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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The Agha entertained the Khanum Shirin for a long time,
and the conversation was very animated, but when he set
a very fine musical box going for their amusement the
lady and the rest of the crowd became quite listless and
apathetic, and said they much preferred to talk. When
their prolonged visit came to an end the Khanum led
her train away, with a bow which really had something
of graceful dignity in it

The next morning her husband, the Mollah-i-Martaza,
and his son, mounted on one horse, came with us as
guides, and when we halted at their camp the Khanum
took the whip out of my hand and whipped the women
all round with it, except the offending beauties, who
were not to be seen. The mollah is a grave, quiet, and
most respectable - looking man, more like a thriving
merchant than a nomad chief, though he does carry
arms. He is a devout Moslem, and is learned, i.e. he
can read the Koran.

In a short time the woodland beauty is exchanged
for weedy hills and slopes strewn with boulders. Getting
other guides at an Ilyat camp, we ascended Sanginak, a
mountain 8200 feet high, from the top of which a
good idea of the local topography is gained. The most
striking features are the absence of definite peaks and
the tremendous gorges and abrupt turns of the Karun,
which swallows in its passage all minor streams.
Precipitous ranges of great altitude hemmed in by
ranges yet loftier, snow -covered or snow -patched, with
deep valleys between them, well grassed and often well
wooded, great clefts, through which at some seasons
streams reach the Karun ; mountain meadows spotted with


the black tents of Ilyats, and deserted hovels far below,
with patches of wheat and barley, make up the land-

These hills are covered with celery of immense size.
The leaves are dried and stacked for fodder, and the
underground stalks, which are very white, are a great
article of food, both fresh and steeped for a length of
time in sour milk. After resting in some Ilyat tents,
where the people were friendly and dirty, we had a
most tiresome march over treeless hills covered with
herbs, and down a steep descent into the Gurab plain,
on which a great wall of rocky mountains of definite
and impressive shapes descends in broken spurs. My
guide, who had never been certain about the way, led
me wrong. No tents were visible, the nomads I met
had seen neither tents nor caravan. Two hours went by
in toiling round the bases of green hills, and then there
was the joyful surprise of coming upon my tent pitched,
the kettle boiling, the mules knee-deep in food, close by
the Chesmeh-i-Gurab, a copious spring of good water, of
which one could safely drink.

This Gurab plain, one of very many lying high up
among these Luristan mountains, is green and pretty now
a sea of bulbs and grass, but is brown and dusty from
early in June onwards. It is about four miles long by
nine or ten broad, and is watered by a clear and wonder-
fully winding stream, which dwindles to a thread later
on. The nomads are already coming up.

The rest was much broken by the critical state of
Karim's arm, which was swelled, throbbing, and inflamed
all round the wound inflicted by Karun on May 13,
and he had high fever. It was a helpless predicament,
the symptoms were so like those of gangrene. I thought
he would most likely die of the hot marches. It was
a very anxious night, as all our methods of healing


were exhausted, and the singular improvement which
set in and has continued must have been the work of
the Great Physician, to whom an appeal for help was
earnestly made. The wound is daily syringed with
Condy's fluid, the only antiseptic available, and has a
drainage tube. To-day I have begun to use eucalyptus
oil, with which the man is delighted, possibly because he
has heard that it is very expensive, and that I have
hardly any left !

Yesterday I had the amusement of shifting the camps
to another place, and Hadji was somewhat doubtful of ray
leadership. On arriving at the beautiful crystal spring
which the guide had indicated as the halting-place for
Sunday, I found that it issued from under a mound of
grass-grown graves, was in the full sun blaze, and at
the lowest part of the plain. The guide asserted that it
was the only spring, but having seen a dark stain of
vegetation high among the hills, I halted the caravan
and rode off alone in search of the water I hoped it
indicated, disregarding the suppressed but unmistakably
sneering laughter of the guide and charvadars. In less
than a mile I came upon the dry bed of a rivulet, a little
higher up on a scanty, intermittent trickle, higher still on
a gurgling streamlet fringed by masses of blue scilla, and
still higher on a small circular spring of very cold water,
with two flowery plateaux below it just large enough for
the camps, in a green quiet corrie, with the mountains
close behind. Hadji laughed, and the guide insisted that
the spring was not always there. A delightful place it
is in which to spend Sunday quietly, with its musical
ripple of water, its sky-blue carpet of scilla, its beds of
white and purple irises, its slopes ablaze with the
Fritillaria imperialis, and its sweet, calm view of the green
Gurab plain and the silver windings of the Dinarud.

Above the spring is the precipitous hill of Tur, with


the remains of a mde fort on its shattered rocky summit
Two similar ruins are visible from Tur, one on a
rocky ledge of an offshoot of the Kuh-i-Gerra, on the
other side of the Dinarud valley, the other on the crest
of a noble headland of the Sanganaki range, which is
visible throughout the whole region. The local legend con-
cerning them is that long before the days of the Parthian
kings, and when bows and arrows were the only weapons
known, iron being undiscovered, there was in the neigh-
bourhood of Gurab a king called Faruk Padishah, who
had three sons, Salmon, Tur, and Iraj. It does not
appear to be usual among the Bakhtiaris for sons to " get
on " together after their father's death, and the three
youths quarrelled and built these three impregnable
forts Killa Tur, the one I examined, Killa Iraj, and
Killa Salmon.

The beautiful valley was evidently too narrow for
their ambition, and leaving their uncomfortable fastnesses
they went northwards, and founded three empires, Sal-
mon to the Golden Horn, where he founded Stamboul,
Tur to Turkistan, and Iraj became the founder of the
Iranian Empire.

Killa Tur is a stone building mostly below the surface
of the hill-top, of rough hewn stone cemented with lime
rnortar of the hardness of concrete. The inner space of
the fort is not more than eighty square yards. The walls
are from three to six feet thick.

Chiyakhor, May 31. The last twelve days have been
spent in marching through a country which has not been
traversed by Europeans, only crossed along the main
track. On leaving the pleasant camp of Tur we de-
scended to the Gurab plain, purple in patches with a
showy species of garlic, skirted the base of the Tur spur,
and rode for some miles along the left bank of the
Dinarud, which, after watering the plain of Gurab,


sparkles and rushes down a grassy valley bright with
roses and lilies, and well wooded with oak, elm, and haw-
thorn. This river, gaining continually in volume, makes
a turbulent descent to the Karun a few miles from the
point where we left it. This was the finest day's march
of the journey. The mountain forms were grander and
more definite, the vegetation richer, the scenery more
varied, and a kindlier atmosphere pervaded it. In the
midst of a wood of fine walnut trees, ash, and hawthorn,
laced together by the tendrils of vines, a copious stream
tumbles over rocks fringed with maiden-hair, and sparkles
through grass purple with orchises. This is the only
time that I have seen the one or the other in Persia, and
it was like an unexpected meeting with dear friends.

Crossing the Dinarud on a twig bridge, fording a tur-
bulent affluent, which bursts full fledged from the mountain
side, and ascending for some hours through grassy glades
wooded with oak and elm, we camped for two days on the
alpine meadow of Arjul, scantily watered but now very
green. Oak woods come' down upon it, the vines are magni-
ficent, and there is some cultivation of wheat, which is sown
by the nomads before their departure in the late autumn,
and is reaped during their summer sojourn. There are
no tents there at present, yet from camps near and far,
on horseback and on foot, people came for eye-lotions, and
remained at night to have them dropped into their eyes.

The next morning I was awakened at dawn by Mirza's
voice calling to me, " Madam, Hadji wants you to come
down and sew up a mule that's been gored by a wild
boar." Awfully gored it was. A piece of skin about
ten inches square was hanging down between its fore-
legs, and a broad wound the depth of my hand and fully a
foot long extended right into its chest, with a great piece
taken out I did what I could, but the animal had to
be left behind to be cured by the Mollah-i-Martaza, who


left us there. Another misfortune to Hadji was the loss
of the fiery leader of the caravan, Cock o' the Walk, but
late at night he was brought into camp at Dupulan quite
crestfallen, having gone back to the rich pastures which
surround the Chesmeh-i-Gurab. The muleteer who went
in search of him was attacked by some Lurs and stripped
of his clothing, but on some men coming up who said
his master was under the protection of the Ilkhani, his
clothes and horse were returned to him.

The parallel ranges with deep valleys between them,
which are such a feature of this country, are seen in per-
fection near Arjul. Some of the torrents of this moun-
tain region are already dry, but their broad stony beds,
full of monstrous boulders, arrest the fury with which at
times they seek the Karun. One of these, the Imamzada,
passes through the most precipitous and narrow gorge
which it is possible to travel, even with unloaded mules.
The narrow path is chiefly rude rock ladders, threading a
gorge or chasm on a gigantic scale, with a compressed
body of water thundering below, concealed mainly by
gnarled and contorted trees, which find root-hold in every
rift. Where the chasm widens for a space before
narrowing to a throat we forded it, and through glades
and wooded uplands reached Arjul, descending and
crossing the torrent by the same ford on the march to
Dupulan the next day.

Owing to the loss of two baggage animals and the
necessary re-adjustment of the loads, I was late in start-
ing from Arjul, and the heat as we descended to the
lower levels was very great, the atmosphere being misty
as well as sultry. Passing upwards, through glades
wooded with oaks, the path emerges on high gravelly
uplands above the tremendous gorge of the Karun, the
manifold windings of which it follows at a great height.
From the first sight of this river in the Ardal valley to



its emergence at Dupulan, just below these heights, it
lias coine down with abrupt elbow-like turns and singular
sinuosities a full, rapid, powerful glass-green volume of
water, through a ravine or gorge or chasm from 1000 to
2000 feet in depth, now narrowing, now widening, but
always the feature of the landscape. It would be natural
to use the usual phrase, and write of the Karun having
" carved " this passage for itself, but I am more and more
convinced that this is not the case, but that its waters
found their way into channels already riven by some of
those mighty operations of nature which have made of
this country a region of walls and clefts.

A long, very steep gravelly descent leads from these
high lands down to the Karun, and to one of the routes
little used, however from Isfahan to Shuster. It is
reported as being closed by snow four months of the year.
The scenery changed its aspect here, and for walls and
parapets of splintered rock there are rounded gravelly
hills and stretching uplands.

The three groups of most wretched mud hovels which
form the village of Dupulan (" Two Bridge Place ") are
on an eminence on the left bank of the Karun, which
emerges from its long imprisonment in a gorge in the
mountains by a narrow passage between two lofty walls
of rock so smooth and regular in their slope and so per-
fect a gateway as to suggest art rather than nature. This
river, the volume of which is rapidly augmenting on its
downward course, is here compressed into a width of
about twenty yards.

At this point a stone bridge, built by Hussein Kuli
Khan, of one large pointed arch with a smaller one for
the flood, and a rough roadway corresponding to the arch
in the steepness of its pitch, spans the stream, which
passes onwards gently and smoothly, its waters a deep
cool green. Below Dupulan the Karun, which in that


direction has been explored by several travellers, turns to
the south-west, and after a considerable bend enters the
levels above Shuster by a north-westerly course. Near
the bridge the Karun is joined by the Sabzu, a very
vigorous torrent from the Ardal plain, which is crossed
by a twig bridge, safer than it looks.

The camps were pitched in apricot orchards in the
Sabzu ravine, near some daxjnus trees, which are now
bearing their sweet gray and yellow blossoms, which will
be succeeded by auburn tresses of a woolly but very
pleasant fruit Dupulan has an altitude of only 4950
feet, and in its course from the Kuh-i-Rang to this point
the Karun has descended about 4000 feet Though
there was a breeze, and both ends of my tent and the
kanats were open, the mercury was at 86 inside, and at
5 A.M. at 72 outside (on May 21). There were no sup-
plies, and even milk was unattainabla

The road we followed ascends the Dupulan Pass,
which it crosses at a height of 6380 feet The path is
very bad, hardly to be called a path. The valley which
it ascends is packed with large and small boulders, with
round water- worn stones among them, and such track as
there is makes sharp zigzags over and among these rocks.
Screw was very unwilling to face the difficulties, which
took two hours to surmount The ascent was hampered
by coming upon a tribe of Ilyats on the move, who
at times blocked up the pass with their innumerable
sheep and goats and their herds of cattle. Once en-
tangled in this migration, it was only possible to move
on a few feet at a time. It straggled along for more than
a mile, loaded cows and bullocks, innumerable sheep,
goats, lambs, and kids ; big dogs; asses loaded with black
tents and short tent-poles on the loads ; weakly sheep tied
on donkeys' backs, and weakly lambs carried in shepherds'
bosoms ; handsome mares, each with her foal, running


loose or ridden by women with babies seated on the tops
of loaded saddle-bags made of gay rugs ; tribesmen on foot
with long guns slung behind their shoulders, and big two-
edged knives in their girdles ; sheep bleating, dogs barking,
mares neighing, men shouting and occasionally tiring off
their guns, the whole ravine choked up with the ascend-
ing tribal movement.

Half-way up the ascent there is a most striking view
of mountain ranges cleft by the great chasm of the Karun.
The descent is into the eastern part of the Ardal valley,
over arid treeless hillsides partially ploughed, to the
village of Dehnau, not yet deserted for the summer.
Fattiallah Khan expected us, and rooms were prepared
for me in the women's house, which I excused myself
from occupying by saying that I cannot sleep under a
roof. I managed also to escape partaking of a huge
garlicky dinner which was being cooked for me.

The Khan's house or fort, built like all else of mud,
has a somewhat imposing gateway, over which are the
men's apartments. The roof is decorated with a number of
ibex horns. Within is a rude courtyard with an uneven
surface, on which servants and negro slaves were skinning
sheep, winnowing wheat, clarifying butter, carding wool,
cooking, and making cheese. The women's apartments
are round the courtyard, and include the usual feature
of these houses, an atrium, or room without a front, and a
darkish room within. The floor of the atrium was covered
with brown felts, and there was a mattress for me to sit
upon. The ruling spirit of the haram is the Khan's
mother, a comely matron of enormous size, who occasionally
slapped her son's four young and comely wives when they
were too " forward." She wore a short jacket, balloon-like
trousers of violet silk, and a black coronet, to which was
attached a black ckadar which completely enveloped her.

The wives wore figured white cJiadars, print trousers,
VOL. I 2 A


and strings of coins. Children much afflicted with
cutaneous maladies crawled on the floor. Heaps of
servants, negro slaves, old hags, and young girls crowded
behind and around, nil talking at once and at the top of
their voices, and at the open front the village people
constantly assembled, to be driven away at intervals
by a man with a stick. A bowl of cow's milk and
some barley bread were given to me, and though a
remarkably dirty negress kept the flies away by flapping
the milk bowl with a dirty sleeve, I was very grateful
for the meal, for I was really suffering from the heat and

A visit to a Jiarain is not productive of mutual
elevation. The women seem exceedingly frivolous, and
are almost exclusively interested in the adornment of
their persons, the dress and ailments of their children,
and in the frightful jealousies and intrigues inseparable
from the system of polygamy, and which are fostered by
the servants and discarded wives. The servile deference
paid by the other women to the reigning favourite before
her face, and the merciless persistency of the attempts
made behind her back to oust her from her position,
and the requests made on the one hand for charms or
potions to win or bring back the love of a husband, and
on the other for something which shall make the favour-
ite hateful to him, are evidences of the misery of heart
which underlies the outward frivolity.

The tone of Fattiallah Khan's haram was not higher
than usual. The ladies took off my hat, untwisted my
hair, felt my hands, and shrieked when they found that
my gloves came off; laughed immoderately at my Bakh-
tiari shoes, which, it seems, are only worn by men ; put
their rings on my fingers, put my hat on their own
heads, asked if I could give them better hair dyes than
their own, and cosmetics to make their skins fair ; paid


the usual compliments, told me to regard everything as
pishkash, asked for medicines and charms, and regretted
that I would not sleep in their house, because, as they
said, they "never went anywhere or saw anything."

They have no occupation, except occasionally a little
embroidery. They amuse themselves, they said, by
watching the servants at work, and by having girls to
dance before them. They find the winter, though spent
in a warm climate, very long and wearisome, and after
dark employ female professional story-tellers to enter-
tain them with love stories. At night the elder lady
sent three times for a charm which should give her
daughter the love of her husband. She is married to
another Khan, and I recalled her as the forlorn-looking
girl without any jewels who excited my sympathies in
his house.

Marriages are early among these people. They are
arranged by the parents of both bride and bridegroom.
The betrothal feast is a great formality. The "settle-
ments " having been made by the bridegroom's father
and mother, they distribute sweetmeats among the
members of the bride's family, and some respectable
men who are present tie a handkerchief round the head
of the bride, and kiss the hands of her parents as a sign
of the betrothal. The engagement must be fulfilled by
the bride's parents under pain of severe penalties, from
which the bridegroom's parents are usually exempt.
But, should he prove faithless, he is a marked man.
It appears that " breach of promise of marriage " is very
rare. The betrothal may take place at the tenderest age,
but the marriage is usually delayed till the bride is
twelve years old, or even older, and the bridegroom is
from fifteen to eighteen.

The " settlements " made at the betrothal are paid at
the time of marriage, and consist of a sum of money or

356 .101 IX PERSIA LETTER xv

rattlr, mures, or sheep, according to the circumstances
"f the bridegroom's parents. It is essential among all
classes that a number of costumes be presented to the
bride. Alter the marriage is over her parents bestow a
suit of clothes on her husband, but these are usually of
an inferior, or, as my interpreter calls them, of a " trivial "

A I'.aklitiari marriage is a very noisy performance.
For three days or more, in fact as long as the festivities
can be afforded, the relations and friends of both parties
are assembled at the tents of the bride's parents, feasting
and dancing (men and women on this occasion dancing
together), performing feats of horsemanship, and shooting
at a mark. The noise at this time is ceaseless. Drums,
tom-toms, reeds, whistles, and a sort of bagpipe are all
in requisition, and songs of love and war are chanted.
At this time also is danced the national dance, the
chapi, of which on no other occasion (except a burial)
can a stranger procure a sight for love or money. It is
said to resemble the arnaoutika of the modern Greeks ;
any number of men can join in it The dancers form
in a close row, holding each other by their kamarbands,
and swinging along sidewise. They mark the time by
alternately stamping the heel of the right and left foot.
The dancers are led by a man who dances apart, waving
a handkerchief rhythmically above his head, and either
singing a war song or playing on a reed pipe. After
the marriage feast the bride follows her husband to his
father's tent, where she becomes subject to her mother-

The messenger, after looking round to see that there
were no bystanders, very mysteriously produced from his
girdle a black, flattish oval stone of very close texture,
weighing about a pound, almost polished by long hand-
ling. He told me that it was believed that this stone, if


kept in one family for fifty years and steadily worn by
father and son, would then not only turn to gold, but
have the power of transmuting any metal laid beside it
for five years, and he wanted to know what the wisdom
of the Feringhis knew about it.

I went up to my camp above the village and tried to
rest there, but the buzz of a crowd outside and the cease-
less lifting of curtains and kanats made this quite im-
possible. When I opened the tent I found the crowd
seated in a semicircle five rows deep, waiting for medicines,
chiefly eye-lotion, quinine, and cough mixtures. These
daily assemblages of " patients " are most fatiguing. The
satisfaction is that some " lame dogs " are " helped over
stiles," and that some prejudice against Christians is

After this Fattiallah Khan, with a number of retainers,
paid a formal visit to the Agha, who kindly sent for me,
as I do not receive any but lady visitors in my tent.
The Khan is a very good-looking and well-dressed man
of twenty-eight, very amusing, and ready to be amused.
He was very anxious to be doctored, but looked the
opposite of a sick man. He and Isfandyar Khan were
in arms against the Ilkhani two years ago, and a few
men were shot. He looked as if he were very sorry not
to have killed him.

The Bakhtiaris have an enormous conceit of them-
selves and their country. It comes out in all ways and
on all occasions, and their war stories and songs abound
in legends of singular prowess, one Bakhtiari killing
twenty Persians, and the like. They represent the power
of the Shah over them as merely nominal, a convenient
fiction for the time being, although it is apparent that
Persia, which for years has been aiming at the extinction
of the authority of the principal chiefs, has had at least
a partial success.


*"*? At such interviews a private conversation is impossible.
The manners are those of a feudal rtyimc. Heaps of
retainers crowd round, and even join in the conversation.

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 27 of 29)