from its walls extending over a thick forest for twenty miles to where, on the west, the Caspian glitters on the horizon; and on the other, or north-eastern side to the Gurgan or Wolf River,[336] and the sandy flats of the Turkomans desert. More picturesque, however, than its own surroundings is the town itself. Its thatched or red-tiled houses, with roof of high pitch and wide projecting eaves, the tiles being laid on reeds supported on rafters,


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present a spectacle in singular contrast to the cubical parallelograms of mud with which Persian urban architecture has hitherto familiarised us. At Astrabad, too, the walls are often of stone or burnt brick, mud being unable to resist the abnormal dampness of the climate. Many of the houses in the neighbourhood are built on platforms raised by poles to a height of from two to three feet from the ground, in order to escape the excessive moisture; and many have pleasant verandahs beneath the eaves.

The streets are stone paved, a still surviving relic of the days of the Great Abbas; and the famous causeway or Sang farsh (lit. stone carpet), built by him to facilitate communication through these northern provinces to which he was so much attached, emerges from the western gate. From here it ran right through the forest, passing the various palaces and cities which he created or enlarged in this locality, to a place named Kiskar in the western part of Gilan. It was composed of big roughly hewn blocks of stone, sometimes nearly a foot square, and dwindled from a width of fifteen feet at Astrabad to from eight to ten feet as it penetrated further into the jungle.[337] None the less it was once a magnificent work, and worthy of the monarch who ordered its construction. It has now in parts entirely disappeared; elsewhere the stones have been broken up, dislodged, or tossed hither and thither, and the road is a perilous succession of pitfalls and quagmires. On the other, or south-eastern, side of Astrabad it reappeared and conducted to the foot of the pass leading to Shahrud and Bostam. From the summit of this pass began what may be described as its second section, which ran in an easterly direction, viâ Jajarm to a point near Chinaran, about fifty miles from Meshed. In no part of this extended length has it ever been repaired; and, where it still exists, the roadway gapes with a three hundred years' ruin.

Astrabad is said to contain a population of 8,000 persons, and the surrounding villages 23,000. The Governor's palace is in the Ark or citadel, a considerable but ruined structure in the south-east angle, built by Agha Mohammed Shah in 1791. The remaining public buildings are of no importance. There is the proper allowance of one reputable shrine, viz., the sepulchre of Abdullah, a brother of the Imam


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Reza, who appears to have graciously distributed his relations in the places which he could not patronise himself. This is situated outside the walls on the north, a little to the west of the Ak Kaleh gate. Six madressehs, or colleges, communicate a stinted and obsolete education to such pupils as take advantage thereof; but the vakf or religious endowments, in which the place is rich, sustain a dissolute crowd of mullahs and seyids, who appear to be a curse to any spot which they afflict with their sanctity.

Soap boiling and the manufacture of gunpowder are the chief local industries. The former is conducted in a very rude and clumsy fashion, the potash employed being extracted from a plant that grows on the banks of the Atrek; nor is the article, when manufactured, of a character or quality that has ever warranted exportation. Gunpowder is made of sulphur brought from Baku, nitre from Meshed, and willow charcoal locally procured. A certain amount of felt carpets are also made, compounded of a mixture of camel's hair, goat's hair, and sheep's wool, beaten together into a solid mass.

The abatement of Turkoman ravages has resulted in the bringing under cultivation of a much larger area than heretofore in the province of Astrabad. The soil is so extraordinarily productive that emigrants from a great distance, even from Afghanistan, come and settle here. The climate is gentle; fuel is abundant; there is no lack of water; and the land has merely to be scratched in order to produce a manifold return. Wheat, barley, and rice are the chief crops; and the rent of land under grain cultivation is only about 8s. an acre. Partition of property in equal moieties between the male and female members of the family is here the law of landed inheritance; and accordingly, the several properties, not large at the commencement, have shrunk into narrow plots, some fields of six acres having not less than nine partner landlords. 'This state of things,' as Colonel Lovett said in his Consular Report, 'tends not only to impoverish the country, but is a fruitful source of the indolence and apathy that characterise the inhabitants of this province, and also accounts for the rarity of handicraftsmen.' Many of the villages encountered in the forest or in the open clearings are curious places, surrounded by impenetrable bramble hedges; and the homesteads of the peasants, 'constructed of split poles, wattle, and mud dabbing,' thatched or tiled, and elevated above the ground, suggest


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reminiscences of countries very far removed from Persia. Rice is the staple of every-day consumption, and an adult male is said to consume ten ounces at breakfast, twenty-two ounces at lunch, and twenty-two ounces at supper; which, on the whole, is not a bad performance.

From the Astrabad province and city, which have merited a somewhat minute particularisation, I turn to the adjoining provinces of Mazanderan and Gilan. And here I shall first give an account of those natural features and products which they share in common, before turning to individual cities or sites. I have already pointed out that these provinces consist of a strip of country rising from the shores of the Caspian, itself eighty-five feet below the sea level, to the summits of the Elburz, possessing a mean elevation of 12,000 to 13,000 feet. It may readily, therefore, be conjectured that a region, however narrow, that embraces so many zones of climatic influence, will not admit of a single classification. It should rather be divided into four belts or sections, which may be thus distinguished and described.

First comes the maritime edge of these provinces, where they are lapped by the waves of the Caspian. And here we are at once confronted with a phenomenon of remarkable but uniform occurrence, allusion to which has been made in an earlier chapter. The wash of the surf and the violence of the prevalent north and north-western winds on the Caspian have combined to pile up along this stretch of shore a long chain of sandhills, sometimes from twenty to thirty feet in height, and from 200 yards to a quarter of a mile in width. On the inner side of these sandhills the rivers descending from the mountains, surcharged with alluvial deposit, have, in their inability to force a way to the sea, outspread themselves in low morasses and lagoons, where the waters chafe idly to and fro, or lie stagnant, a nursery of humid and poisonous exhalations. In cases where the current has with difficulty cleared a way for itself to the sea, the incoming resistance of the surf creates an outer bar, which renders the lake useless for purposes of navigation. These murdabs, or dead waters, succeed each other along this entire fringe of coast, the most notable examples being the lagoons of Enzeli at the western, and of Astrabad at the eastern extremity, between which occur the cognate murdabs of Lengarud and Meshed-i-Ser. The inner banks of these


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backwaters are overgrown with a dense jungle of alders, ashes, planes, poplars, willows, and such timber as loves a saturated soil. Through this jungle the rivers and streams come down from the mountains, furrowing a bed that is alternately a swamp, a torrent, or a quicksand, and in the rainy season spreading themselves out into sluggish morasses. Pestilential vapours rise from the rotting vegetable matter; every manner of reptile infests the swamps, and a cloud of mosquitoes and insects spins in the air.

From the very brink of these maritime lagoons the jungle stretches inland to the mountain base, which is sometimes at a distance only of two miles, at others of twenty. Through the dense undergrowth the stranger picks his way with the aid of a guide, by intricate pathways known to the villagers only. And yet in the heart of this malarial forest clusters of cottages are hidden away beneath the trees; and every now and then occur considerable clearings devoted to the cultivation of sugar, cotton, or rice. No European could live for long in these damp low levels, where there is no elasticity in the air, and an ever-present sense of suffocation; but their native population is sedentary, and though liable to rheumatism, ague, dropsy, ophthalmia, and other eye diseases, does not appear to be hereditarily stunted or weak. What the acclimatised Mazanderani or Gilani, however, can stand, is perilous even to other Persians. There used to be a proverb which, parodying a well-known Italian saying, might be translated: Vedi Gilan e mori; and over two hundred years ago we find Tavernier and Chardin recording that 'The air is so unwholsom that the People cry of him that is sent to Command here, Has he robb'd, stolen, or murder'd, that the King sends him to Guilan?' Fraser, after penetrating for a second time, in 1834, from end to end of this maritime belt, could pass no more lenient verdict upon it than this: —

Bengal in the rains, Demerara in the wet season, Bombay in the monsoon — these were the recollections that suggested themselves to my mind; and yet I think Mazanderan far more unpleasant than either.[338]

From the marshes and jungles of the plain, however, we pass to a region of surpassing beauty and splendour. The skirts of the Elburz descend in great wooded slopes and buttresses towards the sea; and between their spurs lie the most romantic glens and ravines. It is difficult to count, much less to classify, the


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immense variety of forest timber that clothes these spurs and valleys with its shaggy mantle. The trees are mostly deciduous; and there have been reported by different travellers, the oak, elm, plane, maple, ash, lime, box, walnut, beech, juniper, yew. Wild vines wreathe the tree-stems and clamber among the branches. Wild hops, wild figs, plums, pears, and apples abound. Wild strawberries are met with everywhere; and while honeysuckle, wild briar, and roses deck the undergrowth, in which are seen laurels, hawthorn, and box, the forest floor is carpeted in spring time with primroses, violets, and other sylvan flowers. It will be observed that this flora is in no sense tropical, but is such as might be encountered in any southerly temperate zone. The comparison, therefore, with the East or West Indies, which is naturally suggested by the climate, is in reality a faulty one. The vegetation is rather that of Southern Europe, to which special atmospheric conditions, presently to be explained, have superadded a humidity rarely met with out of the tropics. Wild animals abound in this region, just as they do in the low-lying jungle and on the greater altitudes. Tigers of great size are common, play havoc with the cattle, though they rarely attack a human being. Leopards, wolves, bears, wild boar, jackals, lynxes, different varieties of deer, wild sheep and wild goats, are among the larger game, and in the Turkoman desert wild donkeys and gazelles; pheasants and woodcock among the smaller; whilst in the morasses on the lagoons, as I have previously indicated in speaking of Resht, are to be found swarms of wild fowl, duck, and snipe.

It is in this third belt, and principally on its lower slopes, that occur the towns and largest centres of population. Hidden, one may literally say buried, amid the trees, they are entered by the traveller almost before he is aware that he has left the forest. It is difficult for him to say whether he is in a village or in a great town, so overtopped and submerged is everything with the foliage, not merely of natural plantation, but of orchards and gardens rich in every variety of fruit. I have already mentioned the wild fruits that grow unasked in the wooded depths. In cultivated ground may be produced oranges, lemons, citrons, pomegranates, peaches, melons, medlars, quinces, and olives. In fact, it would be difficult in temperate regions to name a tract more favoured by Nature for purposes of production. It is in country of this character that the silkworm was cultivated, and


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the silk spun, that first brought Persia within the range of European commerce, and that made Gilan the most famous to foreigners among Persian provinces. Well might Sir Anthony Sherley, the adventurous English knight-errant who entered the service of Shah Abbas in 1600, write of it as follows: —

Gheylan is a country cut off from Persia with great mountaynes hard to passe, full of woods (which Persia wanteth, being here and there onely sprinkled with hils, and very penurious of fuell, onely their gardens give them wood to burne, and those hils, where are some faggots of Pistachios, of which they are well replenished); betweene those hils there are certaine breaches rather than valleyes, which, in the spring when the snow dissolveth, and the great abundance of raine falleth, are full of torrents. The Caspian Sea includeth this countrey on the east, betweene which and the hils is a continuing valley, so abounding in silke, in rice, and in corne, and so infinitely peopled that Nature seemeth to contend with the people's industry, the one in sowing of men, the other in cultivating the land; in which you shall see no piece of ground which is not fitted to one use or other; these hils also are so fruitfull of herbage, shadowed by the trees, as they show, turned towards the sea, that they are ever full of cattell, which and yieldeth commoditie to the countrey by furnishing divers other parts.[339]

Finally, above the wooded zone, rise the naked heights of the mountains, covered with a scanty pasture, frequently veiled in mist, and with snow-streaks rarely absent, from their summits. Thus from the steaming vapour bath by the sea's edge to and the eternal frost and ice of Demavend, every gradation of climate and atmosphere may be encountered, alternately enervating the system and filling it with brisk vitality. In the upper ranges, tremendous kotals or rock-passes are met with, as stiff and neck breaking as any in Persia. In the open places of the forest zone and on the slopes of the mountains above are the yeilaks, or summer quarters, to which all the richer folk retire from the plains and low lands in the heat, and to which the nomad villagers who are dependent upon herds and flocks, drive their cattle for summer pasture.

A very large proportion of the population is, therefore, migratory in character; and with them are mingled other wandering tribes, who have become village-settlers, but whom the summer heats tempt to wander again; whilst in Gilan. bands of gipsies are not rare. Of the two provinces, Gilan is said to be the damper, and its people less vigorous and brave; but I cannot


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convince myself that there is any genuine distinction between the two. Fraser, the most competent authority to follow, said that he had expected to find the inhabitants wretched, puny, and diseased; but that, on the contrary, they were stout, well-formed, and handsome, the children being particularly beautiful. Of the two, he reported the Mazanderanis as the darker and swarthier. Holmes said that the sedentary population near the sea were sallow and sickly; and I am sure it would be surprising if they were anything else. The Mazanderanis have been commonly denounced as the Beotians of Persia, and the taunt of Mazanderani yabus, or packhorses (for which, too, the province is famous), has been levelled at their heads. Here too, however, Fraser comes to their rescue, reporting them as quiet and inoffensive, but brave and good soldiers, at least in their own climate, outside of which they are now never employed. The population of the two provinces suffered terribly from the plague of 1830-31, in which it was estimated that two-thirds were swept away. Epidemics of small-pox and other diseases have ravaged the district since, and it is only latterly that it has begun again to hold up its head. The totals for each of the two provinces are variously estimated at from 150,000 to 250,000; but I doubt if the data for correct enumeration have ever been collected. The natives are said to be descended from the ancient Medes, and speak a dialect of Persian, which differs slightly in the two provinces, and a third form of which, with more Pehlevi words than in either of the others, is spoken in the highlands of Talish.[340]

Like their surroundings, and like themselves, the costume of the peasantry in Gilan and Mazanderan differs from that which is worn in the cities and plains of the interior. Their shulwars, or pyjamas, are frequently made of a woollen stuff called chakah, which is better adapted than cotton to resist the thorns. On their legs they wear bands of webbing rolled round and round, called pai tava, or tua, the counterpart, and perhaps the eponymous forerunner of the Kashmir putti. Their sandals, or charuks, are made of raw hide fastened over the instep and ankle by a thong. On the head they wear, not the felt egg-shell of the Persian peasant, but a shako of sheepskin. Their costume, in fact, is not unlike that worn by the Kurds in the mountain-border


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of East Khorasan. The entire outfit is said to cost from sixteen to eighteen shillings. The men are frequently equipped with bill-hooks to clear a way through the jungle.

To anyone who has been, as I have, in other parts of the Caspian, or who knows of the temperature that there prevails in the winter months, the contrasts between the northern and central and the southern shores, as I have here depicted them, in climate, in flora, and in fauna, is so great as to be almost amazing, and far greater than can be accounted for by the mere difference of latitude. Khanikoff well expressed the phenomenon thus exhibited in the following terms, which I have translated: —

If we compare the arid and sorrowful uniformity of the saline plains on the north shore of the Caspian with the luxuriant and almost tropical vegetation on its southern coast, we are struck with the contrast presented by the development of organic nature upon the two borders of the same inland sea. In the north the donkey can scarcely withstand the rigour of the climate; in the south the tiger of Bengal is a common animal. Near Astrakhan it is all that the grape can do to ripen; in the Gulf of Astrabad, on the semi-island of Potemkin, the palm-tree grows wild, and sugar-cane and cotton are cultivated with success. Finally, every year the northern parts of the sea are fast bound in ice; whilst, before they have had time to melt, everything is in full bloom on the coasts of Gilan and Mazanderan.[341]

The explanation of this seemingly strange phenomenon is, no doubt, that the vapour-charged clouds arising from the Caspian, and drifting southwards under the effect of the prevalent winds, impinge against the crests and slopes of the Elburz, and descend in mist and rain on to the lowlands sloping below. Khanikoff thinks that the dissolvent process is furthered by currents of hot air flowing in a north-westerly direction from the Great Central Desert, and that, when these meet the northern blasts, they melt in soft rain. Certainly the rainfall in the Caspian provinces is as ten to one compared with that in other parts of Persia; and rain is liable to fall, not at certain seasons of the year only, but almost at any time.

The staple produce of Mazanderan is rice, cotton, and sugar. The staple produce of Gilan once was silk. As Richard Chenie, one of the factors of the British Moscovy Company, wrote home in 1563, 'The King of Gillan, where as yet you have had no traffique, liveth al by marchandise.' Since it


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was this silk traffic that brought Persia into mercantile contact with Europe, that prompted the interchange of embassies and the framing of treaties in the sixteenth and later centuries, and that made Persia wealthy and famous; and since, moreover, it is only recently that it may be said to have permanently declined, I shall take advantage of this opportunity to give a short résumé of this interesting page of Persian history, only treating of the subject in so far as relates to Gilan and Mazanderan, and reserving for a later chapter on the Commerce of Persia, its international application in bygone ages.

The romantic story of the introduction of the silkworm from China into Europe in the reign of the Emperor Justinian, about 550 A.D., is one of the favourite anecdotes of history. The first mention of its cultivation in the northern provinces of Persia that I have come across, is in the pages of the tenth century pilgrim, El Istakhri, who travelled from Rhey to Sari, the capital of Mazanderan, and spoke of the silk which was produced in great quantity in the province called Taberistan, the ancient name for the Elburz region in these parts. Three centuries later we learn from Marco Polo that the merchants of Genoa, then at the height of its commercial renown, had recently brought the Caspian within the far-reaching sphere of their trade, and had begun to export 'the silk which is called Ghelle.' In the middle of the sixteenth century the Moscovy Company, through its agents, Anthony Jenkinson and others, made that courageous attempt to open up a British Caspian trade, through Russia, whose dramatic annals I shall afterwards relate. It was the silk of Gilan in quest of which they came. In the succeeding century the main channel of export of this product was in Dutch hands from the Persian Gulf. Early in the eighteenth century, Peter the Great, who fully understood the part that commerce can be made to play in schemes of imperial aggrandisement in the East, endeavoured to divert the entire northern export into Russia, by an arrangement with the Armenian traders of Baku. After a while this conspiracy broke down and the Russians attempted the business themselves. In 1725 Peter was about to enter into an engagement with a company of English merchants, being willing even to invoke foreign aid in order to gain his end, when he sickened and died. Then ensued the second brief, but gallant, experiment on the part of a small band of English merchants, headed by Elton


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and Hanway, the history of which will also come under notice in my second volume. Since then, no direct endeavour has been made forcibly to divert the traffic into this or that channel, although the conquests of Russia in the early part of the present century have rendered it inevitable that the greater part of the exports of northern Persia should pass through her hands.

Sooner than weary my readers with a long-drawn and statistical narrative of the state of the Silk trade of Persia, and of northern Persia in particular, during the last 250 years, I have preferred