Glimpses of Life and Manners in Persia:
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A night alarm – The new Vezeer – The old Vezeer – His wife – Manner of his execution – Return and marriage of his widow – Armenian wedding – The Elchees from Arabia, Khiva, and Afghanistan – Refugee Afghan Khans – Excursion to Demawend – The "Sublime Well" – Defile and Eelyats – Town of Ask – Hot springs – Mountain chiefs – Ill-advised change of residence – Lareejanee women – Lareejanee lady governor – Persian breakfast – Jonas Hanway's account of Mazenderan – Return to the "Sublime Well."
November, 1851. – We were alarmed late one night, not long ago, by my husband being aroused to receive a letter which one of his Persian friends had written to him. As I was never perfectly exempt from disquiet in Persia, my first impression was that either the Shah had been murdered, or that the Russian Mission was about to be attacked, perhaps our own. The letter was not free from alarming contents. It contained an announcement that the Shah had ordered the attendance of 400 of his Gholams, or personal guards, and that all the courtiers had been summoned to the palace at that unusual hour. What could have happened? What was impending? Had a conspiracy been discovered just on the point of explosion? In an hour another letter arrived: all this preparation was directed against one man. The Shah had seized Meerza Tekkee Khan, his Prime Minister and brother-in-law. His Majesty was a very young man, only one-and-twenty, and such was the ascendency acquired by intellectual vigour, that he did not venture on the displacement
of his minister without anxiety and precaution. And yet this minister, I hear, governed well. He had faced and resisted, sometimes perhaps injudiciously, the two lions, between which, as a former Persian Vezeer had said, that meek lamb, Persia, was placed; he had improved and increased the army, the finances were thriving, and economy was the order of the day, to the great increase of his own personal enemies. But he made the usual mistake of degrading the Shah into a cipher. He even spoke of him with contempt, often styling him Een Pisereh, this young fellow. This could not last beyond a certain time, though the catastrophe happened sooner than was anticipated.
The intrigues to gain the vacant prize immediately began. Who was to win – was it to be a member of the English or the Russian party or faction? The Shah, notwithstanding his inexperience, made a most wise selection. He fixed on a man of great talent, fully conversant with the affairs of government, and, it may be added, with the intrigues of Persian court life. But there was one difficulty. His Majesty had formerly spontaneously placed Meerza Agha Khan, whose title was, the Ittimad ood Dowleh, the Trusted of the State, under English protection; and he felt that if the future Vezeer were to preserve this safeguard, the minister would ere long become the real monarch. His Majesty adopted a Persian and summary method of settling the affair. He shut up the Khan in the royal palace for three days, and told him to take his choice between being Grand Vezeer to the Shahinshah, the King of Kings, or a hanger-on of the English Minister. The Khan was, or pretended to be, in a
dilemma. He sent a message to the Mission asking for advice. The answer was, that English protection was preferable to the Crown of the Kyanees itself, but that as the Khan was clearly determined to be Vezeer, he had better decide at once. The Shah's choice has been well justified. The Sedr Azem has ceased to be English without becoming Russian, and is perhaps as fully a Persian as a Persian can be. He governs with prudence and popularity, never forgetting that the Shah is supreme. The present war has been a trial of his inclinations and his wisdom. Notwithstanding a variety of inducements, religious and political, to avenge on Turkey many wrongs and insults, he appears to have maintained the difficult part of neutrality with impartiality and success.
The fallen Vezeer, Meerza Tekkee Khan, the poor Ameer, met his downfall with resignation and composure, though with sadness, for he knew the fate of a Persian minister whose overthrow is followed by imprisonment. He made a false move, and forfeited his life. The Persian government had placed him of their own free will under the protection of Colonel S—, or rather of the British Government, and arrangements were made for his maintenance in honour and luxury in a neighbouring city, and of course in safety. Misled by promises from other sources, the Ameer cast off his English protection at the very last hour, and refused to depart at the time and to the place arranged. The sources relied on failed him at his need, and abandoned him in a position worse than before.
It was now resolved to send him to Cashan, there to be imprisoned. His wife, the Shah's sister, a young woman
of eighteen, resolved to accompany her husband, in spite of the dissuasions of her brother and her mother. Conjugal affection does exist in Persia after all. A few days afterwards, as we were driving outside the walls of the town, I unexpectedly approached within a few yards of a party travelling towards Ispahan. It was the Ameer and the princess. They were both in a takhterewan, surrounded by guards. It seemed to me like a funeral procession, and I have seldom beheld a more melancholy sight. I longed to open the carefully closed takhterewan; to take the doomed Ameer and his poor young wife with their two infant children into the carriage, and to drive off with them to the Mission-house.
I may as well anticipate his fate. He remained for several months in confinement at Cashan with the princess. As a security against poison, that exemplary lady made it a rule to partake first of all the food presented to the Ameer. In the mean time his enemies had not been idle. They feared lest he should one day be restored to favour. The Shah's ear was daily filled with the danger of leaving alive a man like him, who only waited for an opportunity either to destroy his sovereign, or ruin the kingdom. Who the murderers were I shall not disclose, but at length the fatal order was sealed, and dispatched in charge of the Shah's Ferash Bashee, a man whom the Ameer had raised from the dust, and a party of Meerghazabs. For some reason, which no one but a Persian can understand, recourse was had to guile. A lady of the haram was sent to the Princess, telling her to dry her tears, for that the Shah had relented, and that the Ameer was to return to Tehran or go to Kerbella, the usual haven for Persians who
have lost court favour. "The khelat or coat of honour," said she, "is on the way, and will arrive in an hour or two; go, therefore, to the bath, and prepare to receive it." The Ameer all this time had not once ventured to quit the safety afforded by the apartment of the Princess, and of her presence. On hearing the joyful news, however, he resolved to take the advice of this woman, and indulge in the luxury of a bath. He left the Princess, and she never saw him more. When he reached the bath the fatal order was revealed to him, and the crime perpetrated. The Ferash Bashee and his vile crew presented themselves, and the choice of the mode of death was given to him. It is said he bore his fate with patience and fortitude. His veins were opened, and he at length expired.
Though every one feared and some expected this catastrophe, all Tehran was struck with horror at this act. The Shah was not much blamed, but the instigators, high as was their station, were execrated as murderers. The patriotism evinced in the earnest desire of the Ameer to elevate Persia was remembered, and his faults were pardoned. As for me, I felt so indignant that I only wished to quit a country where such crimes are sanctioned by the Government, and committed without remorse. Remorse, I believe, is unknown in Persia. Shocking acts are perpetrated, and one never hears of any uneasiness of mind on the part of the perpetrators. Suicide is quite unknown, and insanity is nearly equally so.
The Princess, widow of the Ameer, was brought back to Tehran by the woman sent to ensnare her husband. I had never before visited the former, that model of a Persian matron; but soon after her return to Tehran, I
lost no time in waiting on her Royal Highness to show my respect for her noble and most unusual conduct. Contrary to my expectation, and to my disappointment, her mother was present, so I soon withdrew; as etiquette prevented the princess from opening her lips. She was plainly dressed in a kind of mourning. She was pretty, and looked more like a stout girl of twelve years old than the mother of two children.
As I have often said in the course of this volume, the Persians are a strange people. Not long after the return of the Princess, she was compelled by the Shah to marry the son of the Prime Minister. This afforded an opportunity to the joke-loving Iranees to say that the Shah's sister was transferable like the Grand Vezeer's signet-ring of office, and that whoever took the one must take the other.
December. – We have had a wedding in the Mission. An English gentleman in Tehran married an Armenian lady, and to prevent any mistake as to its validity, there being no Protestant clergyman in Tehran, they determined to perform the Armenian rite under the auspices of the English flag. Three priests "assisted" one another in the performance of the ceremony, most of which seemed much like our own. The bride and bridegroom knelt down and were covered with a shawl. The priest placed a large open book on their heads, out of which he chanted prayers for a considerable time; they then drank wine out of the same cup, after which they were released from their hiding-place, and saluted each other as man and wife. At the déjeuner which followed immediately after, the bride (although it was her second
performance in that character) and her maids, were too bashful to appear; so they sat on the ground in my room and solaced themselves with tea and pipes, while the husband was busy in replying to the numerous toasts proposed in honour of the lady by the Englishmen of the party. The Armenians must have been much surprised at this custom, but I dare say would have gone on drinking the bride's health till next morning, provided the supply of champagne held out. After the breakfast the bride and bridegroom walked down the avenue of our house arm in arm, according to Armenian etiquette, to the astonishment of the Persians who beheld them. It is considered an outrageous breach of decorum for a lady to lean on her husband's arm, so I always carefully avoided doing so. At the gate they mounted their horses, and went home, the gentleman preceding, as the nobler half, and the lady followed by a train of mules carrying the whole of her household goods.
February, 1852. – If an Englishwoman were able to partake more freely in the society that Tehran affords, she would find living in that city less monotonous. Elchees, or envoys, from time to time arrive from distant countries, who usually visit the Mission, but I am excluded from seeing them, although I should have liked very much to listen to these semibarbarous ambassadors. Among the late arrivals was an Arab Elchee, who styled himself the Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of some Arab potentate. He and his followers were a wild and rough looking party, yet quite different from Koords Loors, or Toorkomans. He had sufficient diplomatic knowledge to be very careful of his own interests. Three
minutes had not elapsed after entering the room before he asked my husband to make him a present of a watch, and when informed that his watches were limited to the one he wore, the Elchee avowed his disbelief of the assertion with perfect candour.
Another personage of the same kind was the Elchee from Khiva – slave-buying Khiva. There was a window where unseen I could observe these novel visitors as they approached the house. The ambassador was a fat and florid, round-faced man, who, were it not for his unmistakeable little peering eyes, would have strongly resembled a native of Germany. But this Uzbek, like all other genuine Toorks of pure blood, could not conceal his race. He sauntered up the avenue precisely with the gait of a duck, with great dignity and grace. All Orientals seem to consider this waddling movement highly imposing. At all events it gave me time to scrutinize and to covet the beautifully embroidered silk robes which formed the ambassador's garments.
The Elchee presented to Colonel S— a magnificent letter from the Khan his master, in which he styled himself the Sultan of Kharezm and Shadow of God. It was fully a yard in length and not much less in breadth. This epistle was a curious specimen of gilding and paint, and was enclosed in a sumptuous bag of gold brocade. The extraordinary country in which he lives made him an object of interest, and I am besides grateful to his Excellency for the present of an immense tiger skin, the original owner of which had been shot in the desert near Khiva. This was novel intelligence to me, who had imagined that a tiger required a climate approaching to
that of the torrid zone to enable him to exist. In Khiva, on the contrary, the cold is so intense as to freeze completely over the great river Oxus. Living in their distant oasis, surrounded by nearly impenetrable deserts, the Khivans carry on their iniquitous barter of Persians with the Toorkomans in security. Nevertheless Nadir Shah one hundred years ago contrived to reach and to subdue Khiva in spite of her deserts. They formerly maintained a similar trade in Russians kidnapped by the Kirgheez, and Kara Kalpak, and Kazzak wanderers in the deserts on the north and north-east of Khiva. But the fear of another expedition like General Perowski's, which took place fourteen years ago, has relieved Russian subjects from this direful fate. Thousands of Persians, either actual captives or their descendants, are supposed to languish in hopeless slavery. It is only another invasion like Nadir Shah's which offers them any prospect of release, and of this there is no chance: Nadir had the spoil of Delhi at his disposal, and the present Shah has too many engagements nearer home to engross his attention. Their only prospect of relief is from Russia, and I am told that, judging from the positions she has taken up on the Jaxartes, near its mouth, from whence she will one day be able to threaten Khiva, Bokhara, and Kakan, she seems disposed to realize it. (Note F.)
Among other diplomatic visitors were the Elchees from Herat and Candahar on the part of their respective rulers, Yar Mahommed Khan and Kohendil Khan, and subsequently from the son of the former chief, Saeed Mahommed Khan. These however I never saw.
They did not visit at the Mission, as it did not suit the policy of their masters in their then subject condition to Persia to avow any cordiality towards the English. I hear Persia plays her part with some cleverness in this quarter of the world: she seems never to allow these two states to remain in quiet, in which design she is mainly aided by the native restlessness of the Afghans. Since the death of that clever and enterprising but wicked chief, Yar Mahommed Khan, who maintained himself in independence in Herat, the Persian government has sustained his imbecile son Saeed Mahommed Khan, whose days were consumed in intoxication. Thus Herat fell virtually under the control if not into the hands of the Shah. Murder upon murder of the Afghan chiefs ensued, in which Persia was more to blame than the mock ruler of Herat.
These Afghan Elchees are always accompanied by a numerous retinue. It is a pretty sight to see a body of Afghan horse in movement – they crowd closely together in a promiscuous compact body, moving rapidly forward at a slouching gait, which their horses seem able to preserve for a considerable time without apparent effort. Instead of the tall black cap of the Persians, the Afghans wear turbans; they have a wild and peculiar look, which makes them easily distinguishable from the other natives of these countries. Their manners are said to be far less polished than those of their Persian neighbours; the state of civilisation, too, in Afghanistan being on a far lower scale than that of Persia. The Afghans boast of their freedom, and ridicule the subjection
of the Persians to their monarchs; to our ideas, however, their freedom is of a nature scarcely desirable, consisting principally of a power to do evil, rather than of institutions for the benefit of society: directly the reverse of our definition of liberty – "to use your own so as not to hurt another." Assassination, the Persians say, is the daily pastime of the chiefs and nobles of Afghanistan, and according to their light way of talking, an Afghan is only a bad Persian, more false and more venal, a man who pauses at no crime or baseness in pursuit of his own schemes of selfishness or aggrandizement.
Several Afghan Khans took sanctuary about this time in the British Mission. A number of Herat chiefs opposed to their imbecile ruler had been sent by Saeed Mahommed Khan to Persia to remain in the custody of the Persian Government, which undertook the honourable office of Meerghazab, and caused many among them to be put to death, or, to speak more truly, to be murdered. Some were brought to Tehran, where they found means to get within the Mission premises. I of course saw nothing of these refugees, but I heard they were not in the least prepossessing. Our sympathy for the fate of people in their condition is moderated by the conviction that a reversal of position alone is wanting to make them act with similar cold-blooded ferocity. As the permanent residence of these chiefs in the Mission was out of the question, Colonel S. [sic] according to his usual practice made an arrangement with the Prime Minister which enabled them to leave their sanctuary with impunity. (Note G.)
July.-Summer in Persia, as I have already described, is most wearisome, but this year was a more
than ordinary trial during our period of banishment. In Persian metaphor Izraeel, the Angel of Death, had brandished his sword though he did not strike. The result was our being obliged to undertake a journey to the mountainous part of Mazenderan, to try the effect of the mineral waters at Ask. The distance was trifling, not above eighty miles, but, from the nature of the country it was necessary to pass through, the journey was formidable to an invalid. Though the road was in a great measure over mountains, we were fortunately able to proceed fifty miles in a carriage, to the neighbourhood of the town of Demawend. This charming and secluded valley is an amphitheatre three or four miles across, filled with cultivation and fruit-trees. I could not help regretting that the Shah had not fixed on this beautiful spot for his yeïlak, or summer residence. But his Majesty seems impervious to heat, the hottest sun not preventing him from going out hunting. Not a trace of ruins is to be found in Demawend, although among Persian traditions its antiquity reaches the fabulous days of their history – those of Kaïomers and Jemsheed. Although the great mountain derives its name from this valley, it is not visible from Demawend, owing to the vicinity of lower hills. Near the valley we found a charming spot for our tents, large trees, a delightful bit of grassy ground, and a glorious fountain which gushed out of a rock in a foaming volume of water. It was called Cheshmeh Aalā, the Sublime Spring. The remainder of the road being over precipitous mountains and rocky defiles, we resolved to leave our young children here under charge of two English womenservants and
some Persian attendants. Here they lived in perfect tranquillity until our return, which was not before four weeks. I record this in favour of our servants and of the villagers. Persian servants in a house are absolutely worthless, they do nothing; but on a journey they are admirable, full of activity and attention, and they seem never to suffer from fatigue. The nomade [sic] life is undoubtedly the one intended by nature for an Irānee.
Soon after leaving Cheshmeh Aalā, we ascended the face of an immense mountain-pass by a zigzag path, up which the Uzbek pony I had procured was carefully led. Even with this precaution the ascent was most unpleasant. Arrived at the top the prospect was worse. We descended through a narrow defile, so steep and rocky that we were forced to walk a great part of the way. The road was diversified by numerous small encampments of Sylsapoor eelyats from Verameen, who had pitched their tents in various nooks of the mountains, close to the stream which wound down the pass. I shall never forget the desolate aspect of one of these encampments. The squalid appearance of the tents, the pale ill-fed children, and the solemn careworn look of the women, were very painful, and fully confirmed what I before said of the misery of many of those eelyats. On halting for the night, we found we were in Mazenderan. It was a delightfully cool spot, surrounded by high mountains, but without a village or inhabitants; situated on a high bank overlooking the river Heraz, which flows past the city of Amol into the Caspian. We enjoyed the cool breezes, and the fresh trout from the river, and pitied our friends in sultry Shemeroon. Next day the road was not quite so precipitous; we
skirted round the mountain of Demawend, and saw the everlasting snow within a few hundred yards of us, while under our feet there was a brilliant carpet of bright blossoms and fragrant herbs. On our right hand was a steep precipice, at the bottom of which rolled the Heraz, and the road was not too difficult to prevent us from appreciating the pleasant embalmed air and wild scene. At length we arrived close to the town of Ask, which seemed to me to be buried in a hole in the mountains, and my heart failed me when I saw the formidable descent we must make before reaching it. The path seemed nearly perpendicular, so I descended from my poor old pony, and walked or rather slid down the whole descent. The Mazenderanees who came out. to meet us laughed at my alarm, and said it was an excellent road compared with the mountain paths between Ask and the flat land near Amol. At the entrance of the town we found a large and good house belonging to the chief, Abbas Koolee Khan, Lareejanee, an intimate friend of my husband, prepared for our reception.
Ask is the capital of the mountain-chiefship called Lareejan, and contains about 2500 inhabitants. It is an extraordinary place, situated on the side of a great mountain, and, excepting where the river Heraz has formed an opening, surrounded by other immense mountains, pre-eminent among which was hoary Demawend, whose top, however, we lost sight of, as we were so completely under it.10 Unless Meerza Antonio, as Sir Anthony
Shirley was called, was married to a woman of his own country, which could hardly be, seeing Shah Abbas the Great had given him as a wife one of his own relations, I think I must be the first Englishwoman who has been in Mazenderan. I am told that it was in the neighbouring district of Hezār Jereeb, Sir Anthony Shirley laid the first rudiments of a regular force in Persia. The descendants of his corps of Toofengchees, or matchlockmen, maintain a reputation at this day, as being the best in the land.
The district of Lareejan is so completely enclosed by mountains and narrow gorges as to be almost inaccessible to an invader. On this account the chief and his dependents are somewhat unmanageable. At every succession to the throne, or other time of commotion, they generally declare themselves yāghee, or in revolt, and refuse to pay their contributions to the revenue. The other mountain chiefs follow the same course, and our host Abbas Koolee Khan was not the least conspicuous among the mutineers. The British Mission has more than once been of use in bringing these unruly chiefs to a proper sense of obedience.
The mineral springs were not conveniently situated for an invalid. They lay at the foot of the mountain on which the town is placed, close to the river Herāz. The springs were of two kinds – ferruginous and sulphureous, separated from each other by the river. The water of the fountain my husband used was tepid, and bubbled out of the earth in an unceasing stream, forming a small tank round the springs in which invalids immersed themselves. To remedy the inconvenience of the absence of a bathing-house, Colonel S— pitched a tent over one of these basins of water for the performance of his ablutions, which otherwise would have attracted the whole town to witness.
The house we resided in was rather distant from the wells, and we found a ride through the long ill-paved town twice a-day disagreeable. Having seen at the other side of the town near the well, a neat new-looking dwelling, we resolved to take possession of it. The Lareejanees advised us not, saying we should regret the change. This counsel we attributed to mere Persian plotting and intrigue, and in spite of admonition we went. In the night we found ourselves attacked by legions of bugs; for that night, rest was out of the question. Next day we thought we had hit upon an expedient for baffling these our mortal foes, and we pitched a small tent in the open court of the house, and calmly retired to rest. Judge of the horror we felt when, on awaking, we perceived they were in ten times greater numbers than on the night before! The whole nation of the invaders had, as it were, been let loose against us, and we were on the point
of being devoured; the marvel was where they had come from. After a rigid scrutiny we discovered that the ground on which the beds lay was filled with these insects; they must have promised themselves the enjoyment of an abundant carnival. We decamped at daybreak, too happy to regain our old abode. I should exceedingly like to know on what these bloodsuckers subsisted before the night of our arrival, and how they have gained a livelihood since that memorable epoch.
Abbas Koolee Khan, Lareejanee, was absent from Ask during our residence there, but his wife governed in his place. She bore a high reputation as a woman of great respectability and shrewdness, and as a most excellent manager of her husband's property. I had the pleasure of seeing her several times, and was very much amused by the remarks and reflections made by her and two other wives, and the mother, sisters, and various other female relatives of Abbas Koolee Khan. These ladies all seemed to live in Abbas Koolee Khan's house. Their husbands were absent with him, and had appointments in his regiment, which was stationed at Sheeraz. I understand that the ladies of Mazenderan are held in great esteem for their good qualities, – a remark which is said to be applicable to the women of the tribes in general. The principal wife, who managed everything, was very handsome; but I was struck by the beauty of her little daughter, Rookheeya, who was, I think, the most charming child I ever beheld. She looked exactly like a little Jewess. The countenances of the Mazenderanees would indicate a descent from the tribes of Israel, to which I imagine they have no
claim or pretension. The imputation would shock them. Their features are more delicate than those of the other inhabitants of Persia, and bear a strong resemblance to those of the ancient Persians, as they are preserved in the sculptures at Persepolis and Shahpoor.
The Khanum was evidently leading a life of prosperity, yet two subjects gave her grief. She had not seen her husband for three years, and she heard he had in those three years taken two wives, one at Sheeraz and the other, lately, in Tehran. Her meditations were turned upon paying a visit to the Khan, and on ejecting these two rivals. But how was this to be effected, as she could not abandon her government of Lareejan without permission? It was suggested that the Khanum should ask me; that I should apply to my husband to propose to the Khan to invite his wife to pay him a visit at Tehran. I promised to do all I could, and accordingly, on my return to Goolahek, a message was sent to Abbas Koolee Khan, representing the wishes of the Khanum. The reply was favourable; but when the Khanum found she might go if she chose, she changed her mind. She reflected that, though the ejection of a rival was something, yet the loss of the keys of the well-filled store-rooms of Ask and Amol, and the transfer of all the power she now possessed to the hands of another wife, were ideas not to be borne; so she determined to remain where she was.
These hospitable people insisted on making us their guests during our stay, with our large party of servants and horses. It was only a firm resistance, and an intimation that we should be forced to withdraw from Ask,
that enabled us to free them from so costly a display of their friendship. After all, contrary to compact, the Khanum frequently sent presents of sheep, rice, and dressed dinners to the servants. She invited us to breakfast at her house, and, as the entertainment was the only one of the kind I saw in Persia, I may as well give a description of it. We were shown into a large room commanding a fine view of the town and valley. No one was there to receive us, the presence of our Persian servants having excluded the Khanum and her female relations, and my presence having had the same effect on the gentlemen of her family. Two immense wooden trays, each carried by two men, were brought in and deposited on the ground; there seemed to be fifteen or twenty dishes, large and small, on each tray. There were three or four kinds of pillaos of mutton, lamb, and fowl, and several stews and ragouts of most alarming richness of the same viands; salmon, trout, and another fish from the Caspian; omelettes and various other dishes of eggs, several kinds of dressed vegetables, pickles of all kinds in great profusion, and various sherbets of orange, lemon, pomegranate, &c. This was a substantial breakfast for two persons, but I was rather surprised to see two more trays of precisely the same description carried in, and presently, two more still. This continued until there were actually sixteen or twenty trays in the room. The whole floor was covered with them. The Mazenderanees may have good appetites, but it is not easy to guess the meaning of this inordinate hospitality. It was, however, a grateful sight to our servants, for, after we had concluded, all the trays were transferred to them.
Apropos to appetites, I remember hearing that when Persian gentlemen dined at the Mission, after partaking abundantly of a European dinner, with every appearance of relish, on returning to their own houses at midnight they sat down to a formal Persian dinner. It seems that without an ample allowance of pillao they do not feel comfortable, or certain whether they have dined or not.
I was very much amused at seeing two bottles of wine protrude from the pockets of Mahommed Agha, our butler. This breakfast being given at our dinner-hour, he thought it objectionable to deprive us of the usual accompaniment at that meal; but, being ashamed of being detected by the Mazenderanees in the ignoble duty of carrying wine, he had placed the bottles in this unsafe situation. The natives of Mazenderan are strict Mussulmans, and have not yet adopted the wine-drinking habits not uncommon in other parts of Persia. The presence of the Russian squadron near Asterabad is likely to effect a change in this part of their religious observances.
The Khanum told me that Ask was only their yeïlak, or summer residence, and that Amol, near the Caspian, was their kishlak, or winter abode. She said that in October, nearly all the inhabitants of Ask would retire from the mountains until late in the spring of next year. The cold of Ask she declared to be intolerable in winter. This I could well conceive, as the crops were still green. We were obliged in July to wear warm clothes, and used often to warm ourselves by walking up and down in front of the house in the sun.
In spite of the seclusion of her life, the Khanum was a woman of great intelligence and observation. The cares
of administration seemed to have sharpened her understanding, and I am told that Koordish and other eelyat women often display similar intelligence, owing probably to their being treated with more consideration, and allowed to participate more or less in the affairs of the family, and even of the tribe. She was enthusiastic in praise of Mazenderan. According to her it was a degree better than paradise, "Where, in the world," said the Khanum, "is there a place like it, – with the beautiful sea on one side, full of salmon, herrings, and haddocks, besides the shocking porpoises and sturgeon which the Russians eat; and, on the other, these grand mountains to cool us in summer, and warm us in winter with their fine forests? Whatever the earth produces," cried the lady, waxing warmer, "is to be found in Mazenderan; and then the women, – are they not the handsomest in Persia, and the men the bravest in the world? Who ever ventured to attack them in the forest? When did the Russians dare to show themselves in Mazenderan?" I asked the Khanum if the rain, the jungles, and the swamps were to be counted among the excellences of her province, but her enthusiasm placed her far above the reach of any taunt.
She pressed me to pay her a visit at Amol, in the level country, before winter, at which time the city was delightful, according to her account. It is situated in the plain at the foot of the mountains, not far from the sea, and surrounded by beautiful woods and groves of oranges and lemons. In short, she said so much, that if there had been a good road, I should have been tempted to have visited a place so different from Irak; but this is one of the worst points of Persia, – that one is precluded from agreeable
excursions, such as are so pleasant in other countries, by the impracticable roads, hardly safe, even for those accustomed to traverse them, on horseback.
From all I can learn, I am sure this lady's affection for her native province is not misplaced. One of its drawbacks, however, is the vicinity of the Toorkomans, which forces the population of Mazenderan to be constantly on their guard. The peasantry are seldom without arms, even in the cultivation of their fields. The inhabitants of this province are said to make good soldiers in irregular warfare, for which the face of their own country has so well prepared them. Unlike the other parts of Persia, Mazenderan, as well as Geelan, is covered with the densest forests of fine timber intermingled with shrubs and brushwood. All the forest trees of England grow here in the greatest perfection. Along the coast a stripe of land varying from three to twenty miles in breadth, runs the whole length of the two provinces, or rather three, for in Persian geography or statistics, Asterabad is regarded as a separate province, in honour, I suppose, of its having been the original seat of the royal Kajjar tribe, – though few of them are now left in that district. This stripe of land is perfectly flat; it is covered with morasses, jungles, and rice plantations, which, added to the almost unceasing rain, make the country nearly impassable, unless by the beaten track, or by the remains of a causeway constructed by Shah Abbas. That monarch delighted to reside in Mazenderan, where he built a sumptuous palace. This level tract is so unhealthy in summer as to cause its inhabitants to abandon it during that season, and to take refuge in the high
mountains which bound this plain along its entire course, and which are accessible only through very difficult passes. That quaint old traveller, Jonas Hanway, says that, excepting old women, mules, and poultry, all other animals pine away with sickness. These mountains (the first range of them we crossed immediately after leaving the Cheshmeh Aalā) separate Tehran from the Caspian. They are known under the name of Elboorz, and can be seen from Shemeroon. They abound in mineral wealth, particularly in coal and iron. Within even thirty miles of Tehran, there are two places where coal can be procured in abundance, at the mere cost of digging and conveying it to the city. In a country destitute of wood like that part of Persia, it might be supposed that so bountiful a supply would have been highly prized; but such is not the case, charcoal and wood are in general use as fuel, and for the favourite koorsee, the former substance is preferable to coal. It is chiefly by the blacksmiths and in the houses of Europeans that coal is used, but this latter circumstance will gradually extend its consumption to the en tire population.
From the above remarks it will be seen that Geelan and Mazenderan are sister provinces. In the aspect of the country, the climate, the manners of the people, there is a complete resemblance. The productions, too, are similar, with the exception that in Geelan the culture of silk receives a much greater share of the care and attention of the inhabitants, and large quantities of a fine kind are produced. (Note H.) The exportation of this article of commerce conduces to the wealth of the province, and thus gives it a vast superiority over Mazenderan, where the
same substance, though of a coarser kind, is manufactured. Sturgeon and salmon are caught in immense quantities on these coasts; the fisheries of the sturgeon are in the hands of Russians, who rent them from the Persian Government. Having no scales, visible at least, this fish is valueless as an article of food to Persians. The best caviare is said to be obtained in the Caspian. The two provinces under a judicious government could be rendered highly valuable. The Russians have more than once attempted to possess themselves of Geelan, and towards the close of the last century, in the reign of Agha Mahommed Khan, the founder of the Kajjars, they made a bold effort to establish themselves in Asterabad. They landed in that country with troops and guns, and commenced building a fort. Agha Mahommed Khan, feeling himself unable to oppose this aggression by force, had recourse to stratagem: be decoyed the Russian commander and his officers to an entertainment, where they were immediately seized, and, under the threat of instant death, forced to surrender their fort, which was razed to the ground.
That excellent Oriental traveller, Mr. James Bayley Fraser, describes with much force the natural power of resistance to foreign invasion possessed by the province of Geelan. The following remarks seem equally applicable to Mazenderan: – "There are few countries more completely protected by nature against external aggression than Geelan, for its coast is lined with a belt of impenetrable forest, which opposes a most disheartening aspect to an invading foe, whose perplexity would be increased by the deep moordābs, or backwaters, and extensive morasses
equally covered with swamps that lie behind this first barrier. At the same time these very obstacles would prove the best advantage to defenders acquainted with their intricacies, and afford them means of securely annoying their enemies. On the south the passes through its mountains are of extreme steepness, difficulty, and length, and could be obstructed or defended with so much case, that no hostile army, unassisted by treachery, could hope to force them."
Having finished a profitless course of the mineral waters, both in bathing and drinking, we took leave of the kind Larajanees, and set out on our return to the Valley of Demawend. We had no choice but to clamber up by the same steep road that we had slid down four weeks previously. Up-hill [sic] the trial to the nerves was not so great. At Cheshmeh Aalā, from whence I received a daily messenger, I found that all had passed prosperously. Every one seemed anxious to make the solitary life of the party we had left there as agreeable as was possible. I begin to think Persians are better people than travellers are willing to allow. English agents are often brought into contact with bad classes, and they hastily assume the whole nation to be equally vicious. In no country could the two servants and young children we left at Cheshmeh Aalā have been treated with more kindness, attention, and respect.
10 Very few Englishmen or other Europeans have had the enterprise to ascend Demawend, whose height is, I believe, 13,000 feet. Mr. Thompson, of Her Majesty's Mission, succeeded in the attempt. He set out from Ask with two guides, and spent the first day in reaching a shed half-way up the mountain. The second evening, at sunset, he arrived at the summit, and spent the night in a cavern heated by a warm sulphureous vapour. At Tehran, on clear days, smoke is generally visible issuing from the top. The mountain is evidently a volcano, almost extinct. In the morning, at sunrise, they sallied forth hoping to have a grand panorama of Mazenderan, the Goorgan and Toorkoman coast, Tehran, &c. Nothing was visible but dense clouds. The cold was so intense that they immediately rushed down the mountain at their utmost speed: this was in August. I never could comprehend why they did not return to the cavern and wait a few hours for the clouds to pass away.
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