Lawrence John Lumley Dundas Zetland.

An Eastern miscellany online

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in a state of sufficient preservation to prevent
any one walking into the city except by the
single gate. All round in every direction could
be seen similar remains, and Hauzdar must in
days gone by have been a place of considerable
size and importance. At Asak Chah I met a
number of nomad shepherds with large flocks of
sheep, sign that I was on the fringe of a more
inhabitable country.

Leaving camp at 9 a.m. the next morning, we
made for some low hills which rose from the
plain, and a few miles on I was met by Sirdar
Sayed Khan, a Baluch chief of the neighbour-
hood, with a following of about a dozen mounted
men, and also by two sowars of Jacob's Horse,
sent out by Major Trench to escort me. After
the usual exchange of compliments, we rode on


to Sayed Khan's Khel (village), about ten miles
from Asak Chah, where I found my tents pitched,
and shortly afterwards the chief paid me a visit
in my tent.

The Amir of Sistan had sent out his mules to
help me over the last twenty miles that lay
between myself and his capital, a kindness which
I greatly appreciated when I saw what sort of
a road it was that led up to the chief tow^n
in Sistan, and still more when I learned that
his own private mules were the only ones in the
country. The whole face of the country changed
these last twenty miles : instead of a dry, water-
less plain, it became a plain intersected with
ditches and canals, covered with low scrub
jungle, and with pools of water, making travel-
ling anything but pleasant — for, with the excep-
tion of one or two lately made by Trench, the
recently appointed British Consul for Sistan,
there were no bridges, and the canals being
often deep, wettings were unpleasantly frequent.
Villages were dotted about over the plain, differ-
ing little from the ruined specimens I had
already seen, except that they were inhabited.

A few miles out from Nasratabad, Trench met
me, escorted by two sowars of Jacob's Horse, carry-
ing a small Union Jack on a lance. A little
farther on the low houses of a mud town became
visible on the horizon, and in a short time we


were winding in and out through tortuous and
narrow lanes, between the small and irregularly-
built houses of Husainabad, the southern por-
tion of the capital. From narrow alleys we
emerged on to a graveyard unenclosed in any
way, and spread out like a carpet in front of
the Russian Vice-Consul's house. Before us rose
the walls of Nasratabad, the northern city, and
to the east stretched the unbounded plain. Here,
a few hundred yards from the town, under the
shadow of the Union Jack, flying from a thirty-
foot flagstaff, was to be seen a neatly laid out
settlement, the home of the English Consul and
his stafl". My journey for the time being was
at an end, and I looked forward with pleasure
to a rest in Sistan, ready to appreciate to the
full the companionship of a fellow - countryman
and the comforts and luxuries of a fixed abode,
after many days of solitary marching over the
stony wastes of inhospitable Baluchistan.

I have endeavoured to show that the journey
from Quetta can, thanks to the admirable way
in which Captain Webb - Ware, the officer in
charge of the route, has carried out his duties,
be performed with ease and comparative comfort,
that supplies are forthcoming at all the larger
posts, and that water and grazing exist for
camels at every stage. The climate is in the
winter as a rule fine and dry, cold at nights


and in the early mornings, with a warm sun in
the middle of the day, and it is in winter that
caravans at present travel over it ; but I am
assured by those who ought to know, that
though the heat in the daytime is very con-
siderable, there is no reason why caravans (who
prefer travelling by night when feasible) should
not find the route in every respect as satisfactory
a one in summer as in winter. The total rain-
fall is very small, and for some years has not
averaged more than a few inches, which makes
cultivation impossible except in selected spots
in the vicinity of the mountains, where artificial
irrigation is possible by means of " karezes " ;
and it is for this reason that the country over
which the route passes has the appearance of
a deserted and uninhabited waste, such villages
as there are being situated at the foot of the
mountains and as far removed as possible from
the dead stretches of unproductive plain. As
far as Dalbandin there should be no difficulty
about supplies, even when the traffic becomes
far greater than it is at present, as local culti-
vation should be possible for this section ; but
from Dalbandin to Saindak cultivation would
hardly be possible, and supplies will have to be
brought from Nushki and the Nushki-Dalbandin
section, and for the latter half of this section


from Mirjawar and the country round it on the
Persian border, where I was told there was cul-
tivation and cultivatable land in plenty. With
so fertile a country as Sistan within a few days'
journey, no anxiety need be felt on account of
supplies for the remainder of the journey.




{Continuation of a Paper read before the Scottish Geographical
Society, 6th Fehrxuiry 1902.)

Having reached, after many days of marching
across such arid wastes as I have described, the
capital of little - known Sistan, one's first im-
pression is that there is little to see and still
less to rouse one's interest in the tumble-down,
dilapidated mud city, which has the appearance
of having been dropped down haphazard in the
middle of a vast and cheerless plain. The entire
absence of roads, the untidy and neglected appear-
ance of Husainabad, the southern town through
which one rides on entering the capital from
the south, the narrow winding lanes which serve
for streets, and the total want of method dis-
played in the arrangement of the low - domed
houses, which stand together in irregular clumps,
all tend to produce a feeling of disappointment
on one's first glimpse of the capital.


The present capital and seat of what the
Persians are pleased to call the government
consists of two towns, or rather of a town
divided into two parts — the southern half known
locally as Husainabad, and the northern, which
is entirely surrounded by high city walls, and
known as Nasratabad. Beyond these two towns
have sprung up in the last few months the neat
buildings of the British Consulate, which may be
said to constitute a third part of the capital,
and which I heard talked of on all sides as
Trenchabad — i.e., the city of Trench. Husainabad,
as I have already mentioned, is little more than
a collection of small domed mud houses, built
irrespective of ground - plan, wheresoever fancy
dictated, in the middle of a vast plain. Here
and there a windmill of curious shape stands up
conspicuous among the surrounding houses, usually
stationary in the winter months, but wanting
only the fierce blasts of the " Bad-o-sad-i-bist
roz," or wind of a hundred and twenty days,
which blows unceasingly throughout the summer
months, to rouse it to a state of wild activity.
Beyond this the houses of the Russian Vice-
Consul and the head Mullah are the only other
objects likely to attract one's attention.

Nasratabad, the northern town, though little
to boast of, is by far the more imposing of the
two, being enclosed by high walls, about 350


yards in length from north to south and 400
yards from east to west, with buttresses at
intervals of about 40 yards. An additional rect-
angular enclosure, projecting from the north-
east corner, contains the arc or citadel, in which
is situated the palace of the Amir. In the
centre of the southern wall stands one of the
two gateways of the city, supported on each
side by a buttress, and from here the central
street runs the length of the city, terminating in
a similar gateway in the centre of the north wall.

With a single exception, the houses and shops
on either side of the street are small and in-
significant, the latter hardly recognisable as such,
owing to their apparent innocence of goods for
sale ; while the owner is content to sit in front
of his door, in a state of apathetic indolence,
typical of all things great and small, from the
highest to the lowest, throughout the dominions
of his Highness Muzaffar-ad-Din Shah.

The exception to which I have referred is
a commodious and well-built shop, midway be-
tween the south and north gates of the city,
where goods of European manufacture of all
sorts and kinds, included under the general head-
ing of fancy goods, are sold by an individual
who, as far as this branch of his business at any
rate is concerned, corresponds to the general dealer
of the West. The owner of this establishment


is one Seth Suleiman, an Indian merchant who
left Quetta at the end of 1899 with a capital
of 20,000 rupees to exploit the trade of Sistan ;
a venture which had already met with con-
siderable success, and at the time of my visit
he was making a very large profit on his
capital, which he informed me was not nearly
large enough to admit of his carrying on the
trade of which the place was capable.

In addition to Nasratabad and Husainabad,
there remains the more modern part of the town,
which I have already spoken of as Trenchabad.
Separated from the rest of the city by a
" maidan " (stretch of level ground) of some acres,
it occupies an admirable site, and has the ad-
vantage of room for extension, should it at
any time be thought advisable to embark upon

Between two rows of buildings is a wide space
more nearly a square than a street, at one end
of which flies the Union Jack from a flagstaff
planted in a solidly built pedestal of mud.
Behind the main block of buildings on the south
side of the square are one or two other build-
ings, the most interesting of which is a mosque,
if only from the fact of its having been built
by an Englishman. The main buildings cover
a space of about 150 yards by 70 yards, the whole
site consisting roughly of about thirteen acres,


and when it is considered that the whole of
the buildings, including the Consul's house,
guard -room, cavalry lines, staff and servants'
quarters, mosque and all, were completed for a
sum of 2500 rupees (£166), Trenchabad may prob-
ably claim to be the cheapest town on record.

Such was the city I found in December 1900,
which in the space of twelve months had been
roused from the state of torpor of a true house
of the Orient, untouched by the influence of
Western progress, where time stands still and
change is unknown, to the surprising fact that
there were worlds beyond its own and people
of an alien race who had stirred them, vastly
to their own amazement, to a state of — to their
ideas — extraordinary activity.

The day after my arrival I called on M.
Miller, the Russian Vice-Consul, whom I found
most cordial and agreeable, speaking English ex-
ceedingly well, and, as I afterwards found out,
a fluent master of the language of the country,
an acquirement of the greatest importance to
any one entertaining hopes of dealing success-
fully with the Persian. Later in the afternoon
I paid a visit in state to the Amir, who rejoices
in the title of Hashmat-ul-Mulk, or glory of the
country, and the spectacle of the British Consul
and myself, the former in full uniform, while I
had donned black frock-coat and patent leather


boots, riding solemnly through the narrow alleys
of the crumbling mud city, accompanied by a
full escort of Pathan sowars, must have been
well calculated to inspire laughter had any one
capable of appreciating the humour of the situa-
tion been present to witness it.

Having entered a walled enclosure in front
of the Amir's palace, where were to be seen
prisoners bent and groaning under chains and
irons of the most appalling size and weight, and
having acknowledged the salute of a ragged-
looking cut-throat with a gun, presumably one
of the much-talked-of army, on sentry duty, we
dismounted and were forthwith ushered into the
presence of the governor. The reception - hall
was large for Sistan, and might have been 18
or 20 feet in length by perhaps 10 or 12 in
breadth, with a recess in one side containing
a fireplace, in front of which were placed a table
and three or four chairs. The only ornamenta-
tion on the mud walls was a dado of cretonne,
and on the table was a cloth of bright yellow
cotton, with a deep border of gaudy red roses.
Overhead could be seen the funnel of a " bad-
gir," or air shaft, for catching the wind in the
hot weather.

On entering, the Amir, a pleasant-looking man
of medium height, with black beard and mous-
tache, rose to meet us, and having welcomed us


with courtly bow and stately handshake, motioned
us to seats on either side of the table, and with
the greatest solemnity and deliberation then took
a seat between us. Pausing a moment — a Persian
is never in a hurry — to be sure that we were
seated, he made the polite inquiry never omitted,
asking if we were well ; and answers having been
given, and similar demands for information as
to the state of health of the ruler having been
made, preliminaries were at an end, and we
were at liberty to talk on any subject that
might suggest itself.

Owing to my inability to speak the language,
the brunt of the conversation devolved upon
Trench, and was for the most part confined to
generalities. The Amir spoke of Teheran and
Mashhad, both of which places he had visited,
and was quite familiar with the idea of rail-
ways and similar innovations of civilisation ; and
though his knowledge of such subjects rested on
the single example of a line the country can
boast of, the light railway from Teheran to the
mosque of Shah Abdul Azim, a distance of a
few miles only, he spoke with assurance of the
advantage of a line from Quetta to Robat, which
he looked upon as a certain production of the
near future : indeed I heard the advent of a
line along the new trade route discussed with
much more certainty by the higher-class Sistanis,


who look upon the question of its ultimate con-
struction as in no way open to doubt, than I
did at the Quetta-Nushki end of the route.

Meeting him casually like this, one receives
the impression of a quiet, dignified, gentlemanly
man, content to live quietly as the ruler of his
province, and desiring only to be left in peace
and quiet. Though ostensibly an Anglophile, he
is shrewd enougfh where his own interests are
concerned, and stands in wholesome awe of his
superior at Mashhad, who, as he well knows, is
under the sinister influence of Russia. So that
though willing to assist British interests as far
as he considers compatible with his own safety,
he could hardly be relied on to take any very
active part in the furtherance of British trade
and prestige, as long as there is a possibility of
its being reported against him at Mashhad
through the agency of the Bussian Vice-Consul,
his policy being strongly flavoured with a desire
to please both parties ; and he may be looked
upon as a friend and ally in so much as he will
continue to show such signs of friendship to-
wards Great Britain as will not endanger his own

Having made the acquaintance of the Amir,
1 now turned my attention to the two people of
next importance, Mir Mausum Khan, the Sartip,
and Mohammed Beza Khan, the Sarhang, both


sons of the ruler ; and the same farcical pro-
cession that had proceeded to the Amir was
again on view. The house in which the Sartip
was living is situated in the only garden of the
place, a few hundred yards to the north of
Nasratabad, while the Sarhang had a house
within the walls of the city. As I visited them
both the same afternoon, I was afforded an
opportunity of comparing the two candidates
for the future possession of the sceptre in Sistan,
a comparison which I am bound to say was more
than favourable to the Sartip. Both are of the
same age, twenty-one according to the Sarhang
(December 1900); but the difference between
the two could hardly fail to strike the most
casual observer. On visiting the Sartip, I was
received by a quiet, gentlemanly man with perfect
manners, and, when he talked, seldom without a
pleasant smile, despite a distressing disease of
the eyes from which I was sorry to see he
suffered. In strong contrast was the loud-
voiced welcome accorded me by his more flashy
brother, who had, I fear, imbibed a good deal
more spirit than was good for him, and talked and
laughed uproariously throughout the interview.

The Sartip received us in a room which, like
the Amir's hall of audience, was without orna-
ment, — a few chairs, a table, and divan making
the sum-total of the furniture. I could not


help smiling when I noticed a large white bath-
towel of European manufacture neatly spread
over the table in place of a table-cloth. At
the time of my visit he was very full of a pro-
posed journey to India by the Nushki route, with
a view to consultino- a first-class oculist about
his eyes, and as I had just travelled along the
road, this subject naturally formed the chief
topic of conversation. From the eagerness with
which he questioned me, and the interest he
took in my answers, I judged that he was very
anxious to get started, and a good deal excited
at the idea of crossing the gulf between Persia
and India and of seeing for himself the wonders
of the great empire that lay beyond.

There is very little doubt that the Sartip is a
man of far stronger character than either his
father or his brother ; and it is equally certain
that as far as Sistan is concerned he is the man
of the future, provided always that the develop-
ments of the future, in which alien powers must
play a predominant part, will admit of a native
of the country occupying a position of anything
more than a puppet. Public opinion, at any rate,
holds no two thoutrhts as to who will wield the
sceptre in the future, and from what I heard
and from the little I saw of him during my
stay in Sistan, I am inclined to think that he
will make a strong and powerful ruler. Even at


this present time his influence is very great,
especially through his mother — a Baluch lady of
very high family — among the hordes of Baluchis
who cover the country from Sistan to Herat.

I have mentioned the boisterous manner of the
Sarhang, whom I found to be a very coarse edition
of his brother. He ushered us into his room with
no very steady step, and having indicated by a
lordly sweep of his hand the chairs he desired
us to occupy, plumped down on to a third with
such clumsy violence that the article not alto-
gether unnaturally gave way. In no way abashed
he threw the broken chair aside, and with a
remark which was presumably of a jocose nature,
judging from the uproarious laughter with which
he followed it, succeeded in seating himself in
another. The fittings and ornamentation of the
room afforded evidence of the extravagfant and
uncultured taste of the man, every niche and
corner displaying an incongruous jumble of vulgar
trash. As may be imagined, there was not a great
deal to be gathered from his conversation, and
beyond eliciting the fact that he had been struck
by the advantage of well-built houses since he
had witnessed the success of Europeans in this
line, and had become an enthusiastic builder him-
self, and that he was also interested in Sfardeninof,
I gained nothing but an impression of a shallow
and extravagant man, who placed his own whims


and pleasures first and all else nowhere. In ex-
tenuation, I must admit that when he returned
my visit a few days later, in a condition of sobriety,
he presented a much better appearance, and talked
much more quietly and sensibly ; but at the best
he is not to be compared with his brother, whose
temperate life and habits and strength of character
are as striking as are the intemperance and weak-
ness of the Sarhang.

For the rest, there are few men in Sistan who
can be looked upon as likely to make any name
in history. The two chief Sirdars are Sirdar
Purdil Khan and Mir Abbas, the first of whom
played a more or less prominent part in local
history a few years ago. From all accounts he
is a man of fine physique and of a bold, indepen-
dent spirit, as his name, signifying lion-hearted,
suggests, and I can well believe that he is a man
to command respect among his own people, if he
at all resembles his son, whom I had the pleasure
of meeting. In Mir Abbas one sees a picture of
good-natured content in the disguise of a country
squire, who asks no more than to spend the days
of an unambitious life, surrounded by the grand-
children of a somewhat prolific family, in the
peace and quiet of his own domain.

In addition to these permanent inhabitants,
there were one or two visitors, all making a
more or less prolonged sojourn in the land, carry-


ing on their business, when they had any, with
that contemptuous disregard for time which is
so noticeable a characteristic of Persian methods.
One gentleman, who was on his way round the
country in the capacity of official herald of the
safe return of the Shah from his trip to Europe,
had already occupied six weeks in making known
the glad news in Sistan, during which time he
was the recipient of presents and hospitality at
the expense of the province, as being an emissary
from headquarters, and as long as such hospitality
continued to be on a sufficiently magnificent scale
to satisfy him he would no doubt remain, only
passing on with his news when he found there
was little more to be gained by stopping where
he was. News carried by such a messenger must
become a little stale before being conveyed to all
for whom it is intended.

If I found no difficulty in getting to Sistan,
I found that getting away again was quite a
different matter. The only form of transport in
the country was camels, the few mules there are
being the private property of the Amir, and the
only camel man who was willing to proceed in
a northern direction was a sulky and vacillating
Birjandi, who could in no wise understand why
the " feringhi " should be in such a break-neck
hurry, the passing of time being an unconsidered
quantity in his Oriental conception of life. I


had calculated on sending off my camp on the
1st, and following myself on the 2nd; but so
many difficulties had to be overcome that the
final start was not made till the 13th.

A sharp frost had dried the ground and covered
all the pools and puddles with ice, leaving a keen
bite in the air as I jogged along westward under
a cloudless sky. Away over the Hamun and
Naizar, clouds of duck and wildfowl were to be
seen flying in all directions, testifying to the
numbers that exist on this vast expanse of water.
Once past the Hamun, we got out of the rich
alluvial soil of Sistan, and made our way over
huge, bare plains of gravel. In front of us lay a
low ridge of barren hills, and farther away to the
south-west stretched a line of snowy mountains,
glittering in the morning sun. We had been
going for about three hours when my horse went
suddenly dead lame, and became so bad that I
was forced to get off and walk, no very great
hardship, however, on a bright winter's day, and
leaving Ralmat Khan to bring him along, I stepped
out, and an hour and a half later reached camp,
pitched by a small stream, a few miles from the
foot of the hills in front of us. Thouofh the water
of the stream looked clear and good, I very
soon discovered that it was extremely bitter, and
during my stay here the nauseating taste of
salt water permeated all my food.


Night was again very cold, and clouds began
to gather on the horizon as I left camp on the
morning of the 15th. A short distance over the
same stony plain brought us to the foot of the
hills, which we entered by a defile between high
walls of rock. At the mouth of this passage
through the hills was a grove of palm-trees, with
a small village standing on the edge of it, from
which the inhabitants flocked to gape at the
strange spectacle of a white man riding through

Online LibraryLawrence John Lumley Dundas ZetlandAn Eastern miscellany → online text (page 7 of 24)