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

. (page 18 of 29)
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 18 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

straw and a little barley thrashed into a canter again
for twenty-five miles more, because the traveller could
not get a remount. They often fall down dead under
their riders, urged by the heavy chapar whip to the last.

Hiding chapar, journeying in a taktrawan or litter, or in
a hajaweh, or riding caravan pace, by which only about
thirty miles a day can be covered, are the only modes
of travelling in Persia, though I think that with capable
assistance a carriage might make the journey from Tihran
as far as Kashan.

I lodge in the chapar khanas whenever I can. They
consist of mud walls fourteen feet high, enclosing yards
deep in manure, with stabling for the chapar horses on
two sides, and recesses in their inner walls for mangers.
The entrance is an arched gateway. There are usually
two dark rooms at the sides, which the servants occupy
and cook in, and over the gateway is the balalchana, an
abortive tower, attained by a steep and crumbling stair,
in which I encamp. The one room has usually two
doors, half -fitting and non-shutting, and perhaps a
window space or two, and the ashes of the last traveller's

Such a breezy rest just suits me, and when my camp
furniture has been arranged and I am enjoying my
" afternoon tea," I feel " monarch of all I survey," even


of the boundless desert, over which the cloud shadows
chase each other till it purples in the light of the sink-
ing sun. If there is the desert desolation there is also
the desert freedom.

The first halt was delicious after the crowds and
fanaticism of Kum. A broad plain with irrigated
patches and a ruinous village was passed ; then came
the desert, an expanse of cam el -brown gravel thickly
strewn with stones, with a range of low serrated
brown hills, with curious stratification, on the east. A
few caravans of camels, and the haram of the Governor
of Yezd in closely -covered kajawehs, alone broke the
monotony. Before I thought we were half - way we
reached the abambars, the small brown caravanserai, and
the chapar khana of Passangham, having ridden in three
hours a distance on which I have often expended eight.

Cool and breezy it was in my room, and cooler and
breezier on the flat mud roof; and the lifting of some
clouds in the far distance to the north, beyond the great
sweep of the brown desert, revealed the mighty Elburz
range, white with new-fallen snow. At Sinsin the next
evening it was gloriously cold. There had been another
heavy snowfall, and in the evening the Elburz range,
over a hundred miles away, rose in unsullied whiteness
like a glittering wall, and above it the colossal cone of
Demavend, rose-flushed.

The routine of the day is simple and easy. I get the
caravan off at eight, lie on the floor for an hour, gallop and
walk for about half the march, rest for an hour in some
place, where Mahboud, the soldier, always contrives to
bring me a glass of tea, and then gallop and walk to the
halting - place, where I rest for another hour till the
caravan comes in. I now know exactly what to pay,
and by giving small presents get on very easily.

There were many uncomfortable prophecies about the
VOL. i Q


annoyances and rudenesses which a lady travelling alone
would meet with, but so far not one has been fulfilled.
How completely under such circumstances one has to
trust one's fellow-creatures ! There are no fastenings on
the doors of these breezy rooms, and last night there
was only the longitudinal half of a door, but I fell asleep,
fearing nothing worse than a predatory cat.

The last two days' marches have been chiefly over
stony wastes, or among low hills of red earth, gray gravel,
and brown rnud, with low serrated ranges beyond, and
farther yet high hills covered with snow, after which the
road leaves the hills and descends upon a pink plain,
much of the centre of which is snow-white from saline
efflorescence. The villages Kasseinabad, Nasrabad, and
Aliabad are passed on the plain, with small fruit trees
and barley surrounding them, and great mud caravan-
serais at intervals, only remarkable for the number of
camels lying outside of them, in rows facing each other.
In the fresh keen air of evening the cone of Demavend
was painted in white on the faint blue sky, reddening
into beauty as the purple-madder shadows deepened over
the yellow desert.

Tea made with saltish water, and salt sheep's milk,
have been the only drawbacks of the six days' march.

Not far from Kashan we entered on a great
alluvial plain formed of fine brown earth without a
single stone a prolific soil if it had water, as the fruit
trees and abundant crops of young wheat round the
villages show. So level, and on the whole so smooth, is
this plain that it possesses the prodigy of a public con-
veyance, an omnibus with four horses abreast, which
makes its laborious way with the aid of several attendants,
who lift the wheels out of holes, prevent it from capsizing,
and temporarily fill up the small irrigation ditches which
it has to cross. Its progress is less " by leaps and bounds "


than by jolts and rolls, and as my Arab horse bounded
past I wondered that six men could be found to exchange
the freedom of the saddle for such a jerky, stuffy box.

Five hundred yards from the gate of Kashan there is
a telegraph station of the Indo-European line, where
M. du Vignau and his wife expected me, and have
received me with great kindness and hospitality. The
electricians at these stations are allowed to receive guests
in what is known as the " Inspectors' Boom," and they
exercise this liberty most kindly and generously. Many
a weary traveller looks back upon the " Inspectors' Room "
as upon an oasis in the desert of dirt ; and though I
cannot class myself just now with " weary travellers," I
cordially appreciate the kindness which makes one " at
home," and the opportunity of exchanging civilised ideas
for a few hours.

I must not go beyond Kashan without giving a few
words to the Persian section of the Indo-European
telegraph line, one of the greatest marvels of telegraph
construction, considering the nature of the country which
the line traverses. Tihran is the centre of telegraphic
control, and the residence of Colonel Wells, RE., the
Director, with a staff of twenty telegraphists, who work
in relays day and night, and a Medical Officer. Julfa is
another place of importance on the line, and at Shiraz
there is another Medical Officer.

The prompt repair of the wires in cases of interruption
is carefully arranged for. At suitable places, such as
Kum, Soh, Kashan, and other towns or villages from fifty
to eighty miles apart, there are control or testing stations,
each being in charge of a European telegraphist, who has
under him two Persian horsemen, who have been well
trained as linesmen. At stated hours the clerks place
their instruments* in circuit, and ascertain if all is right.

If this testing reveals any fault, it can be localised at


once, and horsemen are despatched from the control
stations on either side of it, with orders to ride rapidly
along the line until they meet at the fault and repair it.
As the telegraph crosses passes such as Kuhrud, at an
altitude of over 8000 feet, the duties of both inspectors
and linesmen are most severe, full not only of hardship
but of danger in terrible winter storms and great depths
of .snow, yet on their ceaseless watchfulness and fidelity
the safety of our Indian Empire may some day depend.

The skill brought to bear upon the manipulation of
this Government line from the Gulf, and throughout the
whole system of which it is a part, is wonderful.
Messages from any part of the United Kingdom now
reach any part of India in less than an hour and a half,
and in only about one word in two hundred does even
the most trifling mistake occur in transmission, a result
all the more surprising when it is remembered that the
telegrams are almost entirely either in code or cypher,
and that over 1000 are transmitted in the course of a

Among these are the long despatches continually
passing between the Viceroy of India and the India
Office on vitally important subjects, and press telegrams
of every noteworthy event. The " exhaustive summary "
of Indian news which appears weekly in the Times,
accompanied by a commentary on events, is an altogether
un- padded telegram, and is transmitted with punctua-
tion complete, and even with inverted commas for
quotations. 1

The English staff, numbering from fifty to sixty men,
is scattered along a line of 1900 miles. Some of them

1 Major-Gcneral Sir R. Murdoch Smith, K.C.M.G., late Director of the
Persian section of the Indo-European telegraph, read a very interesting
paper upon it before the Royal Scottish Geographical Society on December
13, 1888, a Sketch of the History of Telegraphic Communication between
the United Kingdom and India.


are married, and most occupy isolated positions, so far
as other Europeans are concerned. It is the universal
testimony of Englishmen and Persians that the relations
between them have been for many years of the most
friendly character, full of good-will and mutual friendly
offices, and that the continual contact brought about by
the nature of the duties of the electricians has been pro-
ductive not of aversion and distrust, but of cordial apprecia-
tion on both sides. I. L. B.


LETTEE XI (Continued)

KASHAN is one of the hottest places on the great Persian
plateau, but has the rare luxury of a good water supply
brought from a reservoir some distance off in the Kuhrud
mountains. It has a much-diminished population, said
now to number 30,000 souls. Much of it is in ruins,
and much more is ruinous. It has a thriving colony of
Jews. It is noted for its silks and velvets ; but the
modern productions are regarded by judges as degenerate.
It is still famous for its work in copper and for its
great copper bazar.

Silk produced at Resht is brought here to be spun
and dyed. Then it is sent to Sultanabad to be woven
into carpets, and is brought back again to have the
pile cut by the sharp instruments used for cutting
velvet pile, and the finished carpets are sent to Tihran
for sale. They are only made in small sizes, and
are more suitable for portieres than for laying on the
floor. The colouring is exquisite, and the metallic sheen
and lustre are unique. Silk carpets are costly luxuries.
The price of even a fairly good one of very small size is
50, the silk alone costing 20.

Kashan is a great place for curio buyers, who enlist
the Jews in their service. There are some valuable
antiques in this house embroideries, carpet squares in
silk, glass whose greenish colour and grace of form
remind me of Venetian glass, enamels on porcelain, tiles,


metal inlaying and damascening, pierced brasswork, and
many other articles of vertu, the art of making which is
either lost or has greatly degenerated.

It is unaccountable, but it is certain that the secret
of producing the higher types of beauty in various arts,
especially the Keramic, died out more than one hundred
and fifty years ago, and that there are no circumstances
of that date to account for its decease, except that it is
recorded that when the Afghan conqueror Mahmoud
destroyed Isfahan he massacred the designers of reJUt
tiles and other Keramic beauties, because they had
created works which gave great umbrage to the Suuni
sect to which he belonged.

These reflets, for which collectors give fabulous sums,
are intrinsically beautiful, both in the elegant concep-
tions of their designs and the fantastic richness of their
colouring. There are designs in shades of brown
on a lapis -lazuli ground, or in blue and green on a
purple or umber ground, some of them star-shaped, with
a pure white border composing the rest of the square, on
which are inscribed phrases from the Koran. Looked
at from above or frontwise, one exclaims, " What a beau-
tiful tile ! " but it is on turning it to the light that
one's stereotyped phrases of admiration are exchanged for
silence in presence of a singular iridescence which trans-
figures the tile, making it seem to gleam from within
with golden purples and rosy gold.

The mosaic tiles are also beautiful, especially where
the mosaic is on a lapis-lazuli or canary-yellow ground,
neither of them reproducible at this day ; and this also
refers to other shades of blue, and to various reds and
browns of exceeding richness, the art of making which
has been lost for a century. But enough of art !

Possibly there may be a resurrection for Persian art ;
but in the meantime aniline dyes, tawdry European


importations, and Western models without either grace
or originality are doing their best to deprave it here, as

Roads from Tihran, Gulpaigan, Yezd, and Isfahan
meet here, and it is something of what the Americans
call " a distributing point," but it is a most uninviting place,
in situation and general aspect, and its unsightly mud
ruins, as in other Persian cities, are eloquent of nothing
but paralysis and retrogression.

Murcheh Khurt, Palm Sunday, March 30. Three very
pleasant marches, equal to seventy-six miles, have brought
me here, and now Isfahan is only two days off, and it
will end my palmy days of Persian travelling.

The first day's march from Kashan was only seven
farsdkhs (the parasang of Xenophon), twenty-eight miles,
but it is equivalent to thirty-five, owing to the roughness
of the road and the long ascent. There was scarcely any
ground for galloping, the way was lost once, and the
march took over eight hours.

The track, for only in places did it attain to the
dignity of a bridle-road, lay for hours over a stony
desert, and then entered the mountains, where I halted for
an hour at the once magnificent caravanserai of Gaberabad,
in a romantic situation, but falling fast into ruins, and
deserted for no reason, so far as I could make out, but
that people used to be robbed and have their throats cut

Beyond it the scenery became very wild, and the rocks
and mountains highly coloured and snow -patched, and
after ascending along the side of a stream and up a
causewayed sort of stair past the reservoir which sup-
plies Kashan with water, we entered the rising valley of
Kuhrud, where the snow came nearly down to the road,
and every slope was terraced and every level cultivated,
and young wheat was springing and fruit orchards


flourished, with green sward under the branches, and great
poplars in picturesque groups towered above the lower

"We lost the way in the snow, and then took to the
pebbly river as the safest track, and had an hour of
fumbling in water and snow under apple and pear trees
for the halting-place. The twilight of a frosty evening
was coming on when we reached the village of Kuhrud
500 houses in terraces on a mountain side, and clustering
round a fort on a projecting spur.

It is surrounded and interpenetrated by groves of
walnut, apricot, cherry, peach, plum, apple, pear, poplar,
and vine, with roses climbing over everything and planted
in rows like vines, and through it passes a fair, bright
stream of living water, a stream " whose waters fail not,"
turning the mountain valley into an oasis. But at that
altitude of something like 7000 feet, the buds are only
just swelling, and the crimson catkins of the hazels were
the only reminder of spring. It is the one place that I
should care to revisit.

The snow was piled in great heaps in the village and
against the wall of the very wretched, ruinous chapar
khana in which I sought rest and shelter. Mahboud
went up to the loft over the gateway, and came down
looking dejected, mustering English enough to say, " No,
no, mem Sahib ! " I actually had to occupy one of the
two gateway rooms, an inferior stable, without the smallest
window hole, and no door except two unconnected boards
with which one could cover a part of the doorway. Even
when these were not put up a candle was necessary. It
was freezing hard, but one could not have a fire because
there was no smoke-hole. The walls were slimily and
inkily black from the smoke of the fires of people who
were less particular than I am. The dust and rubbish
of the floor were swept into one corner. If one wanted


a place to store boxes in, and looked into that room, one
would exclaim dubiously, " Well, it might do for glass and

Mahboud put a rug on the floor and brought a bowl
of delicious milk, and with an inverted saddle for a pillow
I rested quite comfortably, being too tired to be impatient,
till Mirza Yusuf arrived with my luxuries, and the news
that the caravan could not get in for another hour, for
that several of the mules had fallen and the loads were
slipping round constantly. Indeed it was ten before I
had dinner. It is very fortunate to have an attendant
always cheerful, never fussy, caring nothing for personal
comfort, and always ready to interpret.

The ketchuda called with the usual proffer of service,
" I am your sacrifice," etc., and induced me to buy some
of the specialties of Kuhrud, rose-water in bottles without
corks, and a paste made of rose-water, pounded walnuts,
and sugar. The rose-water is not very clear, but it has
much of the overpowering, lingering odour of attar of roses.

Kuhrud seems prosperous. Besides exporting large
quantities of rose-water and walnut paste formed into
blocks and done up in white skins, it sends wheat and
fruit in abundance to Kashau.

Freedom, good sleep, and satisfactory travelling make
up for all annoyances but vermin, and these are still
hybernating. In that precarious privacy I slept soundly,
and got the caravan off at eight the next morning a
glorious winter morning, the icy roads and the snow-
covered valley glittering with frost crystals. We lost
the way again among the pretty orchards, then got into
a valley between high mud mountains, whose shapeless-
ness is now judiciously concealed by snow from one to
three feet deep, through which a track has been broken
a foot wide. It is six miles from Kuhrud to the summit
of the Kuhrud Pass, which is over 8000 feet, and it grew


very cold and gray, and ragged masses of cloud swept
angrily round the mountain-tops.

On the steepest part of the ascent it was extremely
slippery, and the horses not being roughed slipped badly,
and I was just fearing an accident to my borrowed horse
and planning some method of dismounting when down he
came on his nose and then on the side of his head, and
fell several times again in his struggles to get up, his feet
slipping from under him. When he did succeed in
getting on his legs I was convinced that he had cut his
knees, and slipped off him somehow to examine them ; but
my fears were groundless, and I had great difficulty in
getting out of the drift into which I had descended, which
was nearly up to my shoulders. His nose was bleeding
a little, but that was all.

There was no way of remounting on a path a foot
wide between walls of snow, and besides I was afraid
of another accident, so I slipped the snaffle rein over
his head and led him. It was horribly slippery, and
having nails in my boots I fell several times just under
his feet, but the sweet creature always stopped when
I fell.

From the top there was a truly fearful view of
" blackness, darkness, and tempest," inky mists, white
mountain -tops showing momentarily through them to
be lost again, and great sheets of very deep snow. Soon
the gathering storm burst, a " blizzard " in which the
snow was quite blinding, snow drifting and hissing as it
went by, the wind tempestuous, mountains, valleys, path
obliterated, even the soldier in front of me constantly
lost to sight. An hour of this and I could walk no
more, and somehow scrambled into the saddle.

At the foot of the descent the sky cleared, the sun
shone, and we picked up the caravan, which had had
rather a hard time. The succeeding route was through


an absolutely uninhabited and uninhabitable country,
clay and mud hills, purple, red, gray, pink, brown, an
utter desolation, till we came in sight of the good-sized
and at a distance imposing-looking village of Sob in a
keen wind with frequent snow showers. Sob is a
telegraph testing station.

The electrician was absent, but had kindly left
directions that I was to be received, and I found a most
comfortable guest-room quite ready. A little later an
Englishman riding chapar to Isfahan threw a packet of
English letters in at my door a delightful surprise,
which made havoc of the rest of the evening.

The desolation of this part of the route may be
judged of from the fact that except the village of Kuhrud
there is not an inhabited house for forty-six miles. The
country traversed reminds me much of the least inter-
esting part of the route from Lesser Tibet into Kulu.

Yesterday morning there was ice, and the roads were
very slippery on the gradual descent from the plain
which opens out after passing Bideshk, the chapar station,
an hour from Soh. The twenty -four miles' ride over
this gravelly waste, quite uninhabited, was very pleasant,
as it was possible to gallop much of the way, and be-
sides the beauty of the atmospheric colouring the mirage
occurring in most remarkable forms rendered monotony

There were no caravans on the road, but I met
several dervishes, and there is one here to whom I have
given what he demanded a night's lodging. He carries
a large carved almsholder ; and the panther skin on his
shoulders, the knotted club, and his lean, hungry, fanatical
face give him a dangerous look. All I have seen on
this march have worn long matted bushy hair, often
covering their shoulders, an axe in the girdle, and
peculiar turbans decorated with phrases from the Koran.




They are the " mendicant friars " of Persia, and are under
vows of poverty. Some are said to be learned ; but they
object to discussing religious matters with infidels, and
almost nothing is known as
to their beliefs. They hold
universally the sanctity of
idleness, and the duty of
being supported by the
community. The lower
classes hold them in rever-
ence, and the upper, though
they are apt to loathe them,
treat them with great re-
spect, for fear of laying
themselves open to the
charge of laxity in religious

Many of them deal in
charms, and are consulted
as astrologers. Some are
professed tellers of stories,
to which I am told no
European could degrade
himself by listening, but
which are most palatable
to a village audience ;
and at this moment this unwelcome guest of mine has
a crowd listening to a narrative partly told and partly

They are credited with many vices, among the least
of which are hazy ideas as to mine and thine, opium and
bhang smoking to excess, and drunkenness.

They have recognised heads or chiefs, to whom they
show great deference. One of their vows is that of
obedience ; and besides paying to the chief a part of the

* *' ( 'i uT*^



alms they receive, he gives them orders as to the houses
they are to infest, and though the nuisance is not so
common as formerly, a dervish at the door is still a sign
of being great or rich, or both. Their cries, and their
rude blasts on the buffalo horn, which is a usual part
of their equipment, are most obnoxious. In the larger
towns, such as K urn and Kirmanshah, there are shops for
the sale of their outfit the tiger and panther skins, the
axes, the knotted clubs, the almsbowls, etc.

Some are respectable, and enjoy much consideration,
and I hope that many even of those whom a careful
writer has called " disgusting vagabonds " are not hum-
bugs ; but the presumption is so much the other way
that I am always glad when the ground admits of
galloping past them, otherwise the dervish comes forward,
with his knotted club much en Evidence, with many
compliments and good wishes, or else silently extends his
almsholder, ejaculating link (" my right "). I usually
have the means of appeasing, if not of satisfying him,
but on the rare occasions when I have had no money
the yells and maledictions have been awful

The light and profane use of the Divine name is
universal. The dervishes curse, but every one uses the

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 18 of 29)