My Wanderings in Persia
Christmas-day. — Severity of the Winter. — Cause of Famine. — Orders to Leave. — The Seal. — Written Agreements. — Controversy. — ‘Yallah!’ — en route. — Zergoon. — Protectionists. — Persepolis. — Saidoon. — Old Friends. — Caravan looted. — Compensation. — Tomb of King Cyrus. — Morghaub. — Ruins of Pasargadae.
CHRISTMAS-DAY was signalized in a true English fashion by a heavy downfall of snow. We were making preparations for a right good festive evening, but ‘l’homme propose et Dieu dispose’ — before noon I received a communication from the officer in charge of the station that my section of lines was totally interrupted.
In a short time I, with some workmen, was out on the road. The recent fall of snow made our progress slow, but this time the fates
were rather propitious. About six miles from the city we found and repaired the fault, which restored through communication, and in a short time we were retracing our steps as quickly as the deeply accumulated snow would permit.
As dinner-time was not far distant, I was more anxious to be back: I need not add that I was just in time, although in Bedford cord, to sit down to a sumptuous repast at which all the Europeans of Shiraz (ten) were present.
On New Years’ Eve a similar celebration took place. About five minutes before midnight it was proposed that we should each give five minutes’ silent thought to ‘our far-off home;’ and as each one with covered face stood, their whole heart being upwards of 6,000 miles away, a deep and solemn silence pervaded the room; the solemnity of the occasion will never be forgotten.
Some had been away from home and friends
upwards of a dozen years, and were eagerly anticipating an early return to those familiar scenes, somewhat dimly seen by the lapse of so many years — others were but in their first years; but each had one loved spot. Some were careworn, and brooding over hopes long since crushed, whilst others were full of buoyancy, and elated with hopefulness of the future. All minds were alike in one respect: that far-off spot, England, was the centre of all our cherished feelings.
As the old year passed away these feelings became more impressive, and as the clock tolled out the death-notes of the old and the advent of a new year, we joined hands, and the heartiness and sincerity with which ‘Auld lang syne’ was sung can only be equalled and appreciated by those who are in similar circumstances, far from home and its comforts, and who have but the opportunity of meeting their fellow-countrymen at such times as these.
The winter of this year was one of greater severity than is generally felt in Persia. The Caravan roads were in many places entirely blocked with snow, and from December until late in February caravans were unable to leave Shiraz either northwards or southwards.
Deaths from starvation and frost were of an appalling frequency. On several occasions the English courier (a native) from Bushire, whilst crossing the mountains, was severely frostbitten.
In Western Persia, and towards the Turkish frontier, the severity of the season was marked with great distress, hundreds of poorly clad, ill-fed villagers succumbing to the bitter pangs of hunger and cold. Great scarcity of provisions was the result of the prolonged winter.
No notice of such distress is taken by the Government. When the Minister of the Interior was informed of the grave state of this part of the country, he merely shrugged his
shoulders, and replied that it was the will of Allah.
No store of corn is laid up during the summer. Just sufficient is grown by the Ryots for their own personal use and to pay the taxes imposed on them. The land is used up with cotton and opium, which brings in a better market value. The wealthier class of Persians (merchants) never think of sowing more corn than will be required for consumption and seed. Sometimes they will sow none at all, but fill all cultivated land with cotton, tobacco and opium, which, as I have said, finds a readier and nearer market than would grain.
The consequence of this deplorable want of wisdom, both in the local government and the individual, is that at the first scarcity of rain, food at once becomes scarce. Should an entire season pass without rain, the only possible, though lamentable, result is a famine, as was the case in 1873.
By using the land — which is rich and good where cultivated — for corn, maize, etc., in its proper proportion, and in maintaining local storehouses, these disastrous seasons would be, if not altogether avoided, greatly mitigated. But in Persia, so long as there is plenty for the despot and his minion-like ministers, no thought or provision is thought of for the future.
Early in March I received orders to leave Shiraz as early as possible for Teheran, and on the 10th of that month my caravan was in readiness, and only required the muleteers seal and my own to complete the arrangements.
Throughout the East the seal is universally used. Every tradesman, every water-carrier, and, in fact, every one else, is possessed of a seal. Orientals are extremely fond of written agreements, and for the most trivial transaction the agreement is written and the inevitable seal is produced, and after much
careful examination the impression of the seal is affixed.
Sometimes the trader is unable to write. If such be the case, he will send for, or bring, the public scribe, who, after long deliberation, questioning and cross-questioning, will present to the ‘Ṣáḥib’ the agreement, which, if in conformity with the wishes of both parties, is sealed.
It is amusing to note the solemn countenance of the scribe as he writes the words of the contract. It is seldom the man himself dictates this; he generally is helped by a host of acquaintances, who accompany him on his important errand, and voluntarily offer their superior judgment.
A seal intrusted to another is considered a great honour: it transfers power from the giver to the holder, and is always esteemed as a great confidence.
The signet was and is a symbol of supreme authority. The ring given by the Egyptian Pharaoh to Joseph invested him with the chief
power of the state. The Holy Sepulchre was sealed — no doubt with the commander’s seal — to make it secure, or perchance with that of the Emperor himself, the Roman officer knowing no one would dare break the seal of the great Caesar. In Persia, all documents pertaining to Government affairs are sealed by the Shah, or in his absence by the Minister intrusted with this sovereign power.
When the agreement with my charvodar (muleteer) had been signed, he assured me, with many prostrations, that his beard was in my hands, and that he was my sacrifice and my slave: the mules should be brought at once. He was then dismissed, with orders to be loaded up by sunset.
Noon passed, and evening approached, yet without the promised mules. Towards sunset the charvodar reappeared, saying that (through his promises so lavishly bestowed on me) he had eaten much dirt, yet the animals could not be found before morning.
I was expecting, and quite ready for this announcement, it being but the customary thing in this country of truthfulness, and I threatened, in lieu of non-appearance in less than three hours, to deduct two days’ hire from each mule. The man protested that the animals were not in town, but I knew it was but an excuse — one more falsehood on the already well-filled page.
After much useless palaver and controversy between the muleteer and my servant — he, absurdly obsequious, left, and in a short time the peculiar jingle of the peeshang’s (leading mule) bell was heard, and a string of mules followed into the courtyard.
The process of loading now commenced, and after much shouting — amid which my muleteer’s volubility of speech could not be questioned — and delay, I had the pleasure of seeing the charvodar ‘gird up his loins,’ and with many a ‘Yallah!’ (‘God help us!’) lead the peeshang into the road.
I now mounted my horse, and commenced a journey of 750 miles, which would occupy about thirty-four days.
It was with feelings of reluctancy and deep disappointment that I left Shiraz. I was leaving for a place where I should be an entire stranger, where fresh friends and acquaintances must of necessity be made — leaving those friends who in the hour of danger had proved themselves worthy of that name, to find those who would use the term simply in the common use of language. The feelings of loneliness and despondency were much more acute than on any former occasion. Not even on leaving England were these so intense as on the present journey.
I was accompanied a considerable distance by the members of the staff and some Armenian Christians with whom I was acquainted, until the setting sun warned them, that if they wished to return ere darkness set in, it was time their horses were turned towards the city. As everything has
an end, so had our leave-taking. Several times each one of us turned in the saddle to wave our helmets at the fast receding forms, until a bend in the road hid them from my sight.
Our first stage was Zergoon, distant five farsaks (twenty miles), from Shiraz. The road is a most miserable one, and never did it appear more so than on this night. A barren plain covers the entire way; the road is thickly strewn with large sharp stones. At each step the mules would stumble in the darkness over some huge boulder, which the Persians, through laziness, refuse to remove — much rather would they allow the poor animals to fall and lacerate their flesh on the razor-like edge of the flinty stones, and repack the fallen loads, than lend a hand for their removal.
High mountains rise at either side, and the eye is unrelieved of this barrenness until nearing the end of the stage, when the road runs through the richly cultivated plain of Zergoon.
Nearing the village, which is situated at the base of a stupendous range of hills, are cotton, maize and tobacco fields, rich in their productions. Passing these, a few mud ruins are dotted here and there, and then comes the filthy smell of a Persian village.
The chapar khaneh is, I may say, the best in the country, and oft times have I been pleased to see the whitewashed walls of this clean, healthily built little rest-house.
As we passed through the narrow lanes, or rather alleys, of Zergoon, the street dogs were awakened to a very lively sense of duty by one of the most dismal howlings I ever heard. The good people of Zergoon were in no way disturbed, however, at the noise. We passed many sleeping men stretched full length at the roadside, notwithstanding the cold was intense. In a short time after our arrival all was quiet, and I fell into a refreshing sleep.
I had given orders for an early departure,
as I wished to pay a farewell visit to the Persepolis and Tombs of the Kings, which were in our day’s route. Long ere the sun had made his advent we had saddled up and were moving towards the magnificent ruins of Alexander the Great.
From Zergoon an extensive plain spreads itself some twenty-five miles northwards. Around the village the land is very marshy; in winter and early spring the surrounding country is entirely under water. Small bridges have been built to facilitate the passage of caravans. Here the sportsman finds plenty of game — wild ducks and pigeons offer great attractions to one so inclined.
Leaving Zergoon, the first sign of life is Pool-i-Khan, or the Lord’s Bridge, so named after some generous-hearted Persian noble, who in the fulness of a too patriotic heart caused its erection. On nearer approach, one would imagine that the art of bridge-building had not, in those days, reached the acme of per-
fection which graces the fame of these latter days of the nineteenth century. From the road’s level to the summit of the bridge fifty feet are interjacent; its ascent reminds one too forcibly of the wearisome journey from Bushire to Shiraz, or of the tiring ascent of the London fire monument in Fish Street; and to say that the structure was slightly awry would be but gross flattery.
A miserable hut of river reeds is built at one extremity of the bridge, which affords shelter to a few not less miserable men who are called road-guards, stationed here by a munificent Government to protect(!) travellers from molestation.
These men are supposed to receive a salary of about three shillings per month; but were they questioned as to the last date of payment, their answer would undoubtedly be: ‘We have no knowledge — God knows!’ The salaries are paid by the district Governor to some subordinate officer, who hands over a portion only
to the head road-guard, whilst the remainder he appropriates to his own use.
The head road-guard, on his own responsibility, thinks great trouble is avoided by making the payments every four or six months; but owing to much-regretted miscalculation of dates, the four months are generally prolonged to fourteen, when the men receive two or three months’ pay, with a promise of better things in the future; and should the road-guards in discontent refuse to remain at their post, the first man who is ‘wanted’ for robbery in that locality is indubitably the dissatisfied public guardian, who, without being allowed a word in defence, would be sentenced to some inhuman torture — perhaps, as is usually, the case, to be built up alive. Such is the administration of justice in the realms of the Shadow of the Universe!
Should the traveller decline their proffered protection, and forget to present them with two or three krans, he may possibly, a short
distance further, meet a body of armed men, who insinuatingly ask for pul (money); and unless that faculty of the brain called memory be defective, in these gentleman of the road may be recognised our would-be guardians.
From Pool-i-Khan to Persepolis — eight miles — the road runs through a continuation of the plain, richly cultivated by the waters of the river Bunderud, which is one of the largest in Persia. In winter it is so swollen by water from the adjacent hills that it frequently overflows its banks and submerges the surrounding land.
This plain is spoken of by the Greek historians as the plain of a hundred cities, abounding in riches, watered by an ever-flowing river, and honoured by the first palace of King Cyrus (whose tomb is but a few miles distant). At the present time one or two insignificant mud villages are to be seen where once this lauded grandeur of the Great Persian Empire stood.
The population is very scanty, and where
teeming thousands, perhaps millions, once lived and passed through the rush and hush of life, but a few unenlightened villagers now, in a most primitive manner, accept the toils and burdens of their isolated existence.
It reminded me of the words of a modern English writer (Macaulay), speaking of the possibilities of the New-Zealander sitting on the overthrown and moss-clad stones of London Bridge and viewing with trembling imagination the crumbled ruins of the great London, once the most populous city of the known world. Nations exist and pass away: the distant future may witness such sights on the overgrown grandeur of our boasted capital — the Houses of Parliament, like the Persepolis, left as a mark and a tribute to by-gone greatness.
Whilst still a considerable distance from the Persepolis, the mighty majestic pillars of these grand old ruins are seen proudly raising their ornamented heads toward the heavens, standing monuments of the work of (according to
some historians) 3,000 years ago. Some of the pillars in solid white marble exceed seventy feet in height, and are in the most perfect state of preservation.
The Persepolis is built at the most northern extremity of the plain, at the base of a high and rugged mountain called Istakar. The ascent from the plain to the Hall of Justice is by a splendid staircase of solid marble; each step is fourteen inches deep, and are eighty in number at both extremities. On reaching the summit, the enraptured gaze of the traveller is met by two enormous and magnificent slabs of marble, on which are sculptured two colossal bulls: this is the entrance to the hall called Justice.
Further on is the king’s bedchamber — a splendid room of hieroglyphic sculpture, in the same preserved perfection; but it would be useless and presumptive on my part to attempt a description of these, the oldest ruins in the world, after the most graphic and elucidative articles by Ferguson, Rawlinson and others.
The Tombs of the Kings, six miles off, are described in the same eulogistic manner by Dr. Ferguson. They are three in number, cut in marble; each room is about nine feet in length, six in width, and eight in height. It is impossible to enter them except by ropes from above, and this being so dangerous few attempt it.
From here to our caravanserai is eight miles, and as the sun is rapidly sinking in the western horizon, we deem it time to depart.
The whole distance from Pool-i-Khan is a pleasant ride: rich fields of yellow corn, cotton, castor-oil plants, and opium are approaching harvest time; vineyards are here and there passed; and just as the last ray of the sun cast its golden hue on the mountain tops, we descried not far ahead the chapar khaneh of Saidoon nestling amongst the many groves of pomegranate and fig-trees of that pretty English-looking village, one of, if not the prettiest in Persia.
I was now forty-seven miles on my journey to Teheran.
In the morning, after receiving a visit from the village governor, I again mounted my horse — this time with the pleasure of knowing that before noon I should be with an European family — the inspectors of my old station, Sevund.
I arrived in time for breakfast, and it did not require much persuasion to induce me to remain the day, although I had but made ten miles since morning, and with the prospect of thirty-six miles the following day. The night was far spent ere we retired to our couches, and I had not been asleep long before the familiar voice of my servant awoke me to say that the caravan was ready to start. However, I did not leave until after the morning meal, my friends pressed me so much to stay a little longer: the caravan proceeded, whilst myself and servants followed.
A short time after noon found me a dozen
miles from our last halting-place, under a shady tree, enjoying my breakfast off a newly-shot duck and fresh dates.
The caravan track leading to our next resting place is generally infested with Arab robbers. It runs through a mountain defile, whence it is altogether impossible to attempt an escape. However, on this occasion I was more fortunate than on a previous one, when my caravan was attacked and robbed of almost all it carried.
I myself was inspecting the line, which is usually constructed some distance from the caravan roads, on account of the nomadic tribes using the insulators and cast-iron sockets as targets for their matchlocks. My caravan was proceeding along this road, called ‘Tang-i-Bulaghee’ (‘The Crooked Pass’), when a number of Arab horsemen rode up and peremptorily demanded everything to be given up. They asked where the money was, and on being informed that the ‘Sahib’ carried it, they
unmercifully beat all who were with the caravan, stripped and left them in their pitiable condition; one muleteer was slightly wounded by a sword cut.
Under such circumstances the Persian Government afford such compensation as is submitted by the injured party through the local governor, the latter personage being supposed to collect the indemnity from the tribe by whom the robbery is committed. It invariably falls to the lot of the villagers of that district, not to pay the amount submitted, but twice that sum, the second half being recompense for the governor and his subordinates. Such amends I received from that source, but of the annoyance and trouble caused nothing is said.
It was November when this robbery was committed; the cold was intense, and the certainty that unless I could buy or borrow something I should be obliged to sleep for some nights minus bed or blankets was a con-
summation not to be wished. My servants and muleteers were in a far worse plight, having nothing to protect them from the cutting blasts of wind except the camel and mule rugs which were taken from the poor, already half-starred animals.
On this journey to Teheran we passed unmolested through the ‘Tang.’ I had fully determined this time to protect my rights had they been assailed.
At the northern side of this pass we enter upon a plain similar to the one on which the ruins of the Persepolis stands. One village is built in its centre, and named after the illustrious king whose tomb is here. The Persians call it the tomb of their Solomon — it is really the burial place of King Cyrus, spoken of by the Prophet Ezra and others.
The tomb is of white marble, standing some thirty feet high, ascended by huge giant-like steps: the interior of the tomb is but small, compared with the massiveness of its
external appearance; it is scarcely six feet long, and not as much in height. It has not withstood the ravages of time and decay near so well as the palace of its renowned builder (it is said that Cyrus built this tomb for himself). Some portions of the entrance are crumbling away; the outer work is bleached and whitened by the heat of thousands of years.
It is indeed miraculous how these relics of Persia’s ancient grandeur have resisted the onslaughts of the great ravager — Time. Exposed to the violence of rains, the burning heat of the sun, and devastating storms, one wonders in awe-struck surprise at the age of these giant structures. The hands which assisted in rearing up the columns long, long ago mouldered away into the dust, returned from whence they came; but their works still stand as monuments of their skill.
Closely adjacent to the tomb of Cyrus stand the ruins of a Guebre temple; its age is unknown. It is probable the temple was
erected about the time of Cyrus, as it bears similar inscriptions, and the architecture is of the same period. All around the neighbourhood are huge stones and fallen pillars, denoting the existence of an extensively populated city.
The valley of Morghaub (the ancient Pasargadae) is cultivated, and produces in abundance barley, maize, etc. The vineyards around the village are extensive, the grapes being exceedingly large and luscious. Morghaub is celebrated throughout Persia as a carpet manufactory, which are of the finest in the East.
Morghaub was our halting place. Its ancient name Pasargadae originates from a camp which remained on the spot when Cyrus, King of Persia, conquered the Median King of Rhey or Rhages.
After being located in the Morghaub post-house some time, I, loosely dressed, strolled along the roof gazing at the village scenery, [missing page]