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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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156 JOURNEYS IN PERSIA LETTER vi

is constantly crossing the yard in three feet of snow to
put on, and protectors for the chests and backs, preparing
beef tea, making up medicines, etc.

Surely things must have reached their worst. Out of
seven men only one servant, and he an Indian lad with
a fearful squint and eyes so badly inflamed that he can
hardly see where he puts things down, is able to do any-
thing. Two of the charvadars are lying ill in the stable.
Mustard plasters, Dover's powders, salicylate of soda,
emetics, poultices, clinical thermometers, chlorodyne, and
beef tea have been in requisition all day. The cook,
the Afghan orderly, and Hadji seem really ill. At
eight this morning groans at my door took me out, and
one of the muleteers was lying there in severe pain, with
the hard fine snow beating on him. Later I heard fresh
moaning on my threshold, and found Hadji Mien there
with my breakfast. I got him in and he fell again, up-
setting the tea, and while I attended to him the big dogs
ate up the chapatties I He had a good deal of fever, and
severe rheumatism, and on looking at his eyes I saw
that he was nearly blind. He lost his blue glasses some
days ago. I sent him to bed in the " kitchen " for the
whole day, where he lay groaning in comfort by the
fire with his opium pipe and his tea. He thinks he will
not survive the night, and has just given me his dying
directions !

Afterwards M came for the thermometer and

chlorodyne, and remarked that my room was " unfit for a
beast." The truth is I share it with several very big
dogs. It did look grotesquely miserable last night
black, fireless, wet, dirty, with all my things lying on
the dirty floor, having been tumbled about by these
dogs in their search for my last box of Brand's meat
lozenges, which they got out of a strong, tightly-tied-up
bag, which they tore into strips. On going for my fur



LETTER vi CHEST PROTECTORS 157

cloak to-day, these three dogs, who, I believe, would take
on civilisation more quickly than their masters, were all
found rolled up under it, and lying on my bed.

The mercury in the "parlour" with a large fire
cannot be raised above 36. In my room to-night the
wet floor is frozen hard and the mercury is 20. This
is nothing after 12 and 16 below zero, but the furious
east wind and a singular dampness in the air make it
very severe. Yesterday, before the sky clouded over,
there was a most remarkable ring or halo of prismatic
colours round the sun, ominous of the storm which has
followed.

This place standing high without shelter is fearfully
exposed ; there is no milk and no comfort of any kind
for the sick men. We have decided to wrap them up
and move them to Kum, where there is a Persian doctor
with a European education ; but it is a great risk, though
the lesser of two. I have just finished four protectors
for the back and chest, three-quarters of a yard long by
sixteen inches wide, buttoning on the shoulders, of a very
soft felt namad nearly half an inch thick a precaution
much to be commended.

I think that Hadji, though in great pain, poor fellow,
is partly shamming. He professed this evening to have
violent fever, and the thermometer shows that he has
none. Even the few things which I thought he had done
for me, such as making cliapatties, I find have been done
by others. It is a pity for himself as well as for me
that he should be so incorrigibly lazy.

Taj Khatan, Feb. 18. Yesterday we had a severe
march, and owing first to the depth of the snow, and
then to the depth of the mud, we were seven hours in
doing twenty-one miles. The wind was still intensely
cold bitter indeed. There are few remarks to be made
about a country buried in snow. The early miles were



158 JOURNEYS IN PERSIA LETTER vi

across the fag end of the dazzling plain of Feraghan,
which instead of being covered with villages is an
uninhabited desert with a salt lake. Then the road
winds among mountains of an altitude of 8000 and 9000
feet and more, its highest point being 8350 feet, where
we began a descent which will land us at Tihran at a
level under 4000 feet. Snowy mountains and snowy
plains were behind bare brown earth was to come all
too soon.

Winding wearily round low hills, meeting caravans of
camels to which we had to give way, and of asses
floundering in the snow, we came in the evening to a
broad slope with villages, poplars, walnuts, and irrigated
lands, then to the large and picturesquely situated village
of Givr on a steep bank above a rapid stream, and just
at dusk to the important village of Jairud, also on high
ground above the same river, and surrounded by gardens
and an extraordinary number of fruit trees. The altitude
is 6900 feet. 1 I had a lalakhana, very , cold, and was
fairly benumbed for some time after the long cold march.

A great many people applied for medicine, and some
of the maladies, specially when they affect children, make
one sick at heart. Hadji is affecting to be stone deaf, so
he no longer interprets for sick people, which creates an
additional difficulty. We left this morning at ten,
descended 2000 feet, and suddenly left the snow behind.
Vast, gray, and grim the snow-covered mountains looked
as they receded into indigo gloom, with snow clouds
drifting round their ghastly heads and across the dazzling
snow plains in which we had been floundering for thirty
days. It is strange to see mother earth once more-
rocky, or rather stony hills, mud hills, mud plains, mud

1 Jairud exports fruit to Kfim and even to Tihran, and in the autumn
I was interested to find that the best pears and peaches in the Hamadan
market came from its luxuriant orchards.



LETTER VI



PERSIAN BREAD -MAKING



159



slopes, a brown world, with a snow world above. Two
pink hills rise above the brown plain, and some toothed
peaks, but the rest of the view is simply hills and slopes
of niud and gravel, bearing thorns, and the relics of last
year's thistles and wormwood. The atmospheric colouring
is, however, very fine.

This is a large village with beehive roofs in, and
of, mud. A quagmire surrounds it and is in the centre




PERSIAN BREAD-MAKING.



of it, and the crumbling houses are thrown promiscu-
ously down upon it. It is nearly the roughest place I
have seen, and the worst accommodation, though Abbas
Khan says it is the best house in the village.
My room has an oven in the floor, neatly lined with
clay, and as I write the women are making bread by a
very simple process. The oven is well heated by the
live embers of animal fuel. They work the flour and
water dough, to which a piece of leaven from the last
baking has been added, into a flat round cake, about
eighteen inches in diameter and half an inch thick, place



160 JOURNEYS IN PERSIA LETTER vi

it quickly on a very dirty cushion, and clap it against
the concave interior of the oven, withdrawing the cushion.
In one minute it is baked and removed.

A sloping hole in the floor leads to the fowl-house.
The skin of a newly -killed sheep hangs up. A pack
saddle and gear take up one corner, my bed another, and
the owner's miscellaneous property fills up the rest of the
blackened, cracked mud hovel, thick with the sooty
cobwebs and dust of generations. The door, which can
only be shut by means of a wooden bolt outside, is six
inches from the ground, so that fowls and cats run in
and out with impunity. Behind my bed there is a door-
less entrance to a dark den, full of goat's hair, bones, and
other stores. In front there is a round hole for letting
in light, which I persistently fill up with a blanket which
is as persistently withdrawn. There is no privacy, for
though the people are glad to let their rooms, they only
partially vacate them, and are in and out all the time.
Outside there is mud a foot deep, then a steep slope, and
a disgusting green pool, and the drinking water is
nauseous and brackish. The village people here and
everywhere seem of a very harmless sort.

Ktim, Ash Wednesday, 189G. It was really very
difficult to get away from Taj Khatan. The charvadar
came on here, leaving only two men to load twelve

mules. M practically had to load them himself,

and to reload them when the tackle broke and the loads
turned. Hadji and the cook were quite incapable, the
Afghan orderly, who seemed like a dying man, was left
behind ; in fact there were no servants and no interpreters,
and the groom was so ill he could hardly sit on a horse.

The march of twenty-five miles took fully eight hours,
but on the Arab horse, and with an occasional gallop, I
got through quite comfortably, and have nothing to
complain of. The road lies through a country of mud



LETTER vi ARRIVAL AT KUM 161

hills, brown usually, drab sometimes, streaked with deep
madder red, and occasionally pale green clay stones,
thistles, and thorns their only crop. [I passed over much
of this country in the spring, and though there were a
few flowers, chiefly bulbs, and the thorns were clothed
with a scanty leafage, and the thistles and artemisia were
green -gray instead of buff, the general aspect of the
region was the same.] There was not a village on the
route, only two or three heaps of deserted ruins and two
or three ruinous mud imamzadas, no cultivation, streams,
or springs, the scanty pools brackish, here and there the
glittering whiteness of saline efflorescence, not a tree or
even bush, nothing living except a few goats, picking up,
who knows how, a scanty living, a blighted, blasted
region, a land without a raison d'etre.

Then came low mud ranges, somewhat glorified by
atmosphere, higher hills on the left, ghastly with snow
which was even then falling, glimpses far away to the
northward of snowy mountains among heavy masses of
sunlit clouds, an ascent, a gap in the mud hills, some low
peaks of white, green, and red clay, a great plain partly
green with springing wheat, and in the centre, in the
glow of sunset, the golden dome and graceful minarets of
the shrine of Fatima, the sister of Eeza, groups of trees,
and the mud houses, mud walls, and many domes and
minarets of the sacred city of Kum.

Descending, we trotted for some miles through irrigated
wheat, passed a walled garden or two, rode along the
bank of the Abi Khonsar or Abi Kum, which we had
followed down from Givr, admired the gleaming domes
and tiled minarets of the religious buildings on its bank,
and the nine -arched brick bridge which spans it, and
reached a sort of hotel outside the gates, a superior
caravanserai with good, though terribly draughty guest-
rooms upstairs, furnished with beds, chairs, and tables,
VOL. i M



162 JOURNEYS IN PERSIA LETTER vi

suited for the upper class of pilgrims who resort to this
famous shrine.

To have arrived here in good health, and well able
for the remaining journey of nearly a hundred miles, is
nothing else than a triumph of race, of good feeding
through successive generations, of fog - born physique,
nurtured on damp east winds !

There is an air of civilisation about this place. The
rooms have windows with glass panes and doors which
shut, a fountain in front, beyond that a garden, and then
the river, and the golden shrine of Fatima and its ex-
quisite minarets. My door opens on a stone-flagged roof
with a fine view of the city and hills an excellent
place for taking exercise. So strong is Mohammedan
fanaticism here that much as I should like to see the city,
it would be a very great risk to walk through it except in
disguise.

M borrowed a taktrawan from the telegraph

clerk and sent it back with two horses to Taj Khatan for
the orderly, who was left there very ill yesterday morning,
under Abbas Khan's charge, the Khan feeling so ill that he
lay down inside it instead of riding. Hadji gave up work
altogether, so I unpacked and pitched my bed, glad to
be warmed by exercise. Near 8 P.M. Abbas Khan burst
into the "parlour" saying that the taktrawan horses
were stuck in the mud. He evidently desired to
avoid the march back, but two mules have been sent to
replace the horses, and two more are to go to-morrow.
The orderly was so ill that I expect his corpse rather
than himself.

This morning Hadji, looking fearful, told me that he
should die to-day, and he and the cook are now in bed in
opposite corners of a room below, with a good fire, feverish
and moaning. It is really a singular disaster, and shows
what the severity of the journey has been. The Persian



LETTER vi THE SHAH'S DAUGHTER 163

doctor, with a European medical education, on whom our
hopes were built, when asked to come and see these poor
men, readily promised to do so ; but the Princess, the
Shah's daughter, whose physician he is, absolutely refuses
permission, on the ground that we have come through a
region in which there is supposed to be cholera ! .

I. L. B.






164 JOURNEYS IN PERSIA LETTER vii



LETTEE VII

KCM, Feb. 21.

AT five yesterday afternoon Abbas Khan rode in saying
that the taktrawan, with the orderly much better, was
only three miles off. This was good news; a mattress
was put down for him next the fire and all preparations
for his comfort were made. Snow showers had been
falling much of the day, there was a pitiless east wind,
and as darkness came on snow fell persistently. Two
hours passed, but no taktrawan arrived. At 7.30 Abbas
Khan was ordered to go in search of it with a good
lantern ; 8, 9, 1 o'clock came without any news. At
10.30, the man whose corpse I had feared to see
came in much exhausted, having crawled for two miles
through the mire and snow. The sowar, who pretended
to start with the lantern, never went farther than the
coffee-room at the gate, where he had spent an uncon-
scientious but cheery evening !

In the pitch darkness the taktrawan and mules had
fallen off the road into a gap, the takrawan was smashed,
and a good white mule, one of the "light division," was
killed, her back being broken. This was not the only
disaster. Hadji had lain down on the borrowed -mattress
and it had taken fire from the live ashes of his pipe and
was burned, and he was a little scorched.

The telegraphist was to have started for Isfahan the
next morning with his wife and child in the litter, in



LETTER vii HADJI REJUVENATED 165

order to vacate the house for the new official and his
family, and their baggage had actually started, but now
they are detained till this taktrawan can be repaired. In
the meantime another official has arrived with his goods
and a large family, a most uncomfortable situation for
both parties, but they bear it with the utmost cheerfulness
and good nature.

Last night I made Hadji drink a mug of hot milk
with two tablespoonfuls of brandy in it, and it worked
wonders. This morning, instead of a nearly blind man
groping his way about with difficulty, I beheld a man
with nothing the matter but a small speck on one eye.
It must have been snow -blindness. He looks quite
" spry." It is not only the alcohol which has cured him,
but that we are parting by mutual consent ; and feeling
sorry for the man, I have given him more than his wages,
and his full demand for his journey back to Bushire, with

additional warm clothing. M has also given him a

handsome present.

I fear he has deceived me, and that the stone deaf-
ness, feebleness, idiocy, and the shaking, palsied gait of
a man of ninety all but the snow-blindness have been
assumed in order to get his return journey paid, when
he found that the opportunities for making money were
not what he expected. It is better to be deceived
twenty times than to be hard on these poor fellows
once, but he has been exasperating, and I feel somewhat
aggrieved at having worked so hard to help a man who
was " malingering." The last seen of him was an active,
erect man walking at a good pace by the side of his
mule, at least forty years thrown off. [He did not
then leave Kum, but being seized with pleurisy was
treated with great kindness by Mr. Lyne the electrician,
and afterwards by the Amin-es- Sultan (the Prime
Minister), who was visiting Kum, and who, thinking to



166 JOURNEYS IN PERSIA LETTER vn

oblige me, brought him up to Tihran in his train !]
Those who had known him for years gave a very bad
account of him, but said that if he liked he could be a
good servant. It is the first time that I have been
unfortunate in my travelling servant.

The English telegraph line, and a post-office, open
once a week, are the tokens of civilisation in Kum.
A telegraphic invitation from the British Minister in
Tihran, congratulatory telegrams on our safety from
Tihran, Bushire, and India, and an opportunity for
posting letters, make one feel once more in the world.
The weather is grim, bitterly cold, with a strong north-
east wind, raw and damp, but while snow is whitening
the hills only rain and sleet fall here. The sun has
not shone since we came, but the strong cold air is
invigorating like our own climate.

Taking advantage of it being Friday, the Mohammedan
day of rest, when most of the shops are closed and the
bazars are deserted, we rode through a portion of them
preceded by the wild figure of Abbas Khan, and took
tea at the telegraph office, where they were most kind
and pleasant regarding the accident which had put them
to so much inconvenience.

Kum is on the beaten track, and has a made road
to Tihran. Almost every book of travels in Persia has
something to say upon it, but except that it is the
second city in Persia in point of sanctity, and that it
thrives as much by the bodies of the dead which are
brought in thousands for burial as by the tens of
thousands of pilgrims who annually visit the shrine of
Fatima, and that it is renowned for fanaticism, there is
not much to say about it.

Situated in a great plain, the gleam of its golden
dome and its slender minarets is seen from afar, and
the deep green of its orchards, and the bright green of



LETTER VII



THE SHRINE OF FATIMA



167



the irrigated and cultivated lands which surround it,
are a splash of welcome fertility on the great brown
waste. Singular toothy peaks of striated marl of brilliant
colouring red, blue, green, orange, and salt peaks
very white give a curious brilliancy to its environ-
ment, but this salt, which might be a source of wealth
to the city, is not worked, only an ass -load or two at
a time being brought in to supply the necessities of the
market.

The shrine of Fatima, the sister of Reza the eighth




THE SHKINE OF FATIMA.



Imam, who sleeps at Meshed, is better to Kuni than
salt mines or aught else. Moslems, though they regard
women with unspeakable contempt, agree to reverence
Fatima as a very holy and almost worshipful person,
and her dust renders Kum a holy place, attracting tens
of thousands of pilgrims every year, although, unlike
pilgrimages to Meshed and Kerbela, Kum confers no
lifelong designation on those by whom it exists. Its
estimated population is 10,000 souls, and at times this
number is nearly doubled. Pilgrimage consists in a
visit to the tomb of Fatima, paying a fee, and in some
cases adding a votive offering. Vows of abstinence



168 JOURNEYS IN PERSIA LETTER vn

from some special sin are frequently made at the shrine
and are carefully registered.

The dead, however, who are annually brought in
thousands to be buried in the sacred soil which sur-
rounds the shrine, are the great source of the wealth of
Kum. These corpses travel, as to Kerbela, on mules,
four being lashed on one animal occasionally, some fresh,
some decomposing, others only bags of exhumed bones.
The graves occupy an enormous area, of which the
shrine is the centre. The kings of the Kajar dynasty,
members of royal families, and 450 saints are actually
buried within the precincts of the shrine. The price of
interments varies with the proximity to the dust of
Fatima from six Jcrans to one hundred tumans. The
population may be said to be a population of undertakers.
Death meets one everywhere. The Ab-i-Khonsar, which
supplies the drinking water, percolates through "dead
men's bones and all uncleanness." Vestments for the
dead are found in the bazars. Biers full and empty
traverse the streets in numbers. Stone-cutting for grave-
stones is a most lucrative business. The charvadars of
Kum prosper on caravans of the dead. There is a
legion of gravediggers. Kum is a gruesome city, a
vast charnel-house, yet its golden dome and minarets
brighten the place of death.

The dome of Fatima is covered with sheets of copper
plated with gold an eighth of an inch in thickness, and
the ornament at the top of the dome, which is of pure
gold, is said to weigh 140 Ibs. The slender minarets
which front this imamzada are covered with a mosaic of
highly-glazed tiles of exquisite tints, in which an azure blue,
a canary yellow, and an iridescent green predominate, and
over all there is a sheen of a golden hue. The shrine is
inaccessible to Christians. I asked a Persian doctor if I
might look in for one moment at the threshold of the



LETTER vii THE CITY OF K0M 169

outer court, and he replied in French, "Are you then
weary of life ? " l

My Indian servant, an educated man on whose faithful
though meagre descriptions I can rely, visited the shrine
and describes the dome as enriched with arabesques in
mosaic and as hung with ex votos, consisting chiefly of
strips of silk and cotton. The tomb itself, he says, is
covered with a wooden ark, with certain sacred sentences
cut upon it, and this is covered by a large brown shawl.
Eound this ark, which is under the dome, Kerman,
Kashmir, and Indian shawls are laid down as carpets.
This open space is surrounded with steel railings inlaid
with gold after the fashion of the niello work of Japan,
and the whole is enclosed with a solid silver fence, the
rails of which are " as thick as two thumbs, and as high
as a tall man's head." This imamzada itself is regarded
as of great antiquity.

Two Persian kings, who reigned in the latter part of
the seventeenth century, are buried near the beautiful
minarets, which are supposed to be of the same date.
There are many mosques and minarets in Kum, besides a
quantity of conical imamzadas, the cones of which have
formerly been covered with glazed blue tiles of a turquoise
tint, some of which still remain. " It was taken by the
Afghans in 1772, and though partially rebuilt is very
ruinous. It has a mud wall, disintegrating from neglect,
surrounded occasionally by a ditch, and at other times
by foul and stagnant ponds. The ruinousness of Kum
can scarcely be exaggerated.

The bazars are large and very busy, and are con-
siderably more picturesque than those of Kirmanshah.
The town lives by pilgrims and corpses, and the wares

1 I spent two days at Kum five weeks later, and saw the whole of it in
disguise, and in order to attain some continuity of description I put my

two letters together.



170 JOURNEYS IN PERSIA LETTER vn

displayed to attract the former are more attractive than
usual. There are nearly 450 shops, of which forty-three
sell Manchester goods almost exclusively. Coarse china,
and 'pottery often of graceful shapes with a sky-blue
glaze, and water-coolers are among the industries of this
city, which also makes shoes, and tans leather with
pomegranate hark.

The Ab-i-Khonsar is now full and rapid, but is a
mere thread in summer. The nine-arched bridge, with
its infamously paved roadway eighteen feet wide, is an
interesting object from all points of view, for while its
central arch has a span of forty-five feet, the others have
only spans of twenty. The gateway beyond the bridge
is tawdrily ornamented with blue and green glazed tiles.
After seeing several of the cities of Persia, I am quite
inclined to give Kum the palm for interest and beauty of
aspect, when seen from any distant point of view.

That it is a " holy " city, and that a pilgrimage to its
shrine is supposed to atone for sin, are its great interests.
Its population is composed in large proportion of mollahs
and Seyyids, or descendants of Mohammed, and as a whole
is devoted to the reigning Shiah creed. It has a theo-
logical college of much repute, established by Fath' Ali
Shah, which now has 100 students. The women are
said to be very devout, and crowd the mosques on Friday
evenings, when their devotions are led by an imam. The
men are fanatically religious, though the fanaticism is
somewhat modified. No wine may be sold in Kum, and
no Jew or Armenian is allowed to keep a shop.

Kum, being a trading city, manufactures a certain
amount of public opinion in its business circles, which
differs not very considerably from that which prevails at



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 13 of 29)