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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ously in a partially-explored swamp ; the Karun, with its
Bakhtiari tributaries of the Ab-i-Bazuft, the Darkash
Warkash, the Ab-i-Sabzu, and the Dinarud ; and the Ab-i-
Diz, which has an important course of its own before its
junction with the Karun at Bandakir. None of these
rivers are navigable during their course through the
Bakhtiari mountains. They are occasionally spanned by
bridges of stone or wickerwork, or of yet simpler con-


With the exception of the small area of the Outer
range, which contains the head-waters of the Zainderud,
the Bakhtiari country proper consists of the valleys of
the upper Kanin and its tributaries.

The tracks naturally follow the valleys, and are fairly
easy in their gradients to the south-east of the Kuh-i-Kang.
To the north-west, however, being compelled to cross
rivers which pierce the ranges at right angles to their
directions, ascents and descents of several thousand feet
are involved at short intervals, formed of rock ladders,
which may be regarded as " impassable for laden animals."

The so-called roads are nothing better than tracks
worn in the course of centuries by the annual passage of
the nomads and their flocks to and from their summer
pastures. In addition to the tracks which follow the lie
of the valleys, footpaths cross the main ranges where
foothold can be obtained.

There are but two bridle tracks which deserve mention
as being possible for caravan traffic between Isfahan and
Shuster, one crossing the God-i-Murda at a height of
7050 feet and the Karun at Dupulan, the other, which
considerably diminishes the distance between the two
commercial points, crossing the Zard Kuh by the Cherri
Pass at an altitude of 9550 feet and dropping down
a steep descent of over 4000 feet to the Bazuft river.
These, the Gurab, and the Gil- i- Shah, and Pambakal
Passes, which cross the Zard Kuh range at elevations of
over 11,000 feet, are reported as closed by snow for
several months in winter. In view of the cart-road from
Ahwaz to Tihran, which will pass through the gap of
Khuramabad, the possible importance of any one of these
routes fades completely away.

The climate, though one of extremes, is healthy.
Maladies of locality are unknown, the water is usually
pure, and malarious swamps do not exist Salt springs


produce a sufficiency of salt for wholesome use, and
medicinal plants abound. The heat begins in early June
and is steady till the end of August, the mercury risin^
to 102 in the shade at altitudes of 7000 feet, but it is
rarely oppressive ; the nights are cool, and greenery and
abounding waters are a delightful contrast to the arid
hills and burning plains of Persia. The rainfall is
scarcely measurable, the snowfall is reported as heavy,
and the winter temperatures are presumably low.

There are few traces of a past history, and the legends
connected with the few are too hazy to be of any value,
but there are remains of bridges of dressed stone, and of
at least one ancient road, which must have been trodden
oy the soldiers of Alexander the Great and Valerian, and
it is not impossible that the rude forts here and there
which the tribesmen attribute to mythical heroes of their
own race may have been built to guard Greek or Eoman

The geology, entomology, and zoology of the Bakhtiari
country have yet to be investigated. In a journey of
three months and a half the only animals seen were a
bear and cubs, a boar, some small ibex, a blue hare, and
some jackals. Francolin are common, and storks were
seen, but scarcely any other birds, and bees and butterflies
are rare. It is the noxious forms of animated life which
are abundant. There are snakes, some of them venomous,
a venomous spider, and a stinging beetle, and legions of
black flies, mosquitos, and sand-flies infest many localities.

This area of lofty ranges, valleys, gorges, and alpine
pasturages is inhabited by the Bakhtiari Lurs, classed
with the savage or semi-savage races, who, though they
descend to the warmer plains in the winter, invariably
speak of these mountains as " their country." On this
journey nearly all the tribes were visited in their own
encampments, and their arrangements, modes of living,


customs, and beliefs were subjects of daily investigation,
the results of which are given in the letters which

Their own very hazy traditions, which are swift to
lose themselves in the fabulous, represent that they came
from Syria, under one chief, and took possession of the
country which they now inhabit. A later tradition states
that a descendant of this chief had two wives equally
beloved, one of whom had four sons, and the other
seven ; and that after their father's death the young men
quarrelled, separated, and bequeathed their quarrel to
posterity, the seven brothers forming the Haft Lang
division of the Bakhtiaris, and the four the Chahar Lan-j. 1

The Haft Lang, though originally far superior in
numbers, weakened their power by their unending
internal conflicts, and in 1840, when Sir A. H. Layard
visited a part of Luristan not embraced in this route, and
sojourned at Kala-i-Tul, the power and headship of
Mehemet Taki Khan, the great chief of their rivals the
Chahar Lang, were recognised throughout the region.

The misfortunes which came upon him overthrew the
supremacy of his clan, and now (as for some years past)
the Haft Lang supply the ruling dynasty, the Chahar
Lang being, however, still strong enough to decide any
battles for the chieftainship which may be fought among
their rivals. Time, and a stronger assertion of the
sovereignty of Persia, have toned the feud down into a
general enmity and aversion, but the tribes of the two
septs rarely intermarry, and seldom encamp near each
other without bloodshed.

The great divisions of the Bakhtiaris, the Haft Lang,
the Chahar Lang, and the Dinarunis, with the dependencies
of the Janiki Gannsir, the Janiki Sardsir, and the
Afshar tribe of Gunduzlu, remain as they were half a

1 In Persian haft is seven, and chahar four.


century ago, when they were the subject of careful investi-
gation by Sir A. H. Layard and Sir H. Rawlinson.

The tribes (as enumerated by several of the Khans
without any divergence in their statements) number
29,100 families, an increase in the last half - century.
Taking eight to a household, which I believe to be a
fair estimate, a population of 232,800 would be the
result 1

A few small villages of mud hovels at low altitudes
are tenanted by a part of their inhabitants throughout
the winter, the other part migrating with the bulk of the
flocks; and 3000 families of the two great Janiki
divisions are deh-nishins or " dwellers in cities," i.e. they
il i not migrate at all; but the rest are nomads, that is,
they have winter camping-grounds in the warm plains of
Khuzistan and elsewhere, and summer pastures in the
region of the Upper Karun and its affluents, making two
annual migrations between their garmsirs and sardsirs
(hot and cold quarters).

Though a pastoral people, they have (as has been
referred to previously) of late years irrigated, stoned, and
cultivated a number of their valleys, sowing in the early
autumn, leaving the crops for the winter and early
spring, and on their return weeding them very carefully
till harvest-time in July.

They live on the produce of their flocks and herds, on
leavened cakes made of wheat and barley flour, and on a
paste made of acorn flour.

In religion they are fanatical Moslems of the Shiah
sect, but combine relics of nature worship with the tenets
of Islam.

The tribes, which were to a great extent united under

1 This computation is subject to correction. Various considerations
dispose the Ilkhani and the other Khans to minimise or magnify the
population. It has been stated at from 107,000 to 275,000 souls, and by
a "high authority" to different persons as 107,000 and 211,000 souls!


the judicious and ambitious policy of Mehemet Taki
Khan and Hussein Kuli Khan, nominally acknowledge
one feudal head, the Ilkhani, who is associated in power
with another chief called the Ilbegi. The Ilkhani, who
is appointed by the Shah for a given period, capable of
indefinite extension, is responsible for the tribute, which
amounts to about two tnmans a household, and for the
good order of Luri-Buzurg.

The Bakhtiaris are good horsemen and marksmen.
Possibly in inter-tribal war from 10,000 to 12,000 men
might take the field, but it is doubtful whether more
than from 6000 to 8000 could be relied on in an
external quarrel.

The Khan of each tribe is practically its despotic
ruler, and every tribesman is bound to hold himself at
his disposal.

As concerns tribute, they are under the government of
Isfahan, with the exception of three tribes and a half,
which are under the government of Burujird.

They are a warlike people, and though more peaceable
than formerly, they cherish blood-feuds and are always
fighting among themselves. Their habits are predatory
by inclination and tradition, but they have certain
notions of honour and of regard to pledges when
voluntarily given. 1

They deny Persian origin, but speak a dialect of

1 Sir. H. Rawlinson sums up Bakhtiari character in these very severe
words: "I believe them to be individually brave, but of a cruel and
savage character ; they pursue their blood-feuds with the most inveterate
and exterminating spirit, and they consider no oath or obligation in any
way binding when it interferes with their thirst for revenge ; indeed, the
dreadful stories of domestic tragedy that are related, in which whole
families have fallen by'each other's hands (a son, for instance, having slain
his father to obtain the chiefship another brother having avenged the
murder, and so on, till only one individual was left), are enough to freeze
the blood with horror.

" It is proverbial in Persia that the Bakhtiaris have been obliged to


Persian. Conquered by Nadir Shah, who took many
of them into his service, they became independent after
his death, until the reign of Mohammed Shah. Though
tributary, they still possess a sort of quasi independence,
though Persia of late years has tightened her grip upon
them, and the Shah keeps many of their influential
families in Tihraii and its neighbourhood as hostages for
the good behaviour of their clans.

Of the Feili Lure, the nomads of Luri-Kushak ,or the
Lesser Luristan, the region lying between the Ab-i-Diz
and the Assyrian plains, with the province of Kirmanshah
to the north and Susiana to the south, little was seen.
These tribes are numerically superior to the Bakhtiaris.
Fifty years ago, according to Sir H. Rawlinson, they
numbered 56,000 families.

They have no single feudal chieftain like their
neighbours, nor are their subdivisions ruled, as among
them, by powerful Khans. They are governed by
: Tushmals (lit. " master of a house ") and four or five of
these are associated in the rule of every tribal subdivision.
On such occasions as involve tribal well-being or the
reverse, these Tushmals consult as equals.

Sir H. Rawlinson considered that the Feili Lur form of
government is very rare among the clan nations of Asia,
and that it approaches tolerably near to the spirit of a
confederated republic. Their language, according to the
same authority, differs little from that of the Kurds of

forego altogether the reading of the Fahiihah or prayer for the dead, for
otherwise they would have no other occupation. They are also most
dexterous and notorious thieves. Altogeher they may be considered the
most wild and barbarous of all the inhabitants of Persia." "Notes on
a March from Zohab to Khuzistan," Jottrnal of the K.G.S., vol. ix.
Probably there is an improvement since this verdict was pronounced. At
all events I am inclined to take a much more favourable view of the
Bakhtiaris than has been given in the very interesting paper from which
this quotation is made.


Unlike the Bakhtiaris, they neglect agriculture, l*ut
they breed and export mules, and trade in carpets,
charcoal, horse-furniture, and sheep.

In faith they are AH Ilahis, but are grossly ignorant
and religiously indifferent ; they show scarcely any respect
to Mohammed and the Koran, and combine a number of
ancient superstitions and curious sacrificial rites with a
deep reverence for Sultan Ibrahim, who under the name
of Bdl^d Buzurg (the great father) is worshipped through-
out Luri-Kushak.

For the tribute payable to Persia no single individual
is responsible. The sum to be levied is distributed
among the tribes by a general council, after which each
subdivision apportions the amount to be paid by the
different camps, and the Risk-Sefid (lit gray-beard) or
head of each encampment collects from the different
families according to their means.

The task of the Persian tax-collector is a difficult
one, for the tribes are in a state of chronic turbulence,
and fail even in obedience to their own general council,
and the collection frequently ends in an incursion of
Persian soldiers and a Government raid on the flocks and
herds. Many of these people are miserably poor, and
they are annually growing poorer under Persian mal-

The Feili Lurs are important to England commercially,
because the cart-road from Ahwaz to Tihran, to be
completed within two years, passes partly through their
country, 1 and its success as the future trade route from

1 A report to the Foreign Office (No. 207) made by an officer who
travelled from Khuramabad to Dizful in December 1890, contains the
following remarks on this route.

"As to the danger to caravans in passing through these hills, I am
inclined to believe that the Lurs are now content to abandon robbery with
violence in favour of payments and contributions from timid traders and
travellers. They hang upon the rear of a caravan ; an accident, a fallen or


the Gulf depends upon their good-will, or rather upon their
successful coercion by the Persian Government.

strayed pack animal, or stragglers in difficulty bring them to the spot, and,
on the pretence of assistance given, a demand is made for money, in lieu
of which, on fear or hesitation being shown, they obtain such articles as
they take a fancy to.

" The tribes through whose limits the road runs hare annual allowances
for protecting it, bat it is a question whether these are regularly paid. It
can hardly be expected that the same system of deferred and reduced pay-
ments, which unfortunately prevails in the Persian public service, should
be accepted patiently by a starving people, who have long been given to
predatory habits, and this may account for occasional disturbance. They
probably find it difficult to understand why payment of taxes should be
mercilessly exacted upon them, while their allowances remain unpaid. It
is generally believed that they would take readily to work if fairly treated
and honestly paid, and I was told that for the construction of the pro-
posed cart-road there would be no difficulty in getting labourers from the
neighbouring Lur tribes."




I LEFT Julfa on the afternoon of April 30, with Miss
Bruce as my guest and Mr. Douglas as our escort for the
first three or four days. The caravan was sent forward
early, that my inexperienced servants might have time to
pitch the tents before our arrival.

Green and pleasant looked the narrow streets and
walled gardens of Julfa under a blue sky, on which black
clouds were heavily massed here and there ; but greenery
was soon exchanged for long lines of mud ruins, and the
great gravelly slopes in which the mountains descend
upon the vast expanse of plain which surrounds Isfahan,
on which the villages of low mud houses are marked by
dark belts of poplars, willows, fruit-trees, and great
patches of irrigated and cultivated land, shortly to take
on the yellow hue of the surrounding waste, but now
beautifully green.

Passing through Pul-i-Wargun, a large and much
wooded village on the Zainderud, there a very powerful
stream, affording abundant water power, scarcely used, we
crossed a bridge 450 feet long by twelve feet broad, of
eighteen brick arches resting on stone piers, and found the
camps pitched on some ploughed land by a stream, and
afternoon tea ready for the friends who had come to
give us what Persians call " a throw on the road." I
examined my equipments, found that nothing essential


was lacking, initiated my servants into their evening
duties, especially that of tightening tent ropes and driving
tent pegs well in, and enjoyed a social evening in the
adjacent camp.

The next day's journey, made under an unclouded sky,
was mainly along the Zainderud, from which all the
channels and rills which nourish the vegetation far and
near are taken. A fine, strong, full river it is there and
at Isfahan in spring, so prolific in good works that one
regrets that it should be lost sixty miles east of Isfahan
in the Gas-Khana, an unwholesome marsh, the whole of
its waters disappearing in the Kamr. Many large villages
with imposing pigeon-towers lie along this part of its
course, surrounded with apricot and walnut orchards,
wheat and poppy fields, every village an oasis, and every
oasis a paradise, as seen in the first flush of spring. On
a slope of gravel is the Bagh-i-Washi, with the remains of
an immense enclosure, where the renowned Shah Abbas
is said to have had a menagerie. Were it not for the
beautiful fringe of fertility on both margins of the
Zainderud the country would be a complete waste. The
opium poppy is in bloom now. The use of opium in
Persia and its exportation are always increasing, and as
it is a very profitable crop, both to the cultivators and
to the Government, it is to some extent superseding

Leaving the greenery we turned into a desert of gravel,
crossed some low hills, and in the late afternoon came
down upon the irrigated lands which surround the large
and prosperous village of Riz, the handsome and lofty
pigeon-towers of which give it quite a fine appearance
from a distance.

These pigeon-towers are numerous, both near Isfahan
and in the villages along the Zainderud, and are every-
where far more imposing than the houses of the people.


Since the great famine, which made a complete end of
pigeon -keeping for the time, the industry has u.
assumed its former proportions, and near Julfa many of
the towers are falling into ruin.

The Riz towers, however, are in good repair. They are
all built in the same way, varying only in size and height,
from twenty to fifty feet in diameter, and from twenty-
five to eighty feet from base to summit They are
"round towers," narrowing towards the top. They are
built of sun-dried bricks of local origin, costing about two
krans or 16d. a thousand, and are decorated with rings
of yellowish plaster, with coarse arabesques in red ochre
upon them. For a door there is an opening half-way up,
plastered over like the rest of the wall

Two walls, cutting each other across at right angles,
divide the interior. I am describing from a ruined tower
which was easy of ingress. The sides of these walls, and
the whole of the inner surface of the tower, are occupied
by pigeon cells, the open ends of which are about twelve
inches square. According to its size a pigeon -tower
may contain from 2000 to 7000, or even 8000, pairs
of pigeons. These birds are gray-blue in colour.

A pigeon-tower is a nuisance to the neighbourhood,
for its occupants, being totally unprovided for by their
proprietor, live upon their neighbours' fields. In former
days it must have been a grand sight when they
returned to their tower after the day's depredations.
" Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to
their windows ? " probably referred to a similar arrange-
ment in Palestine.

The object of the towers is the preservation and
collection of " pigeon guano," which is highly prized for
the raising of early melons. The door is opened once a
year for the collection of this valuable manure. A large
pigeon-tower used to bring its owner from 60 to 75


per annum, but a cessation of the great demand for early
melons in the neighbourhood of Isfahan has prevented
the re-stocking of the towers since the famine.

Our experiences of Kiz were not pleasant One of the
party during a short absence from his tent was robbed of
a very valuable scientific instrument After that there
was the shuffling sound of a multitude outside the tent
in which Miss Bruce and I were resting, and women
concealed from head to foot in blue and white checked
sheets, revealing but one eye, kept lifting the tent
curtain, and when that was laced, applying the one eye
to the spaces between the lace-holes, whispering and
tittering all the time. Hot though it was, their persever-
ing curiosity prevented any ventilation, and the steady
gaze of single eyes here, there, and everywhere was most
exasperating. It was impossible to use the dressing tent,
for crowds of boys assembled, and rows of open mouths
and staring eyes appeared between the fly and the
ground. Vainly Miss Bruce, who speaks Persian well
and courteously, told the women that this intrusion on
our privacy when we were very tired was both rude and
unkind. " We're only women," they said, " we shouldn't
mind it, we've never seen so many Europeans before."
Sunset ended the nuisance, for then the whole crowd,
having fasted since sunrise, hurried home for food.

The great fast of the month of Ramazan began before
we left Julfa. Moslems are not at their best while it
lasts. They are apt to be crabbed and irritable ; and
everything that can be postponed is put off " till after

Much ostentation comes out in the keeping of it ; very
pious people begin to fast before the month sets in. A
really ascetic Moslem does not even swallow his saliva
during the fast, and none but very old or sick people,
children, and travellers, are exempt from the obligation


to taste neither food nor water, and not even to smoke
during daylight, for a whole month. The penance is a
fearful one, and as the night is the only time for feasting,
the Persians get through as much of the day as possible
in sleep.

Welcome indeed is the sunset With joy men fill
their pipes and drink tea as a prelude to the meal eaten
an hour afterwards. Hateful is the dawn and the cry
an hour before it, " Water ! oh, water and opium ! " the
warning to the faithful to drink largely and swallow an
opium pill before sunrise. The thirst even in weather
like this, and the abstention from smoking, are severer
trials than the fasting from food. The Persian either
lives to smoke, or smokes to live.

Although travellers are nominally exempt from the
fast from water at least, pious Moslems do not avail
themselves of the liberty. Hadji Hussein, for instance, is
keeping it as rigidly as any one, and, like some others,
marches with the end of his pagri tucked over his
mouth and nose, a religious affectation, supposed to
prevent the breaking of the fast by swallowing the
animalculae which are believed to infest the air!

Beyond Riz, everywhere there are arid yellow moun-
tains and yellow gravelly plains, except along the Zainderud,
where fruit-trees, wheat, and the opium poppy relieve the
eyes from the glare. We took leave of the Zainderud
at Pul-i-Kala, where it is crossed by a dilapidated but
passable and very picturesque stone bridge of eight arches,
and the view from the high right bank of wood, bridge,
and the vigorous green river is very pretty.

Little enough of trees or greenery have we seen since.
This country, like much of the great Iranian plateau, con-
sists of high mountains with broad valleys or large or
small plateaux between them, absolutely treeless, and even
now nearly verdureless, with scattered oases wherever a


possibility of procuring water by means of laboriously-
constructed irrigation canals renders cultivation possible.

Water is scarce and precious ; its value may be
gathered from the allusions made by the Persian poets
to fountains, cascades, shady pools, running streams, and
bubbling springs. Such expressions as those in Scripture,

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 23 of 29)