Isabella L. (Isabella Lucy) Bird.

Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan : including a summer in the Upper Karun region and a visit to the Nestorian rayahs (Volume 1) online

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MRS. BISHOP (ISABELLA L. BIRD). Frontispiece, vol. 1.














" Miss Bird's fascinating and instructive work on Japan fully maintains
her well-earned reputation as a traveller of the first order, and a graphic
and picturesque writer. Miss Bird is a born traveller, fearless, enthusiastic,
patient, instructed, knowing as well what as how to describe. No peril
daunts her, no prospect of fatigue or discomfort disheartens or repels
her." Quarterly Review.

I. UNBEATEN TRACKS IN JAPAN, Including Visits to the
Aborigines of Yezo and the Shrines of Nikko and Ise.
With Illustrations. Crown 8vo. $2.50.


With Illustrations. Post 8vo. $1.75.


the Palm Groves, Coral Reefs, and Volcanoes of the Sandwich Islands.

With Illustrations. Crown 8vo. $2. 50.


With Map and Illustrations. Crown 8vo. $2.00.



THE letters of which these volumes are composed embrace
the second half of journeys in the East extending over
a period of two years. 1 They attempt to be a faithful
record of facts and impressions, but were necessarily
written in haste at the conclusion of fatiguing marches,
and often in circumstances of great discomfort and diffi-
culty, and I relied for their correction in the event of
publication on notes made with much care. Unfortu-
nately I was robbed of nearly the whole of these, partly
on my last journey in Persia and partly on the Turkish
frontier, a serious loss, which must be my apology to the
reader for errors which, without this misfortune, would
not have occurred.

The bibliography of Persia is a very extensive one,
and it may well be that I have little that is new to
communicate, except on a part of Luristan previously
untraversed by Europeans ; but each traveller receives
a different impression from those made upon his pre-
decessors, and I hope that my book may be accepted as
an honest attempt to make a popular contribution to the
sum of knowledge of a country and people with which
we are likely to be brought into closer relations.

1 I left England with a definite object in view, to which others were
subservient, but it is not necessary to obtrude it on the reader.


As these volumes are simply travels in Persia and
Eastern Asia Minor, and are not a book on either country,
the references to such subjects as were not within the
sphere of my observation are brief and incidental. The
administration of government, the religious and legal
systems, the tenure of land, and the mode of taxation
are dismissed in a few lines, and social customs are only
described when I came in contact with them. The
Ilyats, or nomadic tribes, form a very remarkable element
of the population of Persia, but I have only noticed two
of their divisions the Bakhtiari and Feili Lurs. The
antiquities of Persia are also passed over with hardly a
remark, as well as many other subjects, which have been
" threshed out " by previous writers with more or less of

I make these omissions with all the more satisfaction,
because most that is " knowable " concerning Persia will
be accessible on the publication of a work now in the
Press, Persia and the Persian Question, by the Hon. George
N. Curzon, M.P., who has not only travelled extensively
in the country, but has bestowed such enormous labour
and research upon it, and has had such exceptional
opportunities of acquiring the latest and best official
information, that his volumes may fairly be described as
" exhaustive."

It is always a pleasant duty to acknowledge kindness,
and I am deeply grateful to several friends for the help
which they have given me in many ways, and for the
trouble which some of them have taken to recover facts
which were lost with my notes, as well as for the careful
revision of a portion of my letters in MS. I am indebted
to the Indian authorities for the materials for a sketch
map, for photographs from which many of the illustrations
are taken, and for the use of a valuable geographical
report, and to Mr. Thistleton Dyer, Director of the Royal


Botanic Gardens at Kew, for the identification of a few
of my botanical specimens.

In justice to the many kind friends who received me
into their homes, I am anxious to disclaim having either
echoed or divulged their views on Persian or Turkish
subjects, and to claim and accept the fullest responsibility
for the opinions expressed in these pages, which, whether
right or wrong, are wholly my own. It is from those
who know Persia and Kurdistan the best that I am sure
of receiving the most kindly allowance wherever, in spite
of an honest desire to be accurate, I have fallen into

The retention, not only of the form, but of the reality
of diary letters, is not altogether satisfactory either to
author or reader, for the author sacrifices the literary
and artistic arrangement of his materials, and however
ruthlessly omissions are made, the reader is apt to find
himself involved in a multiplicity of minor details, treated
in a fashion which he is inclined to term " slipshod," and
to resent the egotism which persistently clings to familiar
correspondence. Still, even with all the disadvantages of
this form of narrative, I think that letters are the best
mode of placing the reader in the position of the traveller,
and of enabling him to share, not only first impressions
in their original vividness, and the interests and enjoy-
ments of travelling, but the hardships, difficulties, and
tedium which are their frequent accompaniments !

For the lack of vivacity which, to my thinking, per-
vades the following letters, I ask the reader's indulgence.
They were originally written, and have since been edited,
under the heavy and abiding shadow, not only of the loss
of the beloved and only sister who was the inspiration
of my former books of travel, and to whose completely
sympathetic interest they owed whatever of brightness
they possessed, but of my beloved husband, whose able


and careful revision accompanied my last volume through
the Press.

Believing that these letters faithfully reflect what I
saw of the regions of which they treat, I venture to
ask for them the same kindly and lenient criticism with
which my travels in the Far East and elsewhere were
received in bygone years, and to express the hope that
they may help to lead towards that goal to which all
increase of knowledge of races and beliefs tends a truer
and kindlier recognition of the brotherhood of man, as
seen in the light of the Fatherhood of God.


November 12, 1891.



Mrs. Bishop (Isabella L. Bird)

A Gopher

A Turkish Frontier Fort .

Lodgings for Travellers

Persian Bread-making

The Shrine of Fatima

A Dervish

Castle of Ardal

Imam Kuli Khan

The Karun at Dupulan

AH Jan .

Armenian Women of Libasgun

Wall and Gate of Libasgun

A Perso-Bakhtiari Cradle .

A Dastgird Tent


Page 19

To face page 78


. 159
. 167
. 237
. 318
. 326

To face page 351
. 362
. 366

To face page 368

. 372

To face page 378


Abambar, a covered reservoir.

Agha, a master.

Andarun, women's quarters, a haram.

Arak, a coarse spirit.

Badfflr, wind-tower.

Badragah, a parting escort.

Balakhana, an upper room.

Bringals, egg plants.

Chapar, post.

Cfiapar Khana, post-house.

Chapi, the Bakhtiari national dance.

Outrvadar, a muleteer.

Farash, lit. a carpet-spreader.

Farsakh, from three and a half to

four miles.
Gardan, a pass.

Qaz, a sweetmeat made from manna.
Gelims, thin carpets, drugget.
Gheva, a summer shoe.
Gholam, an official messenger or

Hakim, a governor.
Hakim, a physician.
Hammam, a Turkish or hot bath.
llyats, the nomadic tribes of Persia.
Imam, a saint, a religious teacher.
Imamzada, a saint's shrine.
fstikbal, a procession of welcome.
Jid, a horse's outer blanket.
Kdbob, pieces of skewered meat

seasoned and toasted.

Kafir, an infidel, a Christian.

Kah, chopped straw.

Kajawehs, horse-panniers.

Kalian, a "hubble-bubble" or water-
pipe for tobacco.

Kamarband, a girdle.

Kanaat, an underground water-

Kanat, the upright side of a tent.

Karsi, a wooden frame for covering a

Katirgi (Turkish), a muleteer.

Ketchuda, a headman of a village.

Khan, lord or prince ; a designation
as common as esquire.

Khan (Turkish), an inn.

Khanjar, a curved dagger.

Khanji (Turkish), the keeper of a

Khanum, a lady of rank.

Khurjins, saddle bags.

Kizik, a slab of animal fuel.

Kotal, lit. a ladder, a pass.

Kourbana (Syriac), the Holy Com-

Kran, eightpence.

Kuh, mountain.

Lira (Turkish), about 1.

Malek (Syriac, lit. king), a chief or

Mamachi, midwife.


Mangel, a brazier.

Mast, curdled milk.

Medresseh, a college.

Mirza, a scribe, secretary, or gentle-
man. An educated man.

Modakel, illicit percentage.

Mollah, a religious teacher.

Munshi, a clerk, a teacher of languages.

Xamad, felt.

Nasr, steward.

Odah (Turkish), a room occupied by
human beings and animals.

Piastre, a Turkish coin worth two-

Pirahan, a chemise or shirt.

Pish-kash, a nominal present.

Qasha (Syriac), a priest.

Rayahs, subject Syrians.

Roghan, clarified butter.

Samovar, a Russian tea-urn .

Sartip, a general.

Seraidar, the keeper of a caravanserai.

S/iarbat, a fruit syrup.

Shroff, a money-changer.

Shuldari (Slwoldarry), a small tent

with two poles and a ridge pole,

but without kanats.
Shulwars, wide trousers.
Sowar, a horseman, a horse soldier.
TakcJiah, a recess in a wall.
Taktrawan, a mule litter.
Tandur, an oven in a floor.
Tang, a rift or defile.
\Tufangchi, a foot soldier, an armed


'Tii/man, seven shillings and sixpence.
Vakil, an authorised representative.
Vdkil-u-Dowleh, agent of Government.
Yabu, a pony or inferior horse.
Yailaks, summer quarters.
Yekdan, a mule or camel trunk, made

of leather.

Yolwort (Turkish), curdled milk.
Zaptieh (Turkish), a gendarme.



A shamed or N.W. wind following on the sirocco which
had accompanied us up " the Gulf " was lashing the shallow
waters of the roadstead into reddish yeast as we let go
the anchor opposite the sea front of Bushire, the most
important seaport in Persia. The Persian man-of-war
Persepolis, officered by Germans, H.M. ship Sphinx, two big
steamers owned in London, a British -built three-masted
clipper, owned and navigated by Arabs, and a few Arab
native vessels tugged at their anchors between two and
three miles from the shore. Native buggalows clustered
and bumped round the trading vessels, hanging on with
difficulty, or thumped and smashed through the short
waves, close on the wind, easily handled and sailing
magnificently, while the Residency steam-launch, puffing
and toiling, was scarcely holding her own against a heavy
head sea.

Bushire, though it has a number of two-storied
houses and a population of 15,000, has a most insignifi-
cant appearance, and lies so low that from the Assyria's
deck it gave the impression of being below the sea-level.
The shamal was raising a sand storm in the desert beyond ;
the sand was drifting over it in yellow clouds, the moun-
tains which at a greater or less distance give a wild
sublimity to the eastern shores of the Gulf were blotted



out, and a blurred and windy shore harmonised with a
blurred and windy sea.

The steam-launch, which after several baffled attempts
succeeded in reaching the steamer's side, brought letters
of welcome from Colonel Eoss, who for eighteen years has
filled the office of British Resident in the Persian Gulf
with so much ability, judgment, and tact as to have earned
the respect and cordial esteem of Persians, Arabs, the
mixed races, and Europeans alike. Of his kindness and
hospitality there is no occasion to write, for every stranger
who visits the Gulf has large experience of both.

The little launch, though going shorewards with the
wind, was tossed about like a cork, shipping deluges of
spray, and it was so cold and generally tumultuous, that
it was a relief to exchange the shallow, wind-lashed
waters of the roadstead for the shelter of a projecting
sea-wall below the governor's house. A curricle, with
two fiery little Arab horses, took us over the low windy
stretch of road which lies behind Bushire, through a part
of the town and round again to the sea-shore, on which
long yellow surges were breaking thunderously in drifts
of creamy foam. The Residency, a large Persian house,
with that sort of semi -fortified look which the larger
Eastern houses are apt to have, is built round court-
yards, and has a fine entrance, which was lined with well-
set-up men of a Bombay marine battalion. As is usual
in Persia and Turkey, the reception rooms, living rooms,
and guest rooms are upstairs, opening on balconies, the
lower part being occupied by the servants and as domestic
offices. Good fires were a welcome adjunct to the genial
hospitality of Colonel Ross and his family, for the mer-
cury, which for the previous week had ranged from 84
to 93, since the sunrise of that day had dropped to 45,
and the cold, damp wind suggested an English February.
Even the Residency, thick as its walls are, was invaded


by sea sand, and penetrated by the howlings and shriek-
ings of the shamal and the low hiss at intervals of wind-
blown spray.

This miserable roadstead does a large trade, 1 though
every bale and chest destined for the cities of the interior
must be packed on mules' backs for carriage over the
horrible and perilous kotals or rock ladders of the inter-
vening mountain ranges. The chief caravan route in
Persia starts from Bushire via Shiraz, Isfahan, Kashan,
and Kum, to Tihran. A loaded mule takes from thirty
to thirty -five days to Isfahan, and from Isfahan to
Tihran from twelve to sixteen days, according to the
state of the roads.

Bushire does not differ in appearance from an ordi-
nary eastern town. Irregular and uncleanly alleys, dead
mud walls, with here and there a low doorway, bazars
in which the requirements of caravans are largely con-
sidered, and in which most of the manufactured goods
are English, a great variety in male attire, some small
mosques, a marked predominance of the Arab physiognomy
and costume, and ceaseless strings of asses bringing skins
of water from wells a mile from the town, are my impres-

1 According to the returns for 1889, the British tonnage entering the
Bushire roadstead was 111,745 out of 118,570 tons, and the imports from
British territory amounted to a value of 744,018 out of 790,832. The
exports from Bushire in the same year amounted to 535,076, that of
opium being largely on the increase. Among other things exported are
pistachio nuts, gum, almonds, madder, wool, and cotton. Regarding gum,
the wars in the Soudan have affected the supply of it, and Persia is reaping
the benefit, large quantities now being collected from certain shrubs, especi-
ally from the wild almond, which abounds at high altitudes. The draw-
back is that firewood and charcoal are becoming consequently dearer and
scarcer. The gum exported in 1889 was 7472 cwts., as against 14,918 in
1 888, but the value was more than the same. !

The imports into Bushire, as comparing 1889 with 1888, have
increased by 244,186, and the exports by 147,862. The value of the
export of opium, chiefly to China, was 231,521, as against 148,523 in


sions of the first Persian city that I have seen. The
Persian element, however, except in officialism and the
style of building, is not strong, the population being
chiefly composed of " Gulf Arabs." There are nearly
fifty European residents, including the telegraph staff
and the representatives of firms doing a very large busi-
ness with England, the Persian Gulf Trading Company,
Messrs. Hotz and Company, Messrs. Gray, Paul, and
Company, and the British India Steam Navigation Com-
pany, which has enormously developed the trade of the

Bushire is the great starting-point of travellers from
India who desire " to go home through Persia " by Shiraz
and Persepolis. Charvadars (muleteers) and the neces-
sary outfit are obtainable, but even the kindness of the
Resident fails to overcome the standing difficulty of
obtaining a Persian servant who is both capable and
trustworthy. Having been forewarned by him not to
trust to Bushire for this indispensable article, I had
brought from India a Persian of good antecedents and
character, who, desiring to return to his own country, was
willing to act as my interpreter, courier, and sole attend-
ant. Grave doubts of his ability to act in the two
latter capacities occurred to me before I left Karachi,
grew graver on the voyage, and were quite confirmed as
we tossed about in the Eesidency launch, where the
"young Persian gentleman," as he styled himself, sat
bolt upright with a despairing countenance, dressed in a
tall hat, a beautifully made European suit, faultless tan
boots, and snowy collar and cuffs, a man of truly refined
feeling and manners, but hopelessly out of place. I
pictured him helpless among the ddshdbilU and roughnesses
of a camp, and anticipated my insurmountable reluctance
to ask of him menial service, and was glad to find that
the same doubts had occurred to himself.


I lost no time in interviewing Hadji, a Gulf Arab,
who has served various travellers, has been ten times to
Mecca, went to Windsor with the horses presented to the
Queen by the Sultan of Muscat, speaks more or less of
six languages, knows English fairly, has some recom-
mendations, and professes that he is " up to " all the
requirements of camp life. The next morning I engaged
him as " man of all work," and though a big, wild-looking
Arab in a rough abba, and a big turban, with a long
knife and a revolver in his girdle, scarcely looks like a
lady's servant, I hope he may suit me, though with these
antecedents he is more likely to be a scamp than a

The continuance of the shamal prevented the steamer
from unloading in the exposed roadstead, and knocked
the launch about as we rejoined her. We called at
the telegraph station at Fao, and brought off Dr. Bruce,
the head of the Church Missionary Society's Mission at
Julfa, whose long and intimate acquaintance with the
country and people will make him a great acquisition on
the Tigris.

" About sixty miles above the bar outside the Shat-
el-Arab " (the united Tigris and Euphrates), " forty miles
above the entrance to that estuary at Fao, and twenty
miles below the Turkish port of Basrah, the present
main exit of the Karun river flows into the Shat-el-
Arab from the north-east by an artificial channel, whose
etymology testifies to its origin, the Haffar" (dug-out)
" canal. When this canal was cut, no one knows. . . .
Where it flows into the Shat-el-Arab it is about a
quarter of a mile in width, with a depth of from twenty
to thirty feet.

" The town of Mohammerah is situated a little more
than a mile up the canal on its right bank, and is a
filthy place, with about 2000 inhabitants, and consists


mainly of mud huts and hovels, backed by a superb
fringe of date palms." l In the rose flush of a winter
morning we steamed slowly past this diplomatically
famous confluence of the Haffar and Shat-el-Arab, at
the angle of which the Persians have lately built a
quay, a governor's house, and a large warehouse, in
expectation of a trade which shows few signs of develop-

A winter morning it was indeed, splendid and in-
vigorating after the ferocious heat of the Gulf. To-day
there has been frost !

The Shat-el-Arab is a noble river or estuary. From
both its Persian and Turkish shores, however, mountains
have disappeared, and dark forests of date palms inter-
sected by canals fringe its margin heavily, and extend
to some distance inland. The tide is strong, and such
native boats as belems, buggalows, and dug-outs, loaded
with natives and goods, add a cheerful element of busy

We anchored near Basrah, below the foreign settle-
ment, and had the ignominy of being placed for twenty-
four hours in quarantine, flying the degrading yellow
flag. Basrah has just been grievously ravaged by the
cholera, which has not only carried off three hundred of
the native population daily for some time, but the British
Vice -Consul and his children. Cholera still exists in
Turkey while it is extinct in Bombay, and the imposition
of quarantine on a ship with a " clean bill of health "
seems devised for no other purpose than to extract fees,
to annoy, and to produce a harassing impression of
Turkish officialism.

After this detention we steamed up to the anchorage,
which is in front of a few large bungalows which lie

1 "The Karun River," Hon. G. Curzon, M.P., Proceedings of R.G.S.,
September 1890.


between the belt of palms and the river, and form the
European settlement of Margil. A fever-haunted swamp,
with no outlet but the river ; canals exposing at low
water deep, impassable, and malodorous slime separating
the bungalows; a climate which is damp, hot, malarious,
and prostrating except for a few weeks in winter, and a
total absence of all the resources and amenities of civili-
sation, make Basrah one of the least desirable places to
which Europeans are exiled by the exigencies of com-
merce. It is scarcely necessary to say that the few
residents exercise unbounded hospitality, which is the
most grateful memory which the stranger retains of the
brief halt by the " Eiver of Arabia."

This is the dead season in the "city of dates." An
unused river steamer, a large English trader, two Turkish
ships -of -war painted white, the Mejidieh, one of two
English-owned steamers which are allowed to ply on the
Tigris, and the Assyria of the B.I.S.N. Co., constitute the
fleet at anchor. As at Bushire, all cargo must be loaded and
unloaded by boats, and crowds of native craft hanging
on to the trading vessels give a little but not much

October, after the ingathering of the date harvest, is
the busiest month here. The magnitude of the date
industry may be gathered from the fact that in 1890,
60,000 tons of dates were exported from Basrah, 20,000
in boxes, and the remainder in palm-leaf mats, one
vessel taking 1800 tons. The quantity of wood imported
for the boxes was 7000 tons in cut lengths, with iron
hooping, nails, and oiled paper for inside wrapping,
brought chiefly from England.

A hundred trees can be grown on an acre of ground.
The mature tree gives a profit of 4s., making the profit
on an acre 20 annually. The Governor of Moham-
merah has lately planted 30,000 trees, and date palms to


the number of 60,000 have been recently planted on
Persian soil.

It is said that there are 160 varieties of dates, but
only a few are known to commerce. These great sombre
date forests or " date gardens," which no sunshine can
enliven, are of course artificial, and depend upon
irrigation. The palms are propagated by means of
suckers taken from the female date. The young trees
begin to bear when they are about five years old, reach
maturity at nine, and may be prolific for two centuries.
Mohammed said wisely, "Honour the palm, it is your
paternal aunt." One soon learns here that it not only
provides the people with nutritious food, but with build-
ing materials, as well as with fuel, carpets, ropes, and
mats. But it is the least beautiful of the palms, and
the dark monotonous masses along the river contrast
with my memories of the graceful coco palm fringing the
coral islands of the Pacific.

I left the Assyria with regret. The captain and
officers had done all that intelligence and kindness could
do to make the voyage an agreeable one, and were
altogether successful. On shore a hospitable reception,

Online LibraryIsabella L. (Isabella Lucy) BirdJourneys in Persia and Kurdistan : including a summer in the Upper Karun region and a visit to the Nestorian rayahs (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 29)