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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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A servant brought the Khan a handsome kalian to
snmkr three times. He also took tea. A great quan-
tity of opium for exportation is grown about Dehnau,
and the Khan said that the cultivation of it is always
increasing.

From Dehnau the path I took leads over gravelly
treeless hills, through many treeless gulches, to the top of
a great gorge, through which the Sabzu passes as an
impetuous torrent. The descent to a very primitive
bridge is long and difficult, a succession of rocky zigzags.
Picturesqueness is not a usual attribute of mud villages,
but the view from every point of Chiraz, the village on
the lofty cliffs on the other side of the stream, is strikingly
so. They are irregularly covered with houses, partly built
on them and partly excavated out of them, and behind
is a cool mass of greenery, apricot orchards, magnificent
walnut and mulberry trees, great standard hawthorns
loaded with masses of blossom, wheat coming into ear,
and clumps and banks of canary-yellow roses measuring
three inches across their petals. Groups of women, in
whose attire Turkey red predominated, were on the house
roofs. Wild flowers abounded, and the sides of the
craggy path by which I descended were crowded with
leguminous and umbelliferous plants, with the white and
pink dianthus, and with the thorny tussocks of the gum
tragacanth, largely used for kindling, now in full bloom.

As I dragged my unwilling horse down the steep
descent, his bridle was taken out of my hands, and I was
welcomed by the brother of Fattiallah Khan, who, with
a number of village men escorted rne over the twig bridge,
and up to an exquisite halting-place under a large mul-
berry tree, where the next two hours were spent in



LETTER xv CAREFUL IRRIGATION 359

receiving visitors. It is evident that these fine orchards
must have been the pleasure-ground of some powerful
ruler, and the immense yellow roses are such as grow in
one or two places in Kashmir, where they are attributed
to Jehangir.

The track from Chiraz for many miles follows up
the right bank of the Sabzu at a great height, descends
occasionally into deep gulches, crosses the spurs of
mountains whose rifts give root-hold to contorted " pencil
cedars," and winds among small ash trees and hawthorns,
or among rich grass and young wheat, which is grown to
a considerable extent on the irrigated slopes above the
river. It is a great surprise to find so much land under
cultivation, and so much labour spent on irrigation
channels. Some of these canals are several miles
in length, and the water always runs in them swiftly,
and the right way, although the " savages " who make
them have no levels or any tools but spades.

Mountains, much scored and canoned by streams,
very grand in form, and with much snow still upon
them, rise to a great height above the ranges which form
the Sabzu valley. From Chaharta, an uninteresting
camping-ground by the river, I proceeded by an elevated
and rather illegible track in a easterly direction to the
meeting of two streams, forded the Sabzu, and camped
for two days on the green slope of Sabz Kuh, at a
height of 8100 feet, close to a vigorous spring whose
waters form many streamlets, fringed by an abundance
of pink primulas, purple and white orchises, white tulips,
and small fragrant blue irises.

Lahdaraz is in the very heart of mountain ranges, and
as the Ilyats have not yet come up so high, there were
no crowds round my tent for medicine, but one sick
woman was carried thither eleven miles on the back of
her husband, who seemed tenderly solicitous about her.



360 JOt'l:Nn> IN I'KIJSIA

On Monday I spent most of the day 1000 feet
higher, in most magnificent scenery on an imposing
scale of grandeur. The guide took us from the camp
through herbage, snow, and alpine flowers, up a vall v
with fine mountains on either side, terminating on the
brink of a gigantic precipice, a cloven ledge between
the Kuh-i-Kaller and a stupendous cliff or head-
land, Sultan Ibrahim, over 12,000 feet, which de-
scends in shelving masses to an abyss of tremendous
depth, where water thunders in a narrow rift. The
Sabz Kuh, or " green mountain " range, famous for the
pasturage of its higher slopes, terminates in Sultan
Ibrahim, and unites at its eastern end with the Kuh-
i-Kaller, a range somewhat higher. On the east side
of this huge chasm rises another range of peaks, with
green shelves, dark rifts, and red precipices, behind
which rise another, and yet another, whose blue, snow-
patched summits blended with the pure cool blue of the
sky. In the far distance, in a blue veil, lies the green-
tinted plain of Khana Mirza, set as an emerald in this
savage scenery, with two ranges beyond, and above them
the great mountain mass of the Eiji, whose snowy peaks
were painted faintly on a faint blue heaven.

That misty valley, irrigated and cultivated, with 100
villages of the Janiki tribe upon it, is the only fair
spot in the savage landscape. Elsewhere only a few
wild flowers and a gnarled juniper here and there relieve
the fierce, blazing verdurelessness of these stupendous
precipices. Never, not even among the Himalayas, have
I seen anything so superlatively grand, though I have
always imagined that such scenes must exist somewhere
on the earth. A pair of wild sheep on a ledge, a serpent
or two, and an eagle soaring sunwards represented animate
nature, otherwise the tremendous heights above, the
awful depths below, the snowy mountains, and the valley



LETTER xv NOON-DAY HEAT 361

with its smile, were given over to solitude and silence,
except for the dull roar of the torrent hurrying down
to vivify the Khana Mirza plain.

After leaving Lahdaraz the path followed the course of
the Sabzu through grass and barley for a few miles. Then
there is an abrupt and disagreeable change to yellow
mud slopes and hkrh mud mountains deeply fissured,
the scanty herbage already eaten down by Ilyat flocks
a desolate land, without springs, streams, or even Ilyat
tents. Then comes a precipice at an altitude of 7500
feet, through a cleft in which, the Tang-i-Wastagun, the
road passes, and descends to the plain of Gandaman as
something little "better than a sheep track on a steep hill-
side above a stream. The heat was fierce. A pair of
stout gardening gloves does not preserve the hands from
blistering. Spectacles with wire gauze sides have to be
abandoned as they threaten to roast the eyes. In this
latitude, 32, the heat of the sun at noon is tremendous.
At the precipice top I crept into a hole at the base of a
rock, for " the shadow of a great rock in a weary land,"
till the caravan staggered up. It was difficult to brave
the sun's direct rays. He looked like a ball of magnesium
light, white and scintillating, in the unclouded sky.

On crossing the Tang-i -Wastagun we left behind
the Bakhtiari country proper for a time, and re-entered
the Chahar Mahals, with their mixed village population
of Persians and Armenians. The descent from the
Tang-i- Wastagun is upon a ruined Armenian village with a
large graveyard. The tombstones are of great size, ten feet
long by three feet broad and three feet high, sarcophagus-
shaped, and on each stone are an Armenian epitaph and a
finely-engraved cross. The plain of Gandaman or Wastagun
is a very large one, over 7000 feet in altitude, and is sur-
rounded mainly by high mountains still snow -patched,
but to the north by low rocky hills. Much of it is



IN I'KI.'SIA



] i i i i i: \v



irrigated and under cultivation, and grows heavy croj>
wheat and barley. The pasturage is fine and abundant,
and the people breed cattle and horses. The uncultivated
slopes are now covered with red tulips and a purple

< i Ilium, and even the
dry gravel added largely
to the daily increasing
botanical collection.

The camps were
pitched on green turf
near three springs, a
quiet place, but there
was little rest. \\ 't-
were hardly settled
before there was a
severe fight among the
horses, my sour -tem-
pered Screw being the
aggressor. This was
hardly quieted when
there was a sharp
"scrimmage" between
the charvadars and the
Agha's three young
savages, in which one
of them, Ali Jan, was
badly beaten, and came
to me to have a bleed-
ing face and head
dressed. After that the
people began to come

ALI JAN.

in from the villages

for eye-washes and medicines. They have no bottles, nor
have I, and the better-off bring great copper jugs and
basins for an ounce or two of lotion ! A very poor old




LETTER xv A NOVEL MEDICINE BOTTLE 363

woman much afflicted with ophthalmia said she had
three sisters all blind, that she had nothing for lotion,
nothing in the world but a copper cooking pot, and she
cried piteously. I had nothing to give her, and eventually
she returned with an egg-shell, with the top neatly
chipped off. It is the custom to raise the hands to
heaven and invoke blessings on the Hakim's head, but I
never received so mauy as from this poor creature.

The ride to the village of Gandaman, where we halted
for two days, was an agreeable one. After being shut up
among mountains and precipices, space and level ground
to Lrallop over are an agreeable change, and in the early
morning the heat was not excessive. The great plain
was a truly pastoral scene. Wild-looking shepherds with
long guns led great brown flocks to the hills ; innumerable
yokes of black oxen, ploughing with the usual iron-shod,
pointed wooden share, turned over the rich black soil,
making straight furrows, and crossing them diagonally;
mares in herds fed with their foals; and shepherds
busily separated the sheep from the goats.

Close to the filthy walled Armenian village of Kunak
there is a conical hill with a large fort, in ruinous
condition, upon it, and not far off are the remains of an
Armenian village, enclosed by a square wall with a round
tower at each corner. This must have been until
recently a place of some local importance, as it is
approached by a paved causeway, and had an aqueduct,
now ruinous, carried over the river on three arches. Not
only the plain but the hill-slopes up to a great height
are cultivated, and though the latter have the pre-
cariousness of rain-lands, the crops already in ear promise
well.

Crossing a spur which descends upon the north side
of the plain, we reached Gandaman, a good-looking
walled Moslem village of 196 houses, much planted,



364 JOURNEYS IN ITJ:sl.\ LETTER xv

( liit-ily with willows, and rejoicing in eight springs, close
together, the overflow of which makes quite a piece of
water. It has an imamzada on an eminence and is
fairly prosperous, for besides pastoral wealth it weaves
an- 1 exports carpets, and dyes cotton and woollen yam
witli madder and other vegetable dyes. The mountain
view to the south-west is very fine.

I was in my tent early, but there was little rest, for
crowds of people with bad eyes and woful maladies
besieged it until the evening. At noon a gay pro-
cession crossed the green camping-ground, four mares
caparisoned in red traiiin.u r s, each carrying two women
in Bright dresses, but shrouded in pure white sheets bound
round their heads with silver chains. The ketchuda of
the Armenian village of Libasgun, two miles off, accom-
panied them, and said that they came to invite me to their
village, for they are Christians. Then they all made the
sign of the Cross, which is welcome in this land as a bond
of brotherhood.

Cleanly, comely, large - eyed, bright - cheeked, and
wholesome they looked, in their pure white chadars, gay
red dresses, and embroidered under -vests. They had
massive silver girdles, weighing several pounds, worn
there only by married women, red coronets, heavy tiaras of
silver, huge necklaces of coins, and large filigree silver
drops attached down the edges of their too open vests.
Their heavy hair was plaited, but not fastened up. Each
wore a stiff dianioud-shaped piece of white cotton over
her mouth and the tip of her nose. They said it was
their custom to wear it, and they would not remove it
even to eat English biscuits ! They managed to drink tea
by veiling their faces with their chadars and passing the
cup underneath, but they turned their faces quite away
as they did it. They had come for the day, and had
brought large hanks of wool to wind, but the headman



LETTER xv TILLAGE MATRONS

had the tact to take them away after arranging for me to
return the visit in the evening,

He seemed an intelligent man. Libasgun, with its 120
houses, is, according to his account, a prosperous village,
paying its tax of 300 tumaiis (100) a year to the Aniin-
ud-Daulat, and making a present only to the Ilkhani. It
has 2000 sheep and goats, besides mares and cattle. It
has an oil mill, and exports oil to Isfahan. The women
weave carpets, and embroider beautifully on coarse cotton
woven by themselves, and dyed indigo blue and madder
red by their Gandaman neighbours. This man is proud
of being a Christian. Among the Armenians Christianity
is as much a national characteristic as pride of race and
strict monogamy. He remarked that there are no sore
eyes in Libasguu, and attributed it to the greater cleanli-
ness of the people and to the cross signed in holy oil
upon their brows in baptism !

I rode to this village in the late afternoon, and was
received with much distinction in the balakhana of the
/.-f<huda's house, where I was handed to the seat of
honour, a bolster at the head of the handsomely-carpeted
room. It soon filled with buxom women in red, with
jackets displaying their figures, or want of figures, down
to their waists. From the red velvet coronets on their
heads hung two graduated rows of silver coins, and their
muslin chadars were attached to their hair with large
silver pins and chains. Magnificent necklaces of gold coins
were also worn.

Forty women sat on the floor in rows against the
wall. Each had rosy cheeks, big black eyes, and a
diamond-shaped white cloth over her mouth. The uni-
formity was shocking. They stared, not at me, but at
nothing. They looked listless and soulless, only fit to
be what they are the servants of their husbands.
When they had asked me my age, and why I do not dye



860



JOURNEYS IN PERSIA



LETTER XV



my hair, the conversation flagged, for I could not get any
information from them even on the simplest topics.
Hotter and hotter grew the room, more stolid the vacancy
of the eyes, more grotesque the rows of white diamonds
over the mouths, when the happy thought occurred to




ARMENIAN WOMEN OF LIBASGfS.

me to ask to see the embroidered aprons, which every
girl receives from her mother on her marriage. Two
mountains of flesh obligingly rolled out of the room, and
rolled in again bringing some beautiful specimens of
needlework. This is really what is known as " Eussian
embroidery," cross stitch in artistic colours on coarse red
or blue cotton. The stomachers are most beautifully



1 1 :m:R xv AN ARMENIAN BANQUET 367

worked. The aprons cover the whole of the front and
the sides of the dress. The mothers begin to embroider
them when their daughters are ten. The diamond-shaped
cloth is put on by girls at eight or nine. The women
would not remove it for a moment even to oblige a guest.
The perpetual wearing of it is one of their religious
customs, only prevailing, however, in some localities.
They say that when our Lord was born His mother in
token of reverence took a cloth and covered her mouth,
hence their habit.

When the kctchuda arrived he found the heat of the
room unbearable and proposed an adjournment to the
lower roof, which was speedily swept, watered, and
carpeted.

An elaborate banquet had been prepared in the hope
that the Agha would pay them a visit, and they were
much mortified at his non-appearance. The great copper
basins containing the food were heaped together in the
middle of the carpets, and the guests, fifty in number, sat
down, the men on one side, and the women on the other,
the wives of the ketchuda and his brothers serving.
There were several samovars with tea, but only three
cups. A long bolster was the place of honour, and I
occupied it alone till the village priests arrived, reverend
men with long beards, high black head-dresses, and full
black cassocks with flowing sleeves. All the guests rose,
and remained standing till they had been ceremoniously
conducted to seats. I found them very agreeable and
cultured men, acquainted with the varying " streams of
tendency " in the Church of England, and very anxious to
claim our Church as a sister of their own. This banquet
was rather a gay scene, and on a higher roof fully one
hundred women and children dressed in bright red stood
watching the proceedings below.

I proposed to see the church, and with the priests,



Mfl JOrilNKYS IN 1'KKSIA I.KTTKH \v

most of tin- quests, and a considerable following of the
onlookers, walked to it through filthy alleys. This
ancient Imildini:, in a dirty and malodorous yard, differs
externally from tin- mud houses which surround it only
in having two bells on a beam. The interior consists
of four domed vaults, and requires artificial light. A
vault with a raised floor contains the altar and a badly-
painted altar-piece representing the B. V. ; a rail separates
the men, who stand in front, from the women, who stand
behind. A Liturgy and an illuminated medieval copy
of the Gospels, of which they are very proud, are their
only treasures. They have no needlework, and the altar
cloth is only a piece of printed cotton. Nothing could
wi-11 look poorer than this small, dark, vacant building,
with a few tallow candles without candlesticks giving a
smoky light.

They have two daily services lasting from one to two
hours each, and Mass on Sunday is protracted to seven
hours ! The priests said that all the men, except two
who watch the flocks, and nearly all the women are at
both services 011 Sunday, and that many of the men and
most of the women are at both daily services, one of
which, as is usual, begins before daylight. There is no
school. The fathers teach their boys to read and write,
and the mothers instruct their girls in needlework.

After visits to the priests' houses, a number of
villagers on horseback escorted me back to Gandaman.
The heat of those two days was very great for May, the
mercury marking 83 in the shade at 10 A.M. One
hundred and thirteen people came for medicines, and in
their eagerness they swarmed round both ends of the
tent, blocking out all air. The ailments were much
more varied and serious than among the Bakhtiaris.

The last march was a hot and tedious one of eighteen
miles, along an uninteresting open valley, much ploughed,



LETTER xv A JANIKI KHAN 369

bounded by sloping herbage-covered hills, surmounted by
parapets of perpendicular rock. After passing the large
Moslem village of Baldiji, we re-entered the Bakhtiari
country, ascended to the Bakhtiari village of Dastgird,
descended to the plain of Chigakhor, skirted its southern
margin, and on its western side, on two spurs of the
great Kuh-i-Kaller range, with a ravine between them,
the camps were pitched. In two days most of the tents
were blown down, and were moved into two ravines
with a hill between them, on which the Sahib on his
arrival pitched his camp.

My ravine has a spring, with exactly space for my
tent beside it, and a platform higher up with just room
enough for the servants. A strong stream, rudely brawl-
ing, issuing from the spring, disturbs sleep. There is
no possibility of changing one's position by even a six-
feet stroll, so rough and steep is the ground. Mirza
bringing my meals from the cooking tent has a stick to
steady himself. At first there was nothing to see but
scorched mountains opposite, and the green plain on
which the ravine opens, but the Hakim's tent was soon
discovered, and I have had 278 "patients '! Before I
am up in the morning they are sitting in rows one
behind another on the steep ground, their horses and
asses grazing near them, and all day they come. One of
the chiefs of the Janiki tribe came with several saddle
and baggage horses and even a tent, to ask me to go
with him to the great plain of Khana Mirza, three days'
march from here, to cure his wife's eyes, and was
grieved to the heart when I told him they were beyond
my skill. He stayed while a great number of sick
people got eye-lotions and medicines, and then asked me
why I gave these medicines and took so much trouble.
I replied that our Master and Lord not only commanded
us to do good to all men as we have opportunity, but



370 JOURNEYS IX PERSIA LETTER xv

Himself healed the sick. "You call Him Master and
Lord," he said ; " He was a great Prophet. Send a ffaJcim
to us in His likeness."

I have heard so much of Chigakhor that I am dis-
appointed with the reality. There are no trees, most of
the snow has melted, the mountains are not very bold in
tin ir features, the plain has a sort of lowland look about
it, and though its altitude is 7500 feet, the days and
even nights are very hot The interest of it lies in
it being the summer resort of the Ilkhani and Ilbegi,
a fact which makes it the great centre of Bakhtiari
life. As many as 400 tents are pitched here in the
height of the season, and the coming and going of
Khans and headmen with tribute and on other business
is ceaseless.

The plain, which is about seven miles long by three
broad, is quite level. Near the south-east end is a
shallow reedy mere, fringed by a fertile swampiness, which
produces extraordinary crops of grass far out into the
middle of the level.

Near the same end is a rocky eminence or island, on
which is the fortress castle of the Ilkhani. The " season "
begins in early June, when the tribes come up from the
warm pastures of Dizful and Shuster, to which they
return with their pastoral wealth in the autumn, after
which the plain is flooded and frozen for the winter. At
the north end are the villages of Dastgird and Aurugun,
and a great deal of irrigated land producing wheat.
Except at that end the plain is surrounded by mountains ;
on its southern side, where a part of the Sukhta range
rises into the lofty peak of Challeh Kuh, with its snow-
slashes and snow-fields, they attain an altitude of 12,000
or 13,000 feet.

It is not easy, perhaps not possible, to pass through
the part of the Bakhtiari country for which we are bound,



LETTER xv TIJE " SEASON " AT CHIGAKHOR 371

without some sort of assistance from its feudal lords, a
responsible man, for instance, who can obtain supplies
from the people Therefore we have been detained here
for many days waiting for the expected arrival of the
Ilkhani. A few days ago a rumour arrived, since un-
happily confirmed, that things were in confusion below,
owing to the discovery of a plot on the part of the
Ilkhani to murder the Ilbegi. Stories are current of the
number of persons "put out of the way" before he at*
t lined his present rank for the second time, and it is not
" Bakhtiari custom " to be over-scrupulous about human
life. No doubt his nephew, the Ilbegi, is a very dangerous
rival, and that his retainers are bent on seeing him in a
yet higher position than he now occupies.

A truce has been patched up, however, and yesterday
the Ilkhani and Isfandyar Khan arrived together, with
their great trains of armed horsemen, their harams, their
splendid studs, their crowds of unmounted retainers, their
strings of baggage mules and asses laden with firewood,
and all the "rag, tag, and bobtail" in attendance on
Oriental rulers. Following them in endless nocturnal
procession come up the tribes, and day breaks on an ever-
increasing number of brown flocks and herds, of mares,
asses, dogs, black tents, and household goods. When we
arrived there were only three tents, now the green bases
of the mountains and all the platforms and ravines where
there are springs are spotted with them, in rows or semi-
circles, and at night the camp fires of the multitude look
like the lights of a city. Each clan has a prescriptive
right to its camping-ground and pasture (though both are
a fruitful source of quarrels), and arrives with its ketchuda
and complete social organisation, taking up its position
like a division of an army.

When in the early morning or afternoon the tribe
reaches the camping -ground, everything is done in the



372 JOV BNEY8 IN PERSIA LETTER xv

t ordi-rly way. The infants are put into their cradles,
the men clear the ground if necessary, drive the pegs and
put up tin- pult-s, ;md if there be wood of which there is
not a stick here they make a fence of loose branches to



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 28 of 29)