Austen Henry Layard.

Early adventures in Persia, Susiana, and Babylonia: including a residence among the Bahktiyari and other wild tribes before the discovery of Nineveh online

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their former chief, would have been too great a risk. After
well considering and weighing the alternatives, I came to
the conclusion that my best course was to endeavour to
reach Shuster, and there to present myself to the Matamet,
who would not venture to do more than send me out of the


country. I should thus be able to learn the fate of the
Bakhtiyari chiefs and their families, and to decide upon my
future plans.

In our flight Au Kerim had followed a valley in the
direction of Behbahan. My horse, although still much
fatigued, had been refreshed by food and rest. It was night
before I resumed my journey. The heat had diminished,
and a slight breeze from the mountains, from which I was
not far distant, cooled the air. I was able to steer my
course with the aid of my compass, which I had luckily
preserved, and which I carried in a pouch attached to my
belt. The hills among which I was wandering, although
low, were so precipitous and stony, and so constantly
intersected by deep ravines, that I had very great difficulty
in making my way across them.

After four or five hours' alternate riding and walking,
without meeting any human being or any wild beasts — of
which I was in some fear, as lions are frequently found in
these hills — and only having been disturbed by an occasional
hyena crossing my path, or by the jackals, which often set
up their dismal howl almost from under the feet of my
horse, I reached the plain of Behbahan. The distant
barking of dogs told me that I was near tents or a village.
I advanced cautiously, and could just distinguish in the
dawn a few low huts. I disturbed a man who was sleeping
on the ground, and who sprang up with his spear, evidently
taking me for a thief. I gave him the usual Musulman
salutation — which he returned, although still on his guard —
and then explained to him that I was a harmless traveller
who had lost his way, and was in search of hospitality.

He informed me that the village belonged to one of
those half Lur, half Arab tribes which tend their herds
of buffaloes in the plains and marshes near the rivers of
Khuzistan. He directed me to the hut of the sheikh, who
invited me to enter, and gave me and my horse some food,
of which we were both much in need.

After I had been allowed to take a little rest, I had to
answer the many questions that he put to me as to my
object in travelling alone in those parts, whence I came,


and where I was going. I told him that I was a friend of
Mirza Koma, of Behbahan, and that I was seeking to reach
that place, having been obliged to leave the mountains in
consequence of the disorders that had broken out there
since Mehemet Taki Khan had been deposed from the
chieftainship of the Bakhtiyari. He was satisfied with my
explanation, and as his small tribe belonged to Mirza
Koma, he offered to send a guide with me, if I wished for

I spent the day in the hut of the hospitable sheikh, and
resumed my journey at nightfall. He warned me that there
were roving parties both of Kuhghelu and Arabs in the
plain, and advised me to keep among the hills. He sent a
man with me as a guide, who professed to be in mortal fear
of lions, which, he declared, abounded at this season of the
year in the ravines, and frequently attacked solitary travellers
at night. However, we neither saw nor heard any, and in
the early morning I could see, at no great distance, the
gardens and palm trees of Behbahan.

I thought it desirable not to enter the town and present
myself to Mirza Koma's successor, for things had changed
since my visit there in the winter. As it was known that
I had been with Mehemet Taki Khan, who was accused of
rebellion against the Shah and was now in chains, he might
have considered it his duty to arrest me and to send me a
prisoner to the Matamet. At any rate, I thought it better
not to run the risk. Keeping, therefore, in the gardens on
the outskirts of the town, I spent the day in the hut of a

In the evening I was again on horseback, and, passing
round the town in the open country, joined the main caravan
track from Shuster to Behbahan and Shiraz, over which I
had twice travelled, and with which I was consequently ac-
quainted. Noting carefully the direction, I kept at some
distance from it.

In the morning I stopped at a small village near Sultan-
abad and the so-called gardens of Anushirwan, where I
found my old friend the seyyid, whose eyes had been almost
cured by the lotion which I had given him on my former


visit. He was surprised to see me back again, and I had
to explain how I had been with Mehemet Taki Khan to
Fellahiyah, and had accompanied his wife and family to the
mountains, whence I was now returning. He professed the
greatest affection for the Bakhtiyari chief, whose generous
charities to seyyids and other holy men he loudly extolled,
bewailing his unhappy fate. As the country between Ram
Hormuz and Shuster had been entirely deserted by its popu-
lation, and was infested by marauding parties of all kinds,
it would be impossible, he said, for me to pass through it
with safety. He, therefore, pressed me to remain as his-
guest until I might find an opportunity of joining a well-
protected caravan going to that city.

I was not sorry to avail myself of his offer of hospitality
for two days, in order to rest myself and my wearied horse.
I passed them pleasantly with this good old man, stretched,
for the most part of the time in the shade of his orange
trees, and listening to his stories about the mountain tnbes.
He was very loth to let me depart, as he was persuaded that
I was incurring an almost certain risk of being robbed and
murdered. However, as it was very improbable that any
caravan would be going to Shuster in the then disordered
state of the country and in the heat of summer, and as I
might have to wait an indefinite time before hearing of one,
I determined to continue my journey alone, notwithstanding
his friendly remonstrances. Seeing that I was resolved tO'
go, he insisted upon replenishing my saddle-bags with bread
and dried fruit, declaring that I would find neither tents nor
villages on my way, and consequently would have nothing
to eat. Indeed, he advised me to avoid them as much as-

I gratefully acknowledged his kindness and took my
leave of him. He sent his son to put me on a track which
led through the hills to the south of the plain of Ram.
Hormuz, and which he considered much safer than that
through the plain. He also described to me — a matter of
great importance at that time of the year — where I should
find water ; but advised me not to remain at pools after
sunset, for it was then that lions and other beasts of prey,.


having slept all day in their lairs, came at night to drink.
The youth rode with me for about two hours, when, showing
me the track which his father had indicated, he turned back.

I was now alone again, and left to my own resources.
Following the advice of the seyyid, I avoided as much as
possible the plain, and kept in the broken ground and in
the hills to the south of it, travelling by night and concealing
myself in ravines and hollows during the day. Fortunately,
owing to his directions I was able to find water near which
I could stop — and where there was water there was grass for
my horse. There were also trees, generally the konar, in
the shade of which I could protect myself from the scorching
sun. The fruit of this tree, and a kind of wild garlic, with
the bread and dried figs with which the good old seyyid had
provided me, were sufficient to appease my hunger.

With the exception of an occasional hyena or jackal I
did not see a single living creature until, on the third morn-
ing, I perceived in the distance some flocks which I conjec-
tured must belong to the Gunduzlu. A shepherd informed
me that I was at no great distance from the tents of Lufti
Aga. I rode to them and received a warm welcome from him.
He informed me that the Matamet had returned to Shuster,
that Mehemet Taki Khan was kept by him in chains, and
that Ali Naghi Khan had been made prisoner and sent to
Tehran. The heat, he said, had for the present stopped all
military operations. The greatest disorder and anarchy pre-
vailed amongst the Bakhtiyari and the Arabs, as, without a
chief whom they respected, and who was able to maintain
some authority over them, they were fighting among them-
selves, and were plundering and maltreating the peaceable
inhabitants of the province.

I was only about eight miles from Shuster. Some
Gunduzlu horsemen were leaving the encampment for the
city in the night. I accompanied them, and crossing the
bridge over the Ab Gargar passed through the eastern gate
as the sun rose, not a little thankful that I had performed
my journey in safety. When I related my adventures to my
Bakhtiyari and Shusteri friends, they declared that I must
have been under the special protection of Hazret Ali, as


without it no single horseman could have passed through
the country which I had traversed without being murdered
by robbers or devoured by lions.

It was not until long after that I learnt the fate of my
unfortunate friend, Au Kerim. He had been captured by
Khalyl Khan and his horsemen, who were our pursuers.
The Bahmehi chief, fearing that if he were to put his
kinsman to death there would be a perpetual blood-feud
between him and the Bakhtiyari, had given over his prisoner
to Ali Riza Khan, Mehemet Taki Khan's rival, who had
been appointed chief of the tribes in his stead by the
!Matamet. There was ' blood ' between the two chiefs and
their families. Ali Riza Khan led Au Kerim to Baghi-
Malek, and told him to prepare for death. The unhappy
youth covered his face with his hands and was immediately
shot dead.

Had I fallen into the hands of Khalyl Khan I might
have shared the same fate. The death of Au Kerim caused
me sincere grief. Of all the brothers of Mehemet Taki
Khan he was the one who possessed the most estimable
qualities, and for whom I entertained the greatest friend-



Jntei~view with the Mataniet — A yoting Georgian — Persian cruelty —
Miilla Feraju- Allah — Leave for Hawizah—An iniiospitable desert

— The Kerkhah — Arab buffalo-keepers — Sheikh Faras — His '■ imisif^

— The Hawizah Arabs — Taken for a Georgian — Peach Haioizah —
Tiie Sabceans^Join caravan to Basra — A lion — Reach the Eitpliraies
— An English merchant- ship — Arrive at Basra.

Leaving the horsemen who had accompanied me from the
Gunduzlu tents, I rode at once to the castle where the
Matamet was residing. There was httle difficulty then in
appearing before any Eastern official, however exalted his
rank. The eunuch was already holding his morning recep-
tion, listening to complaints, administering justice, ordering
the bastinado, and attending to other business — for he kept
early hours. He was seated on his gilded chair in a large
chamber excavated in the rock, and not much above the level
of the Karun. It was a kind of ' serd-ab,' or underground
summer apartment, in which he took refuge from the great
heat which prevails at Shuster during this season of the year.
I was permitted to enter, and he at once perceived me.
He inquired whence I came, and where I had been since
he had seen me in his encampment near Fellahiyah. I
told him that having received great kindness and hospitality
from Mehemet Taki Khan's family, and having left some
property with them, I had returned to them and had
accompanied them to the mountains ; and that being no
longer able to pursue the object of my visit to Khuzistan,
which was to examine its ancient monuments, as the tribes
were at war and the country in a state of dangerous disorder,


I had resolved to return to Shuster in order to find the means-
of reaching someplace whence I could continue my journey

He observed that I had run great risks, and that had I
been killed the British Government would, as usual, have
held that of the Shah responsible for my death. ' You
Englishmen,' he added, in an angry tone, 'are always
meddling in matters which do not concern you, and inter-
fering in the affairs of other countries. You attempted ta
do it in Afghanistan, but all your countrymen there have
been put to death ; not one of them has escaped.' He
then described the ignominious manner in which the corpse
of Sir William MacNaghten had been treated at Caubul^
and the insults heaped upon the bodies of other English,

After greeting me in this fashion he directed a ghulam
to conduct me to the house occupied by Suleiman Khan^
the Armenian general, whom I had seen at Eellahiyah.
He requested me not to leave Shuster without his per-
mission, as he could not answer for my safety outside the
walls. I might go about the town as much as I pleased.

Suleiman Khan himself was living in the camp with his
troops on the opposite bank of the Karun. But his son,,
who was in charge of his establishment, received me very
politely. He was a youth of about seventeen years of age.
His appearance was more that of a handsome girl than of a
boy. He was tall, slender, gentle, and almost feminine ini

' On my return to Baghdad, when writing to Colonel Hennell, who-
was -.till with the British troops at Karak, I mentioned what the Matamet
had told me concerning the massacre of the English in Afghanistan. In
his reply, dated September 9, he said : ' You will, before this, have heard
from Colonel Taylor that the reports of the English having been put to-
death throughout Caubul are equally veracious with those of the unsuc-
cessful attempt (by the English) to bombard Bushire alluded to by you. I
need not say that both are equally false. Whatever may be the real
inclinations of the Shah and his worthy Wuzir, they certainly want the
means to equip an expedition against Afghanistan.' The murder of Burns,
which preceded that of the other English in that country, took place at the
beginning of November 1841. It would consequently seem that the
Matamet, who was in the secrets of his Government, had some information
which led him to know that the extermination of the English was
contemplated, and to induce him to believe that it had already been


voice and manner. His dress was that of a Persian dandy
of rank and fashion — flowing robes of silk, bright red
shalwars of the same material, and a precious Cashmere
shawl wound round his waist, in which he carried a jewel-
handled dagger. On either side of his face was the usual
' zulf,' or long ringlet of hair, dyed with henna, as were his
finger and toe nails.

He assigned me a room in the large but half-ruined
house which he occupied. It had been the residence of
one of the principal families of Shuster, which had, at one
time, been powerful and wealthy, but had been reduced tO'
poverty by the Persian governors of the city. It was sub-
stantially built of dressed stone and contained a lofty
' iwan,' entirely open on one side to the air, with a court-
yard in front containing flower-beds and a fountain. On
either side of this hall and opening into it were a number
of small rooms, in two stories, and lighted from it. The
walls and ceilings of all these rooms had been profusely
ornamented with carved wood-work and with elegant
designs in colour and in gold, but these decorations had
greatly suffered from time and neglect. Apartments for
the servants and attendants, stables, and various outhouses
formed a kind of quadrangle enclosing the main building.
A wall separated this outer from an inner court, in which
were the women's apartments. The roofs of these buildings
were flat, and upon them the inmates passed the night
during the hot weather. Such appears to have been the
general plan of Persian houses from very early times —
certainly from those of the Sassanian dynasty, as it is to be
traced in the ruins of the magnificent palace of Chosroes, at
Ctesiphon, and in other remains of the period.

I lived in one of the small rooms leading out of the
* iwan ' on the ground floor, in a corner of which I spread
my carpet, which served me to sit upon during the day and
to sleep upon at night. I remained for nearly a month
with my host. Suleiman Khan rarely came into Shuster,
being occupied with military matters in the camp. The
house was frequented by officers of the regular troops and
by persons employed in the service of the Matamet. They


were a dissolute and debauched set of fellows, and feasted,
drank arak, and spent most of their time, half-drunk, in
listening to music and watching dancing boys and girls.

The scenes that were constantly occurring in Suleiman
Khan's house disgusted me so greatly that I passed as
much of my time as possible with Seyyid Abou'l-Hassan,
and in visiting with him the principal inhabitants of Shuster,
who were also for the most part seyyids. From them I
received great kindness, and learnt much concerning the
history of Shuster and the province, and its resources, and
other matters which were of interest to me. .

The Matamet was chief!} engaged in screwing money
out of the unfortunate inhabitants of Shuster and Dizful,
and of the surrounding districts, and out of the Arab tribes
which had remained in the province. With this object
the leading inhabitants of the towns, the ' ket-khudas ' of
the villages, and the Arab sheikhs who had fallen into
his hands, had been imprisoned in the castle and under-
went almost daily tortures. The sticks were constantly in
use, and men of the highest character and the greatest
repute in Khuzistan were ignominiously subjected to the

Having made up my mind to return to Baghdad, I
thought the opportunity a good one of visiting Hawizah
and the surrounding country under the protection of Seyyid
Mulla Feraju-Allah, the Wali or hereditary chief of that
place, who was descended from a noble and ancient Arab
family. I should thus be able to explore a district then un-
known, and to trace the course of the Kerkhah, conjectured
to Ije the Choaspes of the Greek geographers. The region
to the west of this river, then a blank on our maps, was
believed to contain ruins of a very early period. But its in-
habitants, the Beni Lam Arabs, who neither recognised the
authority of the Porte nor that of the Persian Government,
were reputed to be the most treacherous and lawless of all
the tribes in Turkish Arabia. The Wali, however, promised
me such recommendations to their sheikhs as would insure
my safety whilst passing through their territories. I deter-
mined, therefore, to take this route, which, although the


most direct and shortest to Baghdad, was never followed by
caravans or travellers on account of its danger.

Three horsemen belonging to Mulla Feraju-AUah being^
about to return to Hawizah, he suggested that I should
accompany them. I accordingly made my arrangements as
secretly as possible to go with them. I was in no need of
money, as the inhabitants of the country through which I
had to pass would not expect payment for that hospitality
which even the most degraded Arabs consider it a religious
duty to extend to a traveller. It was, indeed, better to be
without money, so as not to excite the cupidity of the Beni

As I wished to leave Shuster without being observed,
it was arranged that I should join Mulla Feraju-AUah's
horsemen outside the southern gate of the city in the
* Miyandab,' ^ as the district between the Karun and Ab
Gargar is called. Late one afternoon I left the house with-
out informing any one of my intention of quitting the city.
I found my companions waiting for me at the place ap-
pointed for our meeting. They were two Arabs and a
black slave belonging to the Wali, well mounted and armed
with long spears tufted with ostrich feathers.

It was the month of August — the hottest time of the
year — and the heat in the plains, now scorched and without
a blade of grass, was very great. When I had crossed the
Miyandab in the spring it was a vast green meadow,
gorgeous with flowers of every hue. We rested for a short
time at an Arab encampment. My companions gave out
that I was a Georgian, in the service of the Matamet, going
on his business to Hawizah. I did not think it necessary
to contradict them, and I assumed this character until I
reached that place. As they wished to get over as much
ground as possible during the night, we left the tents after
having eaten. We reached Bendi-Kir, the site of an
ancient city at the junction of the Karun and the river of
Dizful, early in the morning, and remained there until after
midday, when, although the sun was still high and the glare

- A corruption of Miyan-doo-Ab — between the two waters or rivers.


.and heat most oppressive, my guides thought it necessary
to continue our journey, as the nearest Arab tents that we
could hope to reach were many hours distant. We crossed
the two rivers by fords, and entered upon the desert plains
between them and the Kerkhah, which were without water,
and consequently uninhabited. In the dry season the deep
sand in parts of them, and in the rainy season the mud,
render the passage across them difficult for horsemen.

This arid waste during the summer months is much
dreaded by the Arabs, in consequence of the simoom which
frequently blows across it. This pernicious wind has been
known to overwhelm and destroy a whole caravan of tra-
vellers with their beasts. We were now in the season of
the year when it prevails, and my companions having heard
that only three days before some inhabitants of Shuster,
overtaken by it, had perished, professed to be much
alarmed at the prospect before us. However, we filled our
water-skins, and entered upon this desert, apparently with-
out a single elevation or landmark to guide us.

The Arabs who were with me were not familiar with the
track, and when night came on they admitted that they had
lost their way. Dismounting from their horses, they tasted
the earth and examined the stunted bushes which we
occasionally found on our path, hoping thus to ascertain
where we were. We had only the stars to guide us. We
soon found ourselves among low hills, or rather mounds, of
drifted sand, in which our horses frequently sank up to the
saddle-girths, and were constantly falling. We thus wan-
dered about for two or three hours in the darkness.

Our horses, having had neither rest, food, nor water for
many hours, could scarcely drag themselves along. I pro-
posed that we should wait until daylight to continue our
journey ; but my companions were afraid of lions, which
they maintained abounded in this desolate country, al-
though it was scarcely likely that such could be the case,
as there was nothing for them cither to eat or to drink.
They were persuaded that the Kerkhah could not be far
distant. We therefore struggled on foot through the deep
sand, leading our horses. ^Vhen nearly exhausted from


fatigue, we suddenly heard the distant noise of running
water. No sound could have been more welcome. The
night had been unusually oppressive on account of a hot
■wind — happily not the simoom. Our water-skins had been
long emptied, and our animals, as well as ourselves, were
suffering from intense thirst.

We soon reached the river-bank, and, stretching our-
selves at full length on the ground, drank copiously of the
•delicious stream. The water of the Kerkhah — presuming
this river to be rightly identified with the Choaspes —
appeared to me well deserving of its ancient renown. He-
rodotus states that the Persian monarchs would drink of
no other, and golden vessels filled with it were sent to them
by special couriers to the furthest parts of their empire.
This custom of sending water known for its purity to great
distances, for the use of kings and great personages, has
lasted to our times. Buickhardt relates how the celebrated
Mehemet Ali Pasha of Egypt, when engaged in war with
the Wahabees in Central Arabia, had the water of the Nile
brought to him daily for his use. That of the Kerkhah is
still so highly esteemed by the Persians that it is thus for-
warded to persons of high rank, such as the Matamet.

Our horses rejoiced no less than ourselves when we
reached the banks of the river. After we had refreshed

Online LibraryAusten Henry LayardEarly adventures in Persia, Susiana, and Babylonia: including a residence among the Bahktiyari and other wild tribes before the discovery of Nineveh → online text (page 27 of 41)