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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any one is injured by a dog or by a tree falling, they
wash the damaged person in water, and then throw the
water over the boy, dog, or tree which has been the cause
of the injury, believing that in this way the mischief
is transferred.

When any one is ill of fright and the cause is not
known, the nuns come to the house, and pour wax into
a basin of boiling water, noting the form it takes, such
as a snake, a dog, or a frog. In a case lately they
went out and killed a snake, for the thing whose form
the wax takes ought to be killed ; but as this might often
be difficult or unsuitable, they compromise the matter
by throwing the water (not boiling, I hope) over the
nearest dog or toad, or anything else which is supposed
to be the culprit

On the first Monday in Lent the women wash their
knitting needles for luck in a stream which runs through
Julfa. The children educated in the Mission schools
laugh at these and many other superstitions.

The dress of the Armenian women is very showy, but
too much of a huddle. Red is the dominant colour, a
carnation red with white patterns sprawling over it
They wear coloured trousers concealed by a long skirt
The visible under-garment is a long, " shaped " dress of
Turkey red. Over this is worn a somewhat scanty gown
of red and white cotton, open in front, and very short-
waisted, and over this a plain red pelisse or outer gar-
ment, often quilted, open in front, gashed up the sides,
and falling below the knees. Of course this costume is


liable to many modifications in the way of material, and
embroidered jackets, heavily trimmed with jewellery and
the like. As fashion is unchanging the acquisition and
hoarding of garments are carried to a great extent.

There are two marked features of Armenian dress, one,
the massive silver girdle made of heavy chased-silver links
four inches long by two deep, often antique and always
of antique design, which falls much below the waist in
front, and is used to confine the ends of the white sheet
which envelops an Armenian woman out of doors, so that
it may hang evenly all round. The other is a skull-cap
of embroidered silk or cloth, placed well back on the head
above the many hanging plaits in which the hair is worn,
with a black velvet coronet in front, from which among
the richer women rows of coins depend. This, which is
very becoming to the brilliant complexion and comely
face below it, is in its turn covered by a half handkerchief,
and over this is gracefully worn, when not gracelessly
clutched, a chadar or drapery of printed cambric or
muslin. A white band bound across the chin up to the
lips suggests a broken jaw, and the tout ensemble of the
various wrappings of the head a perennial toothache.

I. L. B.



JULFA, April SO.

You Will be tired of Julfa though I am not I fully
expected to have left it a fortnight ago, but unavoidable
delays have occurred. My caravan and sen-ants started
this morning, and I leave myself in a few hours.

Upon my horse I have bestowed the suggestive
name of Screw. He is fairly well-bred, big-headed,
big-eared, small-bodied, bright bay, fine-coated, slightly
flat-footed, and with his fore hoofs split in several places
from the coronet nearly to the shoe. He is an un-
doubted yabu, and has carried loads for many a day.
He has a long stride, shies badly, walks very fast, canters
easily, and at present shows no tendency to tumble
down. 1

I have had pleasant rides alone, crossing the defi-
nite dividing line between the desert and the oasis of
cultivation and irrigation, watching the daily develop-
ment of the various crops and the brief life of the wild
flowers, creeping through the green fields on the narrow
margins of irrigating ditches, down to the Pul-i-Kaju,
and returning to the green lanes of Julfa by the

1 Screw never became a friend or companion, scarcely a comrade, bat
showed plenty of pluck and endurance, climbed and descended horrible
rock ladders over which a horse with a rider had never passed before, was
steady in fords, and at the end of three and a half months of severe
travelling and occasional scarcity of food was in better condition than
when he left Julfa.


bright waters of the Zainderud crimsoning in the setting

For in the late cool and breezy weather, not altogether
free from clouds and showers, there have been some
gorgeous sunsets, and magnificent colouring of the depth
and richness which people call tropical, has blazed ex-
travagantly ; and from the violet desert to the indigo
storm-clouds on the still snow-patched Kuhriid moun-
tains, from the vivid green of the oasis to the purple
crags in dark relief against a sky of flame, all things have
been new.

Two Sundays witnessed two incidents, one the bap-
tism of a young Moslem in a semi-private fashion, who
shortly afterwards renounced Christianity, and the other
that of a respectable Mohammedan merchant in Isfahan,
who has long pleaded for baptism, presenting himself at
the altar rails at the Holy Communion, resolved that if
he were not permitted to confess Christ as Divine in one
way he would in another. He was passed over, to my
great regret, if he be sincere, but I suppose the Eubric
leaves no choice. 1

I have written little about my prospective journey
because there has been a prolonged uncertainty about it,
and even now I cannot give any definite account of the
project, except that the route lies through an altogether
mountainous region, in that part of the province of
Luristan known in Persia colloquially as the " Bakhtiari
country," from being inhabited by the Bakhtiari Lurs,
chiefly nomads. The pros and cons as to my going have
been innumerable, and the two people in Persia who
know the earlier part of the route say that the character
of the people makes it impossible for a lady to travel

1 He has since been baptized, but for safety had to relinquish his
business and go to India, where he is supporting himself, and his conduct
is satisfactory.


among them. On the other hand, I have the consent
and help of the highest authorities, Persian and English,
and shall not go too far, but shall return to Isfahan in
case things should turn out as is feared. The exploration
of a previously unexplored region will he in itself inter-
esting, but whether there will be sufficient of the human
interests, which I chiefly care for, I doubt ; in that case
the journey will be dull.

At all events I shall probably have to return here in
two months, 1 but such a journey for myself and two serv-
ants in such a region requires extensive preparations,
and I "have brought all my own travelling " dodges " into
requisition, with a selection of those of other people.

It is considered desirable to carry stores from Isfahan
for forty days, except flour and rice, which can be obtained
a week's march from here. At the British Legation
I was kindly supplied with many tins of preserved meat,
and milk, and jam, and besides these I am only taking
a quantity of Edwards' Desiccated Soup, portable and
excellent, twelve pounds of tea, and ten pounds of candles.
The great thing in planning is to think of what one can
do without Two small bottles of saccharin supply the
place of forty pounds of sugar.

Two yekdans contain my stores, cooking and table uten-
sils and personal luggage, a waterproof bag my bedding,
and a divided packing-case, now empty, goes for the flour
and rice. Everything in the yekdans is put up in bags
made of the coarse cotton of the country. The tents and
tent-poles, which have been socketed for easier transport
on crooked mountain paths, and a camp-bed made from
a Kashmiri pattern in Tihran, are all packed in covers
made from the gunny bags in which sugar is imported,

1 I never returned, and only at the end of three and a half months
emerged from the "Bakhtiari country" at Burujird after a journey of
700 miles.


and so are double sets of large and small iron tent-

Presents for the " savages " are also essential, and I
have succeeded in getting 100 thimbles, many gross
of small china buttons which, it is said, they like to sew
on children's caps, 1000 needles, a quantity of Russian
thread, a number of boxes with mirror tops, two dozen
double-bladed knives, and the same number of strong
scissors, Kashmir kamarbands, gay handkerchiefs for
women's heads, Isfahan printed " table-cloths," dozens of
bead bracelets and necklaces, leather purses and tobacco
pouches, and many other things.

I take three tents, including a shuldari, five feet
square, and only weighing ten pounds. My kit is reduced
Ho very simple elements, a kettle, two copper pots which
fit into each other, a frying pan, cooking knife and spoon,
a tray instead of a table, a chair, two plates, a teacup and
saucer, a soup plate, mug, and teapot, all of course in
enamelled iron, a knife, fork, and two spoons. This is
ample for one person for any length of time in camp.

For this amount of baggage and for the sacks of flour
and rice, weighing 160 Ibs., which will hereafter be
carried, I have four mules, none heavily laden, and two
with such light loads that they can be ridden by my
servants. These mules, two charvadars, and a horse are
engaged for the journey at two krans (16d.) a day each,
the owner stipulating for a bakhsheesh of fifty krans, if at
the end I am satisfied. This sum is to cover food and
all risks.

The animals are hired from a well-known charvadar,
who has made a large fortune and is regarded as very
trustworthy; Dr. Bruce calls him the "prince of
charvadars" He and his son are going on the "trip."
He has a quiet, superior manner, and when he came to
judge of the weight of my loads, he said they were


" very good very right," a more agreeable verdict than
muleteers are wont to pass upon baggage. 1

The making of the contract with Hadji involved two
important processes, the writing of it by a scribe and
the sealing of it The scribe is one of the most
important persons in Persia. Every great man has one
or more, and every little man has occasion for a scribe's
services in the course of a year. He is the trusted
depositary of an infinity of secrets. He moves with
dignity and deliberation, his " writer's inkhorn " pendent
from his girdle, and his physiognomy has been trained
to that reticent, semi -mysterious expression common to
successful solicitors in England.

Writing is a fine art in Persia. The characters are
in themselves graceful, and lend themselves readily to
decoration. The old illuminated MSS. are things of
beaXity ; even my contract is ornamental The scribe
holds the paper in his left hand, and uses a reed
pen with the nib cut obliquely, writing from right to
left. The ink is thick, and is carried with the pens in
a papur-macM inkhorn.

Hadji tells me with much pride that his son, Abbas
Ali, can write " and will be very useful"

Sealing is instead of signing. As in Japan, every
adult male has his seal, of agate or cornelian among the
rich, and of brass or silver among the poor. The name
is carefully engraved on the seal at a cost of from a half-

1 Hadji Hussein deserves a passing recommendation. I fear that he
is still increasing his fortune and has not retired. The journey was a
very severe one, full of peril to his mules from robbers and dangerous
roads, and not without risk to himself. With the exception of a few
Orientalisms, which are hardly worth recalling, he was faithful and up-
right, made no attempt to overreach, kept to his bargain, was punctual
and careful, and at Burujird we parted good friends. He was always most
respectful to me, and I owe him gratitude for many kindnesses which in-
creased my comfort. It is right to acknowledge that a part of the success
of the journey was owing to the efficiency of the transport.


penny to 18s. a letter. Tihran is celebrated for its seal-
cutters. No document is authentic without a seal as its


Hadji took the contract and applied it to his fore-
head in token of respect, touched the paper with his
tongue to make it moist and receptive, waved it in the
air to rid it of superfluous moisture, wetted his fingers on
a spongy ball of silk full of Indian ink in the scribe's
inkstand, rubbed the ink on the seal, breathed on it, and
pressed it firmly down on the paper, which he held over
the forefinger of his left hand. The smallest acts in
Persia are regulated by rigid custom.

The remaining portion of my outfit, but not the least
^important, consists of a beautiful medicine chest of the
most compact and portable make, most kindly given to
me by Messrs. Burroughes and Wellcome, containing fifty
small bottles of their invaluable " tabloids," a hypodermic
syringe, and surgical instruments for simple cases. To
these I have added a quantity of quinine, and Dr.
Odling at Tihran gave me some valuable remedies. A
quantity of bandages, lint, absorbent cotton, etc., completes
this essential equipment. Among the many uncertainties
of the future this appears certain, that the Bakhtiaris will
be clamorous for European medicine.

I have written of my servants. Mirza Yusuf pleases
me very much, Hassan the cook seems quiet, but not
active, and I picture to myself the confusion of to-night
in camp, with two men who know nothing about camp
life and its makeshifts !

Whatever the summer brings, this is probably my last
letter written from under a roof till next winter. I am
sorry to leave Julfa and these kind friends, but the
prospect of the unknown has its charms. I. L. B.



IN introducing the following journal of a summer spent
in Luri-Buzurg or Greater Luristan by a few explanatory
notes, I desire to acknowledge the labours of those
travellers who have preceded me over some of the
earlier portions of the route, and my obligations to those
careful explorers of half a century ago, who turned the
light of modern research upon the antiquities of Lower
Elam and the condition of its modern inhabitants, and
whose earnestness and accuracy the traveller in Upper
Elam and the Bakhtiari country may well desire to
emulate. 1

For the correction of those portions of my letters
which attempt to describe a part of mountainous
Luristan previously unexplored, I am deeply indebted

1 The writers who have dealt with some of the earlier portions of
my route are as follows : Henry Blosse Lynch, Esq., Across Luristan to
Ispahan Proceedings of the R. O. Si, September 1890. Colonel M. S.
Bell, V.C., A Visit to the Karun River and Kum Blackwootfs Magazine,
April 1889. Colonel J. A. Bateman Champain, RE., On the Various
Means of Communication between Central Persia and the Sea Proceedings
of the R. G. S., March 1883. Colonel H. L. Wells, R.E., Surveying
Tours in South- Western Persia Proceedings of R, G. S., March 1883.
Mr. Stack, Six Months in Persia, London, 1884. Mr. Mackenzie, Speech,
Proceedings of R. G. S., March 1883. The following among other writers
have dealt with the condition of the Bakhtiari and Feili Lurs, and with the
geography of the region to the west and south-west of the continuation of
the great Zagros chain, termed in these notes the " Outer " and " Inner"


to a recent unpublished Geographical Report, to which
any geographical interest which they may possess is
altogether due. For the customs and beliefs of the
Bakhtiaris I have had to depend entirely on my own
investigations, made through an intelligent and faith-
ful interpreter, whose desire for accuracy was scarcely
exceeded by my own.

The accompanying sketch map represents an area of
15,000 square miles, lying, roughly speaking, between
Lat. 31 and 34 N., and between Long. 48 and 51
E., and covering a distance of 300 miles from the Khana
Mirza to Khuramabad.

The itinerary covers a distance of about 700 miles, a
rney of three and a half months, chiefly in the region
of the Upper Karun and its affluents, among which
must be included the head-waters of the Ab-i-Diz.

During this time the Karun was traced, wherever
the nature of its bed admitted of it, from the gorge of
Dupulan, below which several travellers have investigated
and reported its extraordinary windings, up to the Sar-
Cheshmeh-i-Kurang, its reputed scource, a vigorous
fountain spring with an altitude of 8000 feet in the
steep limestone face of the north-eastern side of the
Zard Kuh range, and upwards to its real source in the
Kuh-i-Ifang or " variegated mountain."

The Ab-i-Diz was found to carry off the water of a
larger area than had been supposed ; the north-west

ranges of the Bakhtiari mountains, their routes touching those of the
present writer at Khuramabad : Sir H. Rawlinson, Notes of a March from
Zohab to Khuzistan in 1836 Journal of the K.G.S., vol. ix., 1839. Sir
A. H. Layard, Early Adventures in Persia, Susiana, and Babylonia, includ-
ing a residence among the Bakhtiari and other wild tribes, 2 vols., London,
1887. Baron C. A. de Bode, Travels in Luristan and Arabistan, 2 vols.,
London, 1845. W. F. Ainsworth (Surgeon and Geologist to the Euph-
rates Expedition), The River Karun, London, 1890. General Schindler
travelled over and described the Isfahan and Shuster route, and pub-
lished a map of the country in 1884.


branches, the Ab-i-Burujird and the Kamandab, which
drain the well-watered plain of Silakhor, almost yielding
in importance to the Guwa and Gokun, which, uniting
to form what, for convenience' sake, was termed the
Ab-i-Basnoi, receive the drainage of the upper part of
Faraidan, an important district of Persia proper.

A lake of marvellously coloured water, two and a half
miles long by one mile wide, very deep, and with a
persistent level, was found to occupy a hollow at the
inner foot of the grand mountain Shuturun, and tin-.
having no native name, was marked on the map as Lake

The Bakhtiari mountains are chains of precipitous
parallel ranges, generally running north-west and south-
east, the valleys which divide them and carry off their
waters taking the same directions as far as the Kuh-i-Rang,
where a remarkable change takes place, noticed in Letter
XVII. This great mountain region, lying between the
lofty plateau of Central Persia and the plains of Khuzis-
tan, has continuous ranges of singular steepness, but
rarely broken up into prominent peaks, the Kuh-i-Rang,
the Kuh-i-Shahan, the Shuturun Kuh, and Dalonak being
detached mountains.

The great ranges of the Kuh-i-Sukhta, the Kuh-i-
Gerra, the Sabz Kuh, the Kala Kuh, and the Zard Kuh
were crossed and recrossed by passes from 8000 to
11,000 feet in altitude; many of the summits were
ascended, and the deep valleys between them, with their
full -watered, peacock -green streams, were followed up
wherever it was possible to do so. The magnificent
mountain Kuh-i-Rang was ascertained to be not only a
notable water-parting, but to indicate in a very marked
manner two distinct mountain systems with remarkable
peculiarities of drainage, as well as to form a colossal
barrier between two regions which, for, the sake of


intelligible description, were called "Upper Elam" and
the " Bakhtiari country."

The same authority, for the same purpose, desig-
nated the two main and highest chains of mountains
by the terms " Outer " and " Inner " ranges, the former
being the one nearest the great Persian plateau, the latter
the chain nearest to the Khuzistan plains. The con-
jectural altitudes of the peaks in this hitherto unexplored
region have been brought down by some thousands of
feet, and the " eternal snow " with which rumour had
crested them has turned out a myth, the altitude of the
highest summit being estimated at only a trifle over
13,000 feet

The nearly continuous ranges south-east of the Kuh-
i-Kang are pierced for the passage of water by a few
remarkable rifts or tangs the Outer range by the Tang-
i-Ghezi, the outlet of the Zainderud towards Isfahan, and
the Tang-i-Darkash Warkash, by which the drainage of
the important districts of the Chahar Mahals passes to
the Karun, the Inner range being pierced at the Tang-i-
Dupulan by the Karun itself. North-west of the Kuh-
i-Itang the rivers which carry the drainage of certain
districts of south-west Persia to the sea pierce the main
mountain ranges at right angles, passing through magni-
ficent gorges and chasms from 3000 to 5000 feet in

Among the mountains, but especially in the formation
south-east of the Kuh-i-Eang, there are many alpine
valleys at altitudes of from 7000 to 8500 feet, rich
summer pastures, such as Gurab, Chigakhor, Shorab, and
Cheshmeh Zarin.

Some of the valleys are of considerable width, many
only afford room for narrow tracks above the streams
by which they are usually watered, while others are
mere rifts for torrents and are inaccessible. Among the



limestone ranges fountain springs are of frequent occur-
rence, gushing out of the mountain sides with great
volume and impetuosity the perennial sources of per-
ennial streams.

Much of the country is absolutely without wood, pro-
ducing nothing fit even for fuel but the Astragalus rents
and the Astragalus tragacaniha. This is especially the case
on the outer slopes of the Outer range, which are formed
of rocky ribs with a covering of gravel, and are " barren,
treeless, waterless, and grassless." From the same crest
to the outer slopes of the Inner range, which descend on
Khuzistan, there are splendid pasturage, abundant water,
and extensive forests in the deep valleys and on the hill
slopes. 1

The trees, however, can rarely be defined as " forest
trees." They are small in girth and are usually stunted
and wizened in aspect, as if the conditions of their exist-
ence were not kindly.

Flowers are innumerable in the months of May and
June, beginning with the tulip, the iris, the narcissus, and
a small purple gladiolus, and a little later many of the
hillsides above an altitude of 7000 feet are aflame with
a crimson and terra-cotta frUHlaria imperialis, and a
carnation-red anemone, while the margins of the snow-
fields are gay with pink patches of an exquisite alpine
primula. Chicory, the dark blue centaurea, a large orange
and yellow snapdragon, and the scarlet poppy attend
upon grain crops there as elsewhere, and the slopes above
the upper Karun are brilliant with pink, mauve, and

1 Among the trees and shrubs to be met with are an oak (Quercu*
ballota), which supplies the people with acorn flour, the Platanus and
Tamariscus oruntalis, the jujube tree, two species of elm, a dwarf tama-
risk, poplar, four species of willow, the apple, pear, cherry, plum, walnut,
gooseberry, almond, dogwood, hawthorn, ash, lilac, alder, Paliums and-
eatus, rose, bramble, honeysuckle, hop vine, grape vine, Clematis orien-
talis, Juniperus excelsa, and hornbeam.


white hollyhocks. But it must be admitted that the chief
interest of many of the flowers is botanical only. They
are leathery, woolly, thorny, and sticky, adapted rather
for arid circumstances than to rejoice the eye.

Among the economic plants observed were the Cen-
taurea alata, which grows in singular abundance at a
height of from 5500 to VOOO feet, and is cut and stacked
for fodder; a species of celery of very strong flavour,
which is an important article of food for man and beast,
and the flower-stalks of which, six feet high, are woven into
booths by some of the tribes ; the blue liuum, red madder,
the eryngium cceruleum, which is cut and stacked for
fodder ; a purple garlic, the bulbs of which are eaten ;
liquorice, and the Ferula asafetida in small quantities.

It is a surprise to the traveller to find that a large
area is under cultivation, and that the crops of wheat and
barley are clean, and up to the Persian average, and that
the removal of stones and a laborious irrigation system
are the work of nomads who only occupy their yailaks
for five months of the year. It may be said that nearly
every valley and hill-slope where water is procurable is
turned to account for grain crops.

No part of the world in this latitude is fuller of
streams and torrents, but three only attain to any geo-
graphical dignity the Zainderud, or river of Isfahan,
which after a course full of promise loses itself ignomini-

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 22 of 29)