My Wanderings in Persia
Native Craftiness. — Modes of travelling in Persia. — ‘Kajava and Takhtravan.’ — ‘Chapparing.’ — Anything your heart may desire. — Leaving Bushire. — Ahmedy. — Caravanserais. — Boraejoon. — Anglo-Persian Battlefield. — Women Soldiers. — Daliki. — Blood-feuds. — Robber-guards. — Kazeroon Orange-groves. — The Maiden and Old Woman Passes. — Dashtarjin. — The Lion Haunt.— Sergt.-Major Collins. — Shiraz.
WE were detained some days in Bushire; the mules, we were told, were out grazing, and would not return to the town for ten or a dozen days, and although desirous of resuming our travels as early as possible, we were compelled to accept the news and be satisfied; although, as I afterwards experienced, had we offered a much higher price
for the animals, they would in a short time have been ready and loaded for the journey.
The mode, or rather modes, for there are two, of travelling in Persia, are greatly different from the Indian system of locomotion.
Travelling caravan necessitates the traveller hiring as many mules or camels as he may deem sufficient for himself, servants, and baggage; the hire of each mule per diem equals about two shillings. The caravan travels on an average about thirty miles a day, from stage to stage. The ‘yaboo,’ or native caravan-horse, may not be quite so good-looking as might be wished, but their sure-footedness and powers of endurance over rough and intricate roads arc certainly astonishing. The riding day by day on these ill-fed and half-starved animals is wearisome in the extreme. One may jog along at the regulation three miles an hour, sunrise to sunset, having nothing but hills and sand for the eye to rest upon, being continually surrounded by sand-flies, and, per-
chance, flies of a larger kind. For invalids or ladies there is the ‘kajava,’ and in some parts of the country, less mountainous than others, there is the ‘takhtravan.’ The ‘kajava’ is formed of two small wooden boxes slung across the backs of the mules and tied securely underneath; one person on either side must ride, in order to balance the kajava.
One unaccustomed to sitting à la mode de Perse (cross-legged) would find kajava travelling more wearisome than horseback, although in the ‘kajava’ the lady is screened from the sun’s fierceness, and may, if undisturbed by mosquitoes, take a comfortable nap en route. Should the mule stumble, the kajava certainly comes to grief, as also does the terrified occupants. It is a most uncomfortable position to travel.
The ‘takhtravan’ is carried by two mules or camels, something after the fashion of the antequated sedan-chair. It is built of wood, having a slight roof to protect the traveller
from the extreme heat, or, if in winter, the rain or snow; two long poles project at either side, one mule being harnessed in front and one behind. It is generally about seven feet long, enabling the occupants to sit or lie down at their pleasure. When fitted up inside with laafs (rugs) and pillows, it forms an agrble and easy mode of conveyance. The mountains of Southern Persia, from Bushire to Shiraz, will not permit of this carriage being used, the roads being, in most places, too rugged and precipitous.
The other mode, viz., ‘chapparing,’ is the old post-horse system: the traveller hires each horse — he may require three — at a cost of eight pence per farsack (four miles). He will ride on at a steady gallop the whole distance to the next station, where he will find other horses in readiness. The stages vary in distance from sixteen to twenty-four miles. In this way a hundred miles per day may be ridden by a tolerably good rider.
In some instances it has been known that officers of the Indo-European Telegraph have ridden over two hundred in the twenty-four hours. This, under an almost unbearable sun, across sandy plains, through mountain passes, is a feat worthy of comparison with ‘Pesth to Paris in a fortnight.’
At every ‘chapar khaneh’ (post-house) a bowl of tea and a ‘nargileh’ (the Persian pipes are called ‘kalyuns’) will be obtainable. Indeed, unless the truthfulness of the post-house-keeper is doubted, anything from a dish of rich pillau to a dried fig may be had. On arriving at a chapar khaneh I have frequently inquired what he (the keeper) possessed in the way of eatables. The invariable reply was: ‘Anything your heart may desire.’ If, however, a requisition for milk or meat is made, the man will be your sacrifice; he is sorry, his heart aches to say he has neither. He will still aver that the ‘saḥib’ can have ‘anything his heart may desire’; but, until dates, tea, curdled-
milk, and a kalyun are asked for, his heart will still ache. As soon as the latter are mentioned, his dark visage suddenly lightens up with a smile, and his often-muttered ‘Chashm, chashm!’ (‘On my eyes be it!’) shows his eagerness to be of service, — the goal of his ambition; however, not being to give his obsequious attention gratis, but in his imaginative mind he sees, as his reward, a kran (ten-pence) glittering in his hand; and, on the traveller’s departure, the extended palms, and the ‘May God be with you, sahib!’ are indicative of his expectations.
Between Shiraz and Bushire caravan-travelling reigns supreme, the road being too mountainous for post-horses.
On June 11th the negotiations for mule-hire were completed, and we were busily preparing for our ride through Persia. We were surprised on hearing that everything in the way of provisions must be taken from Bushire — the caravanserais are entirely desti-
tute of even the meanest article either of food or furniture. Fortunately I was prepared for a rough journey; I had camp-stools, bed, and table. We gave our head servant a list of what was required (which we learnt from the Residency), and the following day all was in readiness for our departure.
About two hours after sunset, amid the jingling of the everlasting bells which are tied around the mule’s necks, we rode forth from the city gates, accompanied by a few Europeans. We parted company some half dozen miles from the city, and again turned our horses northwards; we were travelling over a salt plain some thirty miles in extent.
After riding for upwards of four hours we asked if the caravanserai was far distant, and were told that a few miles yet and we should be there. Towards morning we saw with no small degree of pleasure a light not far away, which proved to be the caravanserai for which we had been longing. We had put twenty-
six miles between Bushire and ourselves, and here we finished our first night’s ride through the land of the sun.
These caravanserais are built for the purpose of affording rest and shelter to travellers; sometimes they are situated in or near a village; others are built in more remote places. At a distance they have the appearance of a fortified castle, but on a closer inspection the idea vanishes on seeing that no second wall appears.
Inside the wall is a large square in which the camels, horses, etc., are fed, and all around are small rooms for the travellers’ accommodation. At the extreme end are the stables in which the animals are lodged, or in which the poorer people find refuge. It was in such a place as this the ‘Lowly Nazarene‘ was born, the apartments of the caravanserai were entirely filled with pilgrims going to Jerusalem, so that Joseph and his wife, with no doubt many others, were glad to find rest in the
despised stables of the public rest house. The entrance to each room is a small opening scarcely large enough for a man to enter; the room itself is about ten feet long and five wide; in the centre a large hole is dug, which is intended for the fireplace, when such is needed. A small hole in the roof carries away the offensive vapours from the charcoal. Some caravanserais are miserably wretched, the rooms being altogether unfit for occupation; the walls reek with filth, and nauseous smells compel one to beat a hasty retreat. In the hot season the roof affords a more pleasant resting-place than the lower part of the building.
We left Ahmedi (our first halting-place) soon after sunrise for Borasjoon, a telegraph station. The road was a continuation of the salt marsh spoken of, uninteresting and dreary. Here and there were a few palm-trees, which in a way enlivened the scene. We arrived at this second stage shortly after noon, half-roasted. A good-sized water-melon was refreshing after our hot march.
Not far from Borasjoon is the solitary Anglo-Persian battlefield, memorable by the flight of the whole Persian army in 1856 before a mere handful of Highlanders and Sepoys. A most vivid recollection of this event is still entertained by a great many Persians; the subject is still an important one in the bazaars — how England sent women to fight the Persians; the great similarity of dress between the Scotch Highlanders and the Persian ladies accounting for this belief.
One old pensioner, in speaking of the battle, said: ‘If women could fight as they did, what would the men be like?’ They did not suffer themselves to more closely notice the faces of their foe, or the illusion would have been but short-lived.
Leaving Borasjoon for Daliki, the road grows more interesting. On approaching the latter place date plantations tend to Orientalize the scene. Naphtha springs abound around Daliki, but the revenue derived from this source
is not great, amounting to about £700 sterling annually.
The heat at Daliki is greater than in any other part of Persia. The night we rested there, our thermometer showed at sunset in the shade 116° Fahrenheit, and with mosquitoes and sand-flies combined, sleep was impossible. The long night was one of torture. Not one moment would these indefatigable insects pause in their unappeasable thirst for blood; but as every night must have its dawn, so with the one at Daliki. With the daylight we departed, with faces and hands blotched by the venomous bites of the date mosquito.
At this point commences the ascent of the grand plateau or table-land of Persia. The first mountain pass after leaving the nest of insects is called Kothal Malu, rising over two thousand feet; it is extremely difficult to ascend, owing to the many zigzag paths and deep ravines. The guards who accompanied us from Daliki would not proceed beyond a
certain spot, a blood feud existing between the people of Daliki and Khist (the next village).
These feuds are of common occurrence, originating frequently in a petty quarrel between two men of different villages, perhaps over a piece of land having been sown on beyond the boundary, or some other equally trivial occurrence. The quarrel at last ends in bloodshed, and from a family feud it very often spreads throughout the villages, until no one dare leave the precincts of his own village.
Thus it was with the people of Daliki and Khist. The quarrel had arisen from a Dalikee having accidentally wounded a lamb belonging to a Khistee. We met the guards of the latter place a short distance further. They appeared to be aware of our coming, and saluted us with the usual salaam. A more ruffianish, cut-throat-looking band I have never seen — each man armed to the very teeth; matchlock gun, pistols, and a long ugly blade stuck carelessly in the girdle.
I did not for some time relish the idea of placing my back at the mercy of this formidable-looking band of robber-guards. They are not of one occupation; one day they will loot an unprotected caravan; the next they will with jealous care guard a traveller from whom they may expect a few coins.
On reaching the summit of this Kothal we entered the valley of Khist, dotted here and there with a date plantation. The valley is very fertile, rich and abundant, crops of cotton, opium, and tobacco being gathered twice and sometimes three times a year. At the opposite extremity of the Khist valley the second pass is entered. This second Kothal is named Kimarij, from a village of that name being situated near the summit. To the left of this pass is an unusually deep ravine, the path at its widest part not being over five feet. After the toilsome ascent of Kothal Kimarij comes the fertile plain of Kazeroon, one of the largest and most richly covered plains in Persia.
Our march from Kimarij to Kazeroon was in the night time; the moon, fortunately, was almost a full one, and its light, such as is but seen in the East, shone like a living flame on the many groves of palm and orange-trees which are dotted about the plain. The night was wondrously beauteous, resplendent in its glorious light, and as we neared the small town of Kazeroon, situated in the midst of orange-gardens, the silvery notes of the bulbul (nightingale) fell upon our ears, and we wondered whether Saadi, the Persian Milton, had thought of this lovely spot when he spoke so enthusiastically of the rosy bowers of Rustumabad.
We had seen on the plain several shepherds tending their flocks, and my mind quickly reverted to the scene which took place over 1800 years ago, when the astonished shepherds saw the heavenly host appearing, praising God and bringing peace to all men. We could easily imagine a similar scene on this calm, serene night.
In Kazeroon is another station of the Indian Government Telegraphs. The town is built in the centre of the plain. Leaving this place for Myun Kothal, about twenty-six miles distant, we ascend the third pass, or Kothal Dukhta, some 1100 feet high. From the base of this mountain it appears totally inaccessible; the rock is almost perpendicular; the ascent is made much easier by steps roughly cut from the rock, which wind zigzag to the top. It is the most difficult pass in Persia for transport.
We were stopped two or three times in our ascent by caravans journeying in the opposite direction to ourselves. We were glad to find any crevice large enough to shield us from broken limbs. A more dangerous passage I never saw. The width of the path could not be more than six feet; on one side a yawning gulf, and on the other a terrible wall of stone. One slip would be fatal. Fortunately, however, no slip occurred.
On a subsequent journey downwards the danger was more apparent than in the darkness of night, when I first saw the pass. The road at the top of the ‘Dukhtar’ runs through the Dasht-i-bar or Oak Valley, which is eleven miles in length. In this wild spot the wolf, jackal, bear and wild cat find refuge from whatever may assail them, and sometimes may be heard the lion’s thundering roar. The journey from Kazeroon is a most fatiguing one, and we were not sorry to see the weird walls of the Myun Kothal caravanserai rising up before us.
The caravanserai, as its name signifies, is built at the centre of the Kothal Pir-i-zan, and commands a sight the most picturesque throughout Persia. In the background is a mighty chain of hills towering high above us, and covered with most luxuriant foliage of the dwarf oak; far away in front runs the majestic range of mountains extending to the borders of Beloochistan; and on each side the
oak valley, in the lovely garb of early summer, gives to the scene exquisite beauty.
The Kothal Dukhtar signifies the Maiden’s or Daughter’s pass; Pir-i-zan, the Old Woman. The Persians say that these Quixotic names were given to the two passes on account of the Dukhtar being so extremely difficult and laborious of ascent, through the narrowness of the road and the falling stones. Having accomplished this arduous and perilous mount, the Pir-i-zan is more easily ascended. Mules and camels often come to grief whilst slowly descending the cruel and wearisome steps of the former pass, whilst on the Pir-i-zan the caravan is usually deserted by most of the muleteers, who find a better path for themselves.
It was with a shade of regret, seldom experienced when travelling in Persia, that we left this rude hotel of the Myun Kothal, although we had been disturbed frequently during the night by the unearthly cries of the
jackals and hyena, which were prowling about not many yards from our tent. Yet the singular beauty of the landscape had some peculiar charms, and it was with reluctance we crossed the brow of the hill which hid the valley and the caravanserai from our sight.
Leaving the Pir-i-zan, we entered the plain of Dasht-i-argin, ‘the field of wild almonds;’ this place is held in great dread by all who pass it, having a terrible reputation as ‘the haunt of the lion.’ The plain is some fifteen miles in length and six wide. At the southern extremity is a deep morass where herds of wild pigs find an almost uninterrupted settlement. At times they are disturbed by the ‘Shikaris’’ (native hunter’s) spear, or the more certain bullets of the European; sometimes perchance by a hungry and starved lion.
At the northern corner of the plain the village of Dasht-i-argin is situated; it is, however, mostly in ruins, and many gravestones
near the village bear rude inscriptions of men who have been killed by lions in or near the plain. A short distance from the village, on an elevated piece of land close by the caravan-track, is a Government Telegraph Station (I was afterwards stationed at this place for nine months), built in the fashion of a Waldensian church of the ninth century; it might have been built to resist the onslaught of fever of a most malignant type, which emanates from the morass, and is severely felt during the hot months of summer. Mosquitoes and sand-flies of unusual development appear to thrive in this fever-stricken air.
There was a good deal of correspondence between the Indian Government and the local director respecting a station being built in so unhealthy a spot, but eventually the Government, with their irrefragable ‘must have,’ won the day, and the station was erected, but, combining the three grievances of fever, mosquitoes, and solitude together. Dasht-i-argin is
not an enviable place of abode. The winter is very severe, the roads being completely blocked from December to February.
Leaving this abode of the most formidable of the carnivorous animals, the road is due north to Shiraz; the most part is a sandy plain; one or two small hamlets lie en route. Some twelve miles from our last halting-place, and near the road, is a post erected on the spot where a brave non-commissioned officer of Engineers (Sergt.-Major Collins) fell bravely defending his life.
He was attacked by a party of mounted robbers, who, after entirely looting his caravan, attempted to lay hold of Mrs. Collins’s horse. The villain who thus gave the signal for a fight paid dearly for his bravado; a bullet crashed through his skull at the moment he touched the bridle; shots were then sharply exchanged, and after three robbers biting the dust, poor Collins fell, shot through the head by a treacherous foe, who had stealthily crept
up behind, and thus with careful aim sent the merciless bullet which ended the life of a brave soldier and a true comrade.
Sergt. Collins was the first man who sprang on the walls of Pekin in the Chinese war. His body was horribly mutilated by these fiends, who, however, received the due merit of their atrocious deed. Two of the band were crucified, and two others were built up alive in lime. Sergt. Collins’ servants proved how much may be relied on Persian protestations of fidelity and bravery, by perfidiously deserting him at the critical moment, when the presence of a strong bodyguard would have commanded a safe passage.
A short time after sunrise we reached the suburbs of Shiraz, and were warmly welcomed by the few Europeans resident there. Here we received orders to report for duty, and not to proceed further northwards, as previously instructed. We had already been travelling by sea and land over two months, and were not
upset to end the journey and settle down to our new life. Two days after, however, Mr. Jefferies received fresh orders to leave at once for Ispahan.
I remember on one occasion, whilst at Shiraz, being visited by a Persian of high rank, who had a short time previously received a paralytic stroke in his left shoulder and arm. After numerous inquiries as to my own state of health, and the usual flow of meaningless complimentary language, the man asked if I could, by the aid of our invisible fire (electricity) render him any benefit, as he had heard in India that in England we had magicians who, by the powerful assistance of this fire, could cure all manner of diseases.
I replied that its fame as a curative power was certainly great, but in this case it had been too much exaggerated. Yet if he chose I could write to the officer in charge of the station who would doubtless be glad of the
chance to experimentalize on the too-trustful victim.
Armed with my note, he courteously bade me adieu, and with his retinue proceeded towards the Telegraph Office. The scene strongly reminded one of the command given to Naaman by the Israelitish prophet.
My curiosity being aroused, I followed the man, who was an influential person in the governor’s palace (a Sirteep). On arriving at the office I spoke with the chief officer, and explained the case. He laughingly consented to the trial, and at once commenced his preparations.
A most powerful battery of ‘Menotti’ cells had just been prepared, and was soon ready for the operation. To the two poles of the battery a copper wire was attached, and at the extremity of each wire a large sponge damped for the purpose. One was given to the ‘Sirteep,’ who was instructed to tightly grasp the sponge in the paralysed arm. He
timidly complied, and was astonished to feel no sensation; but as patience usually rewards those who practise that virtue, so I told the Sirteep he would most undoubtedly receive a just recompense for waiting. The other sponge being now affixed, I cautioned the paralytic to prepare himself.
In a moment I clapped the sponge on the man’s shoulder. The result was instantaneous. The terrified man with a leap and a yell bounded forward, and before we recovered from our fit of laughter the room was entirely clear of Sirteep and servants.
One application had proved sufficient; the awful look on the man’s face, the affrighted yell and the bound, which was as quick as the lightning flash which had caused it, will ever be remembered by those who witnessed it. For some minutes we reeled, as if intoxicated, with unsuppressed laughter.
By the next day the bazaars were full of commentators on the violent shock given to
the Sirteep, which, however, effected a partial cure. A second and third dose of lightning would probably have had the desired result, but never again would the man speak of the ‘invisible fire.’
Several times afterwards, on meeting him and inquiring as to the state of his health, whether he would like another shock, he mournfully shook his head, declaring that all the stars of the universe were plainly visible to him during that terrible moment.
Once or twice on visiting the Telegraph Office our friend the Sirteep would look with wondering awe at the ‘fire machines,’ but never a word would he utter. He probably thought that it is quite possible to have too much of a good thing.