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 19 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 19 of 29)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

name Allah wherever they can bring it in. The Ya
Allah, as an expression of fatigue, or discontent, or
interest, or nothing, is heard all day, and the boy who
drives a cow, or a team, or a mule in a caravan, cries Ya
Allah incessantly as an equivalent of "go along," and the
gardener pushing his spade into the ground, the chopper
with every blow of the axe, the labourer throwing up
bricks, ejaculates the same. Mashallah, Inshallah, inter-
lard all conversation. When men are building, the
perpetual sing-song of phrases such as these is heard,
" Brother, in God's name toss me a brick," the other
replying, " Brother, in God's name here is a brick.'


The vocabulary of abuse is also very large, and often
involves serious reflections on the female relatives of the
person abused. I hear such harmless phrases as " son
of a burnt father," rt son of a dog," " offspring of a pig,"
etc., on all occasions.

Murcheh Khurt is a large village with a good deal
of cultivation about it, a mosque or more, a hammam,
a chapar khana, and a caravanserai. Here again I
found that the smart foreign soldier attracted all the
notice, and that before the people ceased to wonder at
him I had passed them. The chapar khana was full
of men, so I have had to sink to the level of a recessed
den with a manger in front in a ruinous caravanserai
crowded with Persian travellers, muleteers, mules, horses,
and asses, and the courtyard half-choked with ruins. I
had not seen the inside of one of these dens before.
Travellers have exhausted the vocabulary of abuse upon
them ; possibly they deserve it in the " vermin season " ;
but there is nothing worse than a square and perfectly
dark room, with unplastered walls blackened by the smoke
and cobwebs of ages, and a door which will not fasten.

The air is cool and the sky blue, and sitting at the
open door is very pleasant. Mahboud and two of the
servants caught cold at Kulirud and are ill, and my Arab
has a chill too. He is a very stupid horse. His gentle
eyes never change their expression, and his small ears
rarely move. He has little sense or affection, but when
he is patted his proud neck takes on a loftier arch.
Gentle as he is to people he is a brute to other horses.
He would like to fight every one of them, to stand on his
hind-legs and grapple them round the shoulders with his
fore-feet and bite their necks, roaring and squealing all the
time. He and Mahboud's horse are inveterate enemies,
and one of .the few difficulties of the journey is the keep-
ing them from a regular stand-up fight.

240 JOri:M-:v> IN I'Klisi.v LETTER xi

This villiim- \a an oasis in the desert I have been
through its gates, barely wide enough to admit an ass
loaded with brushwood, with the straidar and Mirza,
walked through its narrow alleys, and inadvertently
stumbled into a mosque where a great crowd of woim-n
were listening to a story of one of the twehv Imams
told by a mollah, looked down upon it and over the
adjacent country from a house roof, visited several houses,
in which some of the inmates were ill and desired "Feringhi
medicine," had a long conversation with the ketchuda, who
came to see me to ask for eye lotion, and with the scr-
aidar, and altogether have had quite a pleasant day.

Chapar Khana, Gcz, I am sitting in one of the tliree
doorless doorways of my loft, grieving that the journey
is just over, and that this is the last night of the exhilar-
ating freedom of the desert. I rode twenty-four miles
before one o'clock to-day, over a level uncultivated plain,
bordered as usual by ranges of mountains. In fact, while
I write of levels and plains it must be understood that
Persia is chiefly a land of hills rising from a table-
land from 3400 feet to 6000 feet in altitude, and that the
traveller is rarely, if ever, more than fourteen or fifteen
miles from mountains from 2000 to 6000 feet above
the plain from which they rise, crowned by Demavend,
whose imposing summit is 18,600 feet above the sea. The
hills beyond Isfahan have assumed lofty proportions, and
some of the snowy mountains of Luristan are to be seen
in the far distance.

It is nearly an unmitigated waste between Murcheh
Khurt and Gez, destitute even of tufts of wormwood ; but
the latter part of the march is through a stoneless alluvial .
desert of dry friable soil, soft springy galloping ground
which water would turn into a paradise of fertility ; and
water there has once been, for not far from ttye road are
the remains of some kanaats.


The questions naturally arise in a traveller's mind, first,
what becomes of the enormous amount of snow which
falls on the mountains ; and next, how in a country so arid
as the plateaus of Central Asia water for irrigation, and
for the basins and fountains which abound in rich men's
houses, is obtained.

Wells, unless the artesian borings shortly to be begun
in the Tihran desert should be successful, are all but
unknown, except for supplying drinking water, and there
are scarcely any reservoirs, but ingenuity has devised a
plan of subterranean water-channels, which besides their
other advantages prevent loss by evaporation. Tihran
has thirty-five of them, and the water which they dis-
tribute is naturally expensive, as the cost of making them
is great

It is on the slope of a hill that the spring is found
which is the original source of supply ; this is tapped at
some depth, and its waters are led along a tunnel about
four feet high by two feet wide lined with baked pottery
where the ground is soft, and having a slight fall to
the next spring or well, which may be from twenty-five
to even sixty yards off.

As the labourers dig they draw up the earth and
arrange it in a circle round the shaft, and as they come
to water they draw up the mud and pour it on the top
of the earth, where it dries and hardens, and below, the
water is conducted as a running underground stream
across great plains, its progress marked by mounds which
have been compared to ant-hills and craters, but to my
thinking are more like the shafts of disused mines.

Hundreds of these kanaats are seen, ruined and dry,
and are the resort of porcupines and jackals. To con-
struct a kanaat may call a village or series of villages
into being. The letting it fall to ruin is one cause of
deserted villages. Those which are not lined require


annual repairs, which are now going on, but frequently
the complete fall of the roof destroys the fall of the
water, and the tunnel becomes irreparable.

The peasants are obliged to buy the water, for they
cannot steal it, and the making of a Icfmaat is often a
lucrative speculation. Pigeons live in them, and many
of them are full of fish, which foreigners amuse themselves
by poisoning by throwing a mixture of cocculus indicus
with dough down the wells, when the poisoned but
wholesome fish rise to the surface. They usually recover
when they are left in the water. Dr. Wills describes them
as having a muddy taste. The kanaats are a feature of

Ever since leaving Kum all the dry and hard parts of
the road have been covered with the industrious " road
beetle," which works, like the ant, in concert, and carries
on its activities at all seasons, removing from the road to
its nest all the excreta of animals, except in regions
where even animal fuel is so exceptionally scarce that
boys with asses and ponies follow caravans for the same
purpose. These beetles hover over the road on the wing,
and on alighting proceed to roll the ball towards the nest,
four or five of them standing on their hind -legs and
working it forwards, or else rolling it with their heads
close to the ground. Their instinct is wonderful, and
they attract the attention of all travellers. They are
about the size of a small walnut. Otherwise there is
little of animated life to be seen on this route.

No day has had fewer noticeable objects. Two or
three dbambars, several caravanserais in absolute ruins,
and a magnificent one in partial ruins are its record.

Gez consists of this post-house and a decaying
caravanserai. From the roof as I write I watch the
grooming of a whole row of chapar horses. As each pad
is removed there is a horrid revelation of wounds, deep


ulcers, sores often a foot long, and in some cases the
white vertebrae of the spine are exposed. These are the
wretched animals which often carry men who ride from
fourteen to seventeen stone fifty miles in a day. It is
hard enough even with extreme carefulness to keep the
back of a horse all right on a continuous journey, but I
never before saw animals ridden in such a state. They
wince pitifully when their pads are put on again.

The desert is all around, purpling in the sunset, sweep-
ing up to low broken ridges, and to some higher hills in
the north-west covered with new-fallen snow. That the
waste only requires water to make it prolific is apparent,
for below these walls wheat is growing luxuriantly in
some deep pits, irrigated from a dirty ditch out of which
the drinking water comes. Nothing can be got, except
by sending to a village a mile away.

Four of the men are ill, one with inflammation of the
eyes, another with an abscess, and a third, a very strong
man, with something like bilious fever, and a charvadar
with malarial fever. The strong man's moans often
become howls. He insists that he shall die to-night,
These two afternoons have been much taken up with
making poultices and medicines, and I shall be glad for
the poor fellows to reach Isfahan and the care of a
competent doctor.

Julfa, April 2. I daresay this journey seems longer
to you than it did to me. It was very pleasant, and its
goal is pleasant, and a most kind welcome and the
refinement of cultured English people go far to compen-
sate for the loss of the desert freedom and the easy
stride of the Arab horse.

I started the caravan at nine yesterday, with two
men with bandaged eyes, and other two hardly able to
sit on their mules ; Mahboud, who is really more seriously
ill than any of them, keeping up his pluck and capable-


ness to the last The man who threatened to die at
Gez was very much better the next morning.

Soon after leaving Gez the country changes its aspect,
the road becomes very bad, and passes through nine miles
of rich cultivation wheat, barley, opium, and vegetables
growing abundantly ; orchards are numerous, villages with
trees and gardens succeed each other rapidly, water
abounds, and before the gate of Isfahan is reached,
domes and minarets rising among cypresses, planes, and
poplars indicate the remains of the former capital of

Inside the shabby gateway the road to Julfa lies
among rows of mean mud houses, heaps of ruins, and
shabby provision bazars ; and that mile or more of Isfahan
was the one disagreeable part of the journey.

It was about the last day of the holidays, and the
bazars, alleys, and open spaces were full of men in gay
attire, and companies of shrouded women were moving
along the quieter roads. It was too warm for the sheep-
skin coat which had served me so well at Kum, and I
had dressed with some regard to European sensibilities.
The boys began to shout " A Feringhi woman! a Nazarene
woman ! " and then to call bad names ; then men began
to make up fiendish laughs, 1 and the howls and outcries
gathered strength as I went on at the inevitable foot's
pace, spitting being quite common, poor Mahboud con-
stantly turning to me a perturbed wretched face, full
of annoyance at the insults of his co-religionists, which
it would have been dangerous to resent. It was a bad
half- hour.

1 I can imagine now what a hellish laugh that was with which " they
laughed Him to scorn."

I was a month in Julfa, but never saw anything more of Isfahan, which
is such a fanatical city that I believe even so lately as last year none of
the ladies of the European community had visited it, except one or two
disguised as Persian women.


Before passing the residence of the Amir-i-Panj (the
commander of 5000) near the Julfa gate the uproar
died away, and once through the gate ttnd in the
Chahar Bagh (four gardens) there was peace. A bad
road of cobble stones, with a double avenue of once
magnificent planes, some once ornamental tanks, very
high walls, pierced by storied gates, ornamented with
wild designs on plaster in flaring colours, above which
a blue dome is a conspicuous object, leads to a handsome
bridge of thirty-three arches, with a broad level road-
way, and corridors for foot passengers on either side, over
the Zainderud, then came fields with springing wheat, a
few houses, a narrow alley, and two or three miles from
Isfahan the gate of its Armenian suburb, Julfa.

At once on crossing the bridge there was a change.
Ruddy, cheery -looking unveiled women in red gowns,
and pure white chadars completely enveloping their
persons, moved freely about, and the men wore neither
the becoming turban nor the ominous scowl of Islam.
In the quaint narrow streets were churches with
open vestibules, through which pictures of the thorn-
crowned Christ and of sweet-faced Madonnas were visible ;
priests in black robes and women in white glided
along the narrow roads. There was the fresher, purer
air of Christianity, however debased and corrupted. In
the low-browed churches divine honours are paid to a
crowned and risen Christ, and the white -robed women
have been baptized into His name. Never again will
the Julfa alleys be so peaceful and lovable as yesterday,
when they offered a haven from the howling bigots of

Dr. Bruce has not returned from Baghdad, but Mrs.
and Miss Bruce welcomed me very kindly, and I am
already forgetting my unpleasant reception. I. L. B.



JULFA, April 17.

MR. GEORGE CURZON wrote of Julfa : " The younger Julfa
is a place wholly destitute of superficial attractions, con-
sisting as it does of a labyrinth of narrow alleys closed
by doors and plentifully perforated with open sewers.
Life there is 'cabined, cribbed, confined' to an intoler-
able degree, and it is a relief to escape from its squalid

I dare not write thus if I would ! It is now the
early spring. The " sewers " are clear rapid streams,
margined by grass and dandelions, and shaded by ash
trees and pollard willows in their first flush of green.
The " narrow alleys " are scrupulously clean, and there is
neither mud nor dust. If I go up on the roof I see a
cultivated oasis, gardens prolonged indefinitely concealing
the desert which lies between them and the bold moun-
tain ranges which surround this lofty and breezy plain.
Every breeze is laden with the delicious odour of the
bean blossom. A rapid river spanned by noble bridges
hurries through the oasis it has helped to create, and on
its other side the domes and minarets of Isfahan rise out
of masses of fine trees, and bridges and mosques, minarets
and mountains, are all seen through a most exquisite pink
mist, for hundreds of standard peach trees are in full
bloom, and look where one may everything is coideur de


I quite admit that Julfa consists of a " labyrinth of
alleys." I can never find my way about it. One alley
with its shady central stream (or " sewer "), its roughly
paved paths on either side, its mud walls pierced by low
doors, is very much like another, and however lucky one
may be in " happening on " the right road, it is always a
weary time before one escapes from between mud walls
into the gardens and wheatfields, to the blossoming beans,
and the exquisite wild-flowers among the wheat

As to the "cabined, cribbed, confined" life, I can
give no testimony from personal knowledge. All life in
European settlements in the East appears to me " cabined,
cribbed, confined," and greatly devoid of external interests.
Perhaps Julfa is deficient in the latter in an eminent degree,
and in a very small foreign community people are inter-
ested chiefly in each other's affairs, sayings, and doings.
Lawn tennis, picnics, and dinner parties are prevalent,
the ordinary etiquette of European society prevails, and
in all cases of need the residents are kind to each other
both in life and death.

The European society is divided into three circles
the missionaries, the mercantile community, and the
telegraph staff. The British agent, Mr. Aganoor, is an
Armenian. 1 No Christians, Armenian or European, live
in Isfahan, and it is practically dtfendu to European
women. This transpontine restriction undoubtedly
narrows the life and interests of Julfa. It is aggravat-
ing and tantalising to be for ever looking at a city of
60,000 or 70,000 people, the fallen capital of the Sufari
dynasty, and never be able to enter it.

This Christian town of Julfa has a certain accessible

1 Since my visit Mr. Preece, then, and for many previous years, the
superintending electrician of this section of the Indo-European telegraph,
has been appointed Consul, the increasing dimensions of English interests
and the increasing number of resident British subjects rendering the
creation of a Consulate at Isfahan a very desirable step.


historic interest Shah Abbas, justly surnamed the Great,
conceived the sagacious project of introducing among his
Persian subjects at Isfahan then, in the latter part of
the sixteenth century, a magnificent capital the Christian
habits of trading, sagacity, and thrift, for then as now
the Armenians had commercial dealings with China, India,
and Europe, and had imported several arts into Persia,

This project he carried out in truly despotic fashion
by moving almost the whole population of Julfa on the
Araxes, on the modern Eusso- Persian frontier, to the
banks of the Zainderud, making over to it the best lands
in the neighbourhood of Isfahan. Many years later the
new Julfa was a place with twenty -four churches, great
prosperity, and an estimated population of 40,000. Its
agriculturists were prosperous market -gardeners for the
huge city of Isfahan, and it had likewise a great trading
community, and was renowned for the making of jewellery
and watches.

It has now a dwindling population of about 3000,
chiefly elderly men, women, and girls, the young men,
after receiving a good education in the Church Mission
and other schools, flying from its stagnation to India,
Java, and even Europe. The twenty-four churches are
reduced to twelve, and these with the vast cemetery in
the desert at the base of Kuh Sufi are its chief objects of
interest, apart from those which are human and living.

April 22. The peach blossoms have long since fallen,
but perhaps I still see Julfa couleur de rose, even after
three weeks, so very great is the kindness under this roof,
and so fully is my time occupied with various interests,
and the preparations for a difficult journey.

This, as you know, is the Church Mission House.
Dr. Bruce has been here for twenty years, and until lately,
when the Archbishop of Canterbury's mission to the
Assyrian Christians began its work at Unni, near the


Turkish frontier in the north-west, this was the only
English mission in the Empire. It was contemplated as
a mission to the Mohammedans, but in this respect
has been an apparent failure. It is true that much pre-
judice has been disarmed, and, as I have heard from
some leading Mohammedans, Dr. Bruce's zeal and good
works have won their respect. A large part of the Bible
has been translated into Persian and very widely
circulated through the adjacent country by means of
colporteurs of the British and Foreign Bible Society. His
preaching of Christianity is listened to respectfully, and
even with interest, wherever he itiuerates, and Moslems
daily call on him, and show much friendliness, but the
results, as results are usually estimated, are nil that is,
no Mohammedans openly profess Christianity.

There is actual though not legal toleration, but
Moslem children may not attend a mission school, and
a Moslem who becomes a Christian loses his means of
living, and probably his life is sacrificed to fanaticism.

In consequence of these difficulties, and certain
encouragements in another direction, the ostensible work
of the mission is among Armenians. Dr. Bruce has not
been afraid of incurring the stigma of being a proselytiser,
and has a large congregation of Armenians worshipping
after the English form, ninety-four being communicants
of the Church of England. On Easter Eve there was an
evening Communion, and the great row of women kneel-
ing at the rail in the pure white robes which cover them
from head to foot, and then moving back to their places
in the dim light, was very picturesque and beautiful.

Good works have been added one after another, till
the mission is now a very large establishment. The
C. M. S. has been liberal to this, its only Persian agency,
and Dr. Bruce, having private means, has generously
expended them largely on missionary work in Julfa.


The chief features of the compounds are the church,
which is both simple and ecclesiastical in its exterior aud
interior, and the library adjoining it, where Dr. Bruce works
at the translation of the Old Testament into Persian and
the revision of the New, aided by a munshi, and where
through much of the day he is receiving Moslems, some
of whom come to inquire into Christianity, others for
religious disputations, and a third and numerous class out
of mere friendliness. The latter are generally invited
into the Mission House, and are regaled with coffee and
kalians, in orthodox Persian fashion. Among the latter
visitors has been the Amir-i-Panj, who came to ask me
to call on his wife, accompanied by a general of cavalry,
whose name I cannot spell, and who speaks French remark-
ably well.

Among the other buildings are those of the Medical
Mission, which include a roomy courtyard, where the
animals which carry the patients are tethered, rooms for
the doctor, a well -arranged dispensary and consulting-
room, with waiting-rooms for both sexes, and rooms above
in which serious surgical cases are received for treatment,
and where at present there are eleven patients, although
just now there is no European doctor, and they are being
treated by the native assistants, most kindly helped by
Dr. Scully of the telegraph staff. This hospital and
dispensary are largely taken advantage of by Moslems,
who highly appreciate this form of Christian benevolence.

The boys' school, with 205 pupils, has been a great
benefit to Julfa. The head-master, Mr. Johannes, was
educated in England and was formerly a master of the
Nassik School in India. This school provides the
education of one of our best middle-class schools, and the
teaching is thorough. Smattering would be infinitely
despised by teachers and pupils. In this thorough fashion
Latin, French, the first four books of Euclid, and algebra


are taught to the youngi men of the upper form. The
boys have a large playground, with a great tank for
bathing, and some of the equipments of a gymnasium, a
vaulting pole, parallel bars, etc.

The girls' schools, containing 100 girls, have their own
courtyard, and they need enlarging, though the process
has been more than once repeated. Mrs. Aidin, an Eng-
lish teacher, is at their head, and exercises that strong
influence which love and firmness give. The girls are a
mass of red, a cool red, without yellow, and when they
disperse they enliven the Julfa alleys with their carna-
tion dresses and pure white chadars. The education is
solid and suitable, and special attention is given to needle-

Besides these there is an orphanage, begun for the
benefit of those whose parents died in the famine, in
which are twenty boys. Outside are many other works,
a Bible House, from which colporteurs at intervals pro-
ceed on journeys, a Young Men's Christian Association, or
something like it, etc. etc.

Now as to the Mission House itself, which has to
accommodate Dr., Mrs., and Miss Bruce, Mr. Carless, a
clerical missionary, and two English lady missionaries.
So much has been written lately about the "style of
living " of missionaries, their large houses, and somewhat
unnecessary comfort in general, that I am everywhere
specially interested in investigating the subject, having
formed no definite opinion on the question whether living

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 19 of 29)