ACROSS COVETED LANDS
A JOURNEY FROM FLUSHING (HOLLAND) TO CALCUTTA, OVERLAND
A. HENRY SAVAGE LANDOR
WITH 175 ILLUSTRATIONS, DIAGRAMS, PLANS AND MAPS BY AUTHOR
IN TWO VOLUMES VOL. I
London MACMILLAN AND CO., Limited 1902
All rights reserved
Richard Clay and Sons, Limited, LONDON AND BUNGAY
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
To face page His Majesty the Shah of Persia Frontispiece The Baku Oil Wells 20 The Amir of Bokhara leaving Baku to return to his Country 26 Persian Wrestling 38 Fourgons on the Russian Road between Resht and Teheran 50 Making a Kanat 74 The Murderer of Nasr-ed-din Shah 90 Persian Cossacks (Teheran) Drilled by Russian Officers 100 The Eftetahie College, supported by Meftah-el-Mulk 102 H. E. Mushir-ed-Doulet, Minister of Foreign Affairs 106 Persian Soldiers—The Band 112 Recruits learning Music 112 The Arrival of a Caravan of Silver at the Imperial Bank of Persia 126 The Imperial Bank of Persia Decorated on the Shah's Birthday 134 A Typical Persian Window. (Mr. Rabino's House, Teheran.) 140 The First Position in Persian Wrestling 158 Palawans, or Strong Men giving a Display of Feats of Strength 158 Iman Jumeh. Head Priest of Teheran, and Official Sayer of Prayers to the Shah 170 Sahib Divan, who was at various periods Governor of Shiraz and Khorassan 190 Persian Woman and Child 206 A Picturesque Beggar Girl 206 Ruku Sultaneh, Brother of the present Shah 218 The Shah in his Automobile 224 The Sadrazam's (Prime Minister's) Residence, Teheran 224 In the Shah's Palace Grounds, Teheran 230 The Shah and his Suite 240 Rock Sculpture near Shah-Abdul-Azim 244 Author's Diligence between Teheran and Kum 244 The Track along the Kohrut Dam 270 Between Gyabrabad and Kohrut 270 The Interior of Chappar Khana at Kohrut 272 Chapparing—the Author's post horses 278 Persian Escort firing at Brigands 278 Jewish Girls, Isfahan 292 An Isfahan Jew 292 The Square, Isfahan 298 The Palace Gate, Isfahan 304 Boys Weaving a Carpet 314 Cotton Cleaners 314 Handsome Doorway in the Madrassah, Isfahan 322 One of Zil-es-Sultan's Eunuchs 326 The "Hall of Forty Columns," Isfahan 326 The Quivering Minarets near Isfahan 330 H.R.H. Zil-es-Sultan, Governor of Isfahan 350 Agriculture and Pigeon Towers near Isfahan 352 Persian Spinning Wheels and Weaving Looms 366 Halting at a Caravanserai 380 A Street in Yezd, showing High Badjirs or Ventilating Shafts 380 Ardeshir Meheban Irani and the Leading Members of the Anguman-i-Nasseri (Parsee National Assembly), Yezd 394 Parsee Priests of Yezd Officiating during Ceremony in their Fire Temple 400 Interior of Old Caravanserai with Central Water Tank 410 Typical Caravanserai and Mud Fort in the Desert between Yezd and Kerman 414 A Trade Caravanserai, Kerman 414 H. E. Ala-el-Mulk, Governor of Kerman, in his Palace 432 Tiled Walls and Picturesque Windows in the Madrassah, Kerman 438 Sirkar Agha's Son, the Head of the Sheikhi Sect, Kerman 438 The Interior of a Hammam or Bath—First Room 442 The Hot Room in a Persian Bath 444 The Kala-i-Dukhtar or Virgin Fort 444 Graveyard and Kala-i-Dukhtar or Virgin Fort, Kerman 446 Ruined Houses of Farmitan 450 Plan of House at Farmitan 450 A Steep Rock Climb, Kerman 454 A View of the Kerman Plain from the "Ya Ali" Inscription 458 Wives Returning from the Pilgrimage for Sterile Women 458 Map at the End of Volume.
ACROSS COVETED LANDS
The start—The terrors of the Russian Custom-house—An amusing incident at the Russian frontier—Politeness of Russian officials—Warsaw: its sights; its lovely women—The talented Pole—People who know how to travel by train—A ludicrous scene.
"First single to Baku," I requested when my turn came at the window of the ticket office at Victoria Station.
"Baku?—where is that?" queried the ticket man.
"In Southern Russia."
"Oh, I see! Well, we cannot book further than Warsaw for Russia."
"Warsaw will do. . . . . How much? . . . Thank you."
My baggage having next been duly registered direct for the capital of Poland, off I set to Queenborough, crossed over by the night boat to Flushing, and continued the following morning by express to Berlin.
Once in the Russian train from the German capital one hears a great deal of the terrors of the approaching Russian Custom-house, and here I may relate rather an amusing incident which will prove what these terrors amount to. In my sleeping car there happened to be some French merchants on their way to the fair of Nijni-Novgorod. On perceiving my two rifles, a good-sized ammunition case, and two cameras, one of the gentlemen gratuitously informed me that if I intended to proceed to Russia I had better leave all these things behind, or they would all be confiscated at the frontier. I begged to differ, and the Frenchmen laughed boisterously at my ignorance, and at what would happen presently. In their imaginative minds they perceived my valued firearms being lost for ever, and predicted my being detained at the police station till it pleased les terribles Cossacques to let me proceed.
"Evidently," shouted one of the Frenchmen at the top of his voice, "this is your first journey abroad. . . . We," he added, "are great travellers. We have been once before in Russia."
"You are great travellers!" I exclaimed, with the emphasis very strong on the are, and pretending intense admiration.
Naturally the Franco-Russian Alliance was dragged into the conversation; were I a Frenchman I might fare less badly. The Russians and the French were brothers. But a British subject! A hated Englishman bringing into Russia two rifles, two revolvers, six hundred cartridges, twelve hundred photographic plates, two cameras, a large case of scientific instruments, all of which I would duly declare! Why? Russia was not England. I should soon experience how Englishmen were treated in some countries. "Russians," he exclaimed, "have not a polished manner like the French. Ah, non! They are semi-barbarians yet. They respect and fear the French, but not the English. . . . par exemple!"
The frontier station of Alexandrovo was reached, and a horde of terror-stricken passengers alighted from the carriages, preceded and followed by bags, portmanteaux, hold-alls, and bundles of umbrellas, which were hastily conveyed to the long tables of the huge Custom-house inspection room.
The two Frenchmen had their belongings next to mine on the long counter, and presently an officer came. They were French subjects and they had nothing to declare. Their elaborately decorated bags were instantly ordered open and turned upside down, while the officer searched with some gusto among the contents now spread on the table. There was a small pocket camera, two packets of photographic plates, some soiled handkerchiefs, collars and cuffs, a box of fancy note-paper, a bottle of scent, a pair of embroidered pantoufles, and a lot of patent brass studs and cuff links.
With the exception of the soiled linen, everything was seized, for all were liable to duty, and some sharp words of reprimand were used by the officer to my now subdued French neighbours for attempting to smuggle.
The officer moved on to me.
"Monsieur," mournfully remarked the Frenchman, "now you will be done for."
I declared everything and produced a special permit, which had been very courteously given me by the Russian Ambassador, and handed it to the officer. Having eagerly read it, he stood with his heels together and gave me a military salute. With a profound bow he begged me to point out to him all my luggage so that he could have it stamped without giving me further trouble. He politely declined to use the keys I handed him, and thinking that I might feel uncomfortable in the hustling crowd of people he conveyed me to a chair in order that I might sit down.
I turned round to look at the Frenchmen. They had altogether collapsed.
"I thought you said that Englishmen were hated in Russia, and that they would confiscate all my things? You see they have confiscated nothing," I meekly remarked to the Frenchmen, when they returned to the sleeping car. "I do not think that I have met with more polite Customs officials anywhere."
"Oui, oui," muttered the stouter Frenchman, who was evidently in no mood to enter into further conversation. "Et nous autres betes," he soliloquized, "qui avons fait l'alliance avec ces sauvages la! On m'a tout pris meme le papier a lettres!"
He removed his coat and waistcoat and the many interesting patent appliances for holding his tie in the correct position—where it never remained—then he threw himself violently on the berth, face towards the wall, and grumbled the greater part of the night on the stupid mistake of the Franco-Russian Alliance. On his return to France he would write a letter to the Ministre des Affaires Etrangeres. After a long and tedious soliloquy he fortunately fell asleep.
Warsaw on the Vistula, the old capital of Poland, was reached in the morning.
The quickest way to Baku would have been to proceed to Moscow and then by the so-called "petroleum express," which leaves once a week, every Tuesday, for Baku. Unluckily, I could not reach Moscow in time, and therefore decided to travel across Russia by the next best route, via Kiev, Rostoff, and the Caspian. The few hours I remained in Warsaw were pleasantly spent in going about seeing the usual sights; the Palace and lovely Lazienski gardens, laid out in the old bed of the Vistula; the out-of-door theatre on a small island, the auditorium being separated by water from the stage; the lakes, the Saski Ogrod, and the Krasinski public gardens; the Jewish quarter of the town; the museums of ancient and modern art.
There are few cities in Europe that are prettier, cleaner, and more animated than Warsaw, and few women in the world that have a better claim to good looks than the Warsaw fair sex. The majority of women one sees in the streets are handsome, and carry themselves well, and their dress is in good taste, never over-done as it is in Paris, for instance.
The whole city has a flourishing appearance, with its tramways, gay omnibuses, electric light, telephones, and every modern convenience. The streets are broad and cheerful. In the newer parts of the city there are beautiful residences, several of which, I was told, belong to British subjects settled there. The Russian military element is very strong, for Poland's love for Russia is not yet very great. As we walk along the main thoroughfares a long string of Cossacks, in their long black felt cloaks and Astrakan caps, canter along. They are a remarkably picturesque and business-like lot of soldiers.
Poles are civility itself, that is, of course, if one is civil to them.
Historically the place is of extreme interest, and the battlefields of Novogeorgievsk, which played such an important part in the Polish insurrection of 1831, and of Grochowo, where the Poles were defeated, are well worth a visit. At Maciejowice, too, some fifty miles up the Vistula, Kosciuzko was made prisoner by the conquering Russians.
Warsaw is the third largest city in the Russian Empire, and its favourable geographical position makes it one of the great pivots of Eastern Europe. With a navigable river and the great main railway lines to important centres such as Berlin, Vienna, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Dantzig, Kiev, and Odessa, with good climatic conditions, and fertile soil; with the pick of natural talent in art and science, and the love for enterprise that is innate in the Polish character, Warsaw cannot help being a prosperous place.
The city has very extensive suburbs. The best known to foreigners, Praga, on the opposite bank of the Vistula, is connected with Warsaw by two iron bridges. Warsaw itself is built on terraces, one above another, along the bank of the river, but the main portion of the city stands on a high undulating plain above. There are over a hundred Catholic, several Greek churches, and a number of synagogues; a university, schools of art, academies, fourteen monasteries, and two nunneries.
There are few places in the world where the artisan or the common workman is more intelligent and artistic, and where the upper classes are more refined and soundly cultured, than in Warsaw. With a certain reflex of the neighbouring German commercial influence, the place has become a thriving manufacturing and trading centre. Machinery, excellent pianos and other musical instruments, carriages, silver and electro-plate, boots and leather goods are manufactured and exported on a large scale. The tanneries of Warsaw are renowned the world over, and the Warsaw boots are much sought after all over the Russian Empire for their softness, lightness and durability. Then there are great exports of wheat, flax, sugar, beer, spirits, and tobacco.
But time is short, and we must drive to the station. Say what you will about the Russian, there is a thing that he certainly knows how to do. He knows how to travel by rail. One has a great many preconceived ideas of the Russian and his ways. One is always reminded that he is a barbarian, that he is ignorant, that he is dirty. He is possibly a barbarian in one way, that he can differentiate good from bad, real comfort from "optical illusions" or illusions of any other kind, a thing highly civilised people seem generally unable to do. This is particularly noticeable in Russian railway travelling,—probably the best and cheapest in the world.
To begin with, when you take a first-class ticket it entitles you to a seat numbered and reserved that nobody can appropriate. No more tickets are sold than correspond with the accommodation provided in the train. This does away entirely with the "leaving one's umbrella" business, to secure a seat, or scattering one's belongings all over the carriage to ensure the whole compartment to one's self, to the inconvenience of other travellers. Then first, second and third-class passengers are provided with sleeping accommodation. The sleeping accommodation, especially for first and second-class passengers, consists of a wide and long berth wherein they can turn round at their will, if they please, not of a short, narrow bunk in which even a lean person has to lie edgewise or roll out, as in the continental sleeping car, for which discomfort (rather than accommodation) preposterous extra charges have to be paid, above the first-class fare. Then, too, in the latter the compartments are so small, so ridiculously ventilated, that after one night spent boxed in, especially if another passenger shares the same cabin, one feels sick for some hours, and in the day-time one has no room to turn round, nor space to put one's legs. As for the lighting, the less said the better. These faults exist in our own and the continental first-class compartments.
But the barbarian Russian knows and does better. The line being of a very broad gauge, his first-class carriages are extremely spacious and very high, with large windows and efficacious ventilators; and there is plenty of room everywhere to spread one's limbs in every direction. There is probably less gilding about the ceiling, fewer nickel-plated catches about the doors; not so much polished wood, nor ghastly coloured imitation-leather paper, nor looking-glasses, but very convenient folding-tables are found instead; the seats are ample and serviceable, of plain, handsome red velvet, devoid of the innumerable dust-collecting button-pits—that striking feature of British and continental railway-carriage decoration. Movable cushions are provided for one's back and head. There are bright electric lights burning overhead, and adjustable reading lights in the corners of the carriage. A corridor runs along the whole train, and for a few kopeks passengers can at any moment procure excellent tea, caviare sandwiches, or other light refreshments from attendants.
Now for the bedding itself. The Russian, who is ever a practical man, carries his own bedding—a couple of sheets, blankets, and small pillow,—a custom infinitely cleaner and more sensible than sleeping in dubious, smelly blankets of which one does not know who has used them before, nor when they were washed last. But if passengers wish, by paying a rouble (two shillings) a night to the guard, bedding is provided by the Railway. There is a fine lavabo at the end of each carriage, with shampoo, hot and cold water, etc. Here, too, by asking the guard, towels are handed over to those passengers who have not brought their own.
Here I may relate another amusing incident. Unable to get at my towels packed in my registered baggage, and ignorant of the Russian language, I inquired of a polyglot fellow-passenger what was the Russian word for towel, so that I could ask the guard for one.
"Palatiensi," said he, and I repeated, "Palatiensi, palatiensi, palatiensi," so as to impress the word well upon my memory. Having enjoyed a good wash and a shampoo, and dripping all over with water, I rang for the guard, and sure enough, when the man came, I could not recollect the word. At last it dawned upon me that it was,—"Palatinski," and "Palatinski," I asked of the guard.
To my surprise the guard smiled graciously, and putting on a modest air replied: "Palatinski niet, paruski (I do not speak Latin, I speak only Russian)," and the more I repeated "palatinski," putting the inflection now on one syllable, then on the other, to make him understand, the more flattered the man seemed to be, and modestly gave the same answer.
This was incomprehensible to me, until my polyglot fellow-passenger came to my assistance.
"Do you know what you are asking the guard?" he said in convulsions of laughter.
"Yes, I am asking for a 'palatinski'—a towel."
"No, you are not!" and he positively went into hysterics. "Palatinski means 'Do you speak Latin?' How can you expect a Russian railway-guard to speak Latin? Look how incensed the poor man is at being mistaken for a Latin scholar! Ask him for a palatiensi, and he will run for a towel."
The man did run on the magic word being pronounced, and duly returned with a nice clean palatiensi, which, however, was little use to me for I had by this time nearly got dry by the natural processes of dripping and evaporation.
One or two other similar incidents, and the extreme civility one meets from every one while travelling in Russia, passed the time away pleasantly until Kiev, one of the oldest cities of Russia, was reached.
Kiev—Its protecting Saint—Intellectuality and trade—Priests and education—Wherein lies the strength of Russia—Industries—A famous Monastery—The Catacombs of St. Theodosius and St. Anthony—Pilgrims—Veneration of Saints—The Dnieper river—Churches—A luminous cross—Kharkoff—Agriculture—Horse fairs—Rostoff—Votka drunkenness—Strong fortifications—Cheap and good travelling—Baku.
Tradition tells us that Kiev was founded before the Christian era, and its vicissitudes have since been many and varied. It has at all times been considered one of the most important ecclesiastical centres of Russia,—if not indeed the most important—but particularly since St. Vladimir, the protecting saint of the city, preached Christianity there in 988, this being the first time that the religion of Christ had been expounded in Russia. A century and a half before that time (in 822) Kiev was the capital city of the state and remained such till 1169. In 1240 it was captured by Mongols who held it for 81 years. The Lithuanians came next, and remained in possession for 249 years, until 1569; then Poland possessed it until the year 1654, when it became part of the Russian Empire.
Kiev has the name of being a very intellectual city. Somehow or other, intellectuality and trade do not seem to go together, and although the place boasts of a military school and arsenal, theological colleges, a university, a school of sacred picture painters, and a great many scientific and learned societies, we find that none of these are locally put to any marked practical use, except the sacred-picture painting; the images being disposed of very rapidly, and for comparatively high prices all over the country. Hardly any religious resorts are great commercial centres, the people of these places being generally conservative and bigoted and the ruling priestly classes devoting too much attention to idealism to embark in commercial enterprise, which leaves little time for praying. Agriculture and horticulture are encouraged and give good results.
The priests make money—plenty of it—by their religion, and they probably know that there is nothing more disastrous to religion in laymen than rapid money-making by trade or otherwise. With money comes education, and with education, too powerful a light thrown upon superstition and idolatry. It is nevertheless possible, even probable, that in the ignorance of the masses, in the fervent and unshaken confidence which they possess in God, the Czar and their leaders, may yet lie the greatest strength of Russia. It must not be forgotten that half-educated, or half uneducated, masses are probably the weakness to-day of most other civilised nations.
Some business on a small scale, however, is transacted at the various fairs held in Kiev, such as the great fair at the beginning of the Russian year. There are many beet-root sugar refineries, the staple industry of the country, and next come leather tanneries, worked leather, machinery, spirits, grain and tobacco. Wax candles are manufactured in huge quantities, and in the monastery there is a very ancient printing-press for religious books.
Peter the Great erected a fortress here in a most commanding spot. It is said to contain up-to-date guns. A special pass has to be obtained from the military authorities to be allowed to enter it, not so much because it is used as an arsenal, but because from the high tower a most excellent panoramic view is obtained of the city, the neighbourhood, and the course of the river down below.
But Kiev is famous above all for its monastery, the Kievo-Petcherskaya, near which the two catacombs of St. Theodosius and St. Antony attract over three hundred thousand pilgrims every year. The first catacomb contains forty-five bodies of saints, the other eighty and the revered remains are stored in plain wood or silver-mounted coffins, duly labelled with adequate inscriptions. The huge monastery itself bears the appearance of great wealth, and has special accommodation for pilgrims. As many as 200,000 pilgrims are said to receive board and lodging yearly in the monastery. These are naturally pilgrims of the lower classes.
Enormous riches in solid gold, silver and jewellery are stored in the monastery and are daily increased by devout gifts.
But let us visit the catacombs.
The spare-looking, long-haired and bearded priests at the entrance of the catacomb present to each pilgrim, as a memento, a useful and much valued wax candle, which one lights and carries in one's hand down the steep and slippery steps of the subterranean passages. All along, the procession halts before mummified and most unattractive bodies, a buzzing of prayers being raised by the pilgrims when the identity of each saint is explained by the priest conducting the party. The more devout people stoop over the bodies and kiss them fervently all over, voluntarily and gladly disbursing in return for the privilege all such small cash as may lie idle in their pockets.
Down and down the crowd goes through the long winding, cold, damp, rancid-smelling passages, devoid of the remotest gleam of ventilation, and where one breathes air so thick and foul that it sticks to one's clothes and furs one's tongue, throat and lungs for several hours after one has emerged from the catacombs into fresh air again. Yet there are hermit monks who spend their lives underground without ever coming up to the light, and in doing so become bony, discoloured, ghastly creatures, with staring, inspired eyes and hollow cheeks, half demented to all appearance, but much revered and respected by the crowds for their self-sacrifice.
Further on the pilgrims drink holy water out of a small cup made in the shape of a cross, with which the liquid is served out from a larger vessel. The expression of beatitude on their faces as they sip of the holy water, and their amazing reverence for all they see and are told to do, are quite extraordinary to watch, and are quite refreshing in these dying days of idealism supplanted by fast-growing and less poetic atheistic notions. The scowl I received from the priest when my turn came and he lifted the tin cross to my lips, is still well impressed upon my mind. I drew back and politely declined to drink. There was a murmur of strong disapproval from all the people present, and the priest grumbled something; but really, what with the fetid smell of tallow-candle smoke, the used-up air, and the high scent of pilgrims—and religious people ever have a pungent odour peculiar to themselves—water, whether holy or otherwise, was about the very beverage that would have finished me up at that particular moment.
Glad I was to be out in the open air again, driving through the pretty gardens of Kiev, and to enjoy the extensive view from the high cliffs overlooking the winding Dnieper River. A handsome suspension bridge joins the two banks. The river is navigable and during the spring floods the water has been known to rise as much as twenty feet.
The city of Kiev is situated on high undulating ground some 350 feet above the river, and up to 1837 consisted of the old town, Podol and Petchersk, to which forty-two years later were added Shulyavka, Solomenka, Kurenevka and Lukyanovka, the city being divided into eight districts. The more modern part of the town is very handsome, with wide streets and fine stone houses of good architecture, whereas the poorer abodes are mostly constructed of wood.
As in all the other cities of Russia there are in Kiev a great many churches, over seventy in all, the oldest of which is the Cathedral of St. Sophia in the centre of the town, built as early as 1037 on the spot where the Petchenegs were defeated the previous year by Yarosloff. It is renowned for its superb altar, its valuable mosaics and the tombs of Russian grand-dukes. Next in importance is the Church of the Assumption, containing the bodies of seven saints conveyed here from Constantinople. At night the cross borne by the statue of Vladimir, erected on a high point overlooking the Dnieper, is lighted up by electricity. This luminous cross can be seen for miles and miles all over the country, and the effect is most impressive and weird.
From Kiev I had to strike across country, and the trains were naturally not quite so luxurious as the express trains on the main line, but still the carriages were of the same type, extremely comfortable and spacious, and all the trains corridor trains.
The next important city where I halted for a few hours was Kharkoff in the Ukraine, an agricultural centre where beet-root was raised in huge quantities and sugar manufactured from it; wheat was plentiful, and good cattle, sheep and horses were bred. The population was mostly of Cossacks of the Don and Little Russians. The industries of the place were closely akin to farming. Agricultural implements were manufactured; there were wool-cleaning yards, soap and candle factories, wheat-mills, brandy distilleries, leather tanneries, cloth manufactories, and brick kilns.
The horse fairs at Kharkoff are patronised by buyers from all parts of Russia, but to outsiders the city is probably better known as the early cradle of Nihilistic notions. Although quite a handsome city, with fine streets and remarkably good shops, Kharkoff has nothing special to attract the casual visitor, and in ordinary times a few hours are more than sufficient to get a fair idea of the place.
With a railway ticket punched so often that there is very little left of it, we proceed to Rostoff, where we shall strike the main line from Moscow to the Caucasus. Here is a comparatively new city—not unlike the shambling lesser Western cities of the United States of America, with plenty of tumbling-down, made-anyhow fences, and empty tin cans lying everywhere. The streets are unpaved, and the consequent dust blinding, the drinking saloons in undue proportion to the number of houses, and votka-drunken people in undue proportion to the population. Votka-drunkenness differs from the intoxication of other liquors in one particular. Instead of "dead drunk" it leaves the individuals drunk-dead. You see a disgusting number of these corpse-like folks lying about the streets, cadaverous-looking and motionless, spread flat on their faces or backs, uncared-for by everybody. Some sleep it off, and, if not run over by a droshki, eventually go home; some sleep it on, and are eventually conveyed to the graveyard, and nobody seems any the wiser except, of course, the people who do not drink bad votka to excess.
Rostoff stands at the head of the Delta of the Don, a position of great strategical importance, where of course the Russians have not failed to build strong fortifications. These were begun as early as 1761. Now very active ship-building yards are found here, and extensive caviare factories. Leather, wool, corn, soap, ropes and tobacco are also exported, and the place, apart from its military importance, is steadily growing commercially. The majority of shops seem to deal chiefly in American and German made agricultural implements, machinery and tools, and in firearms and knives of all sizes and shapes. The place is not particularly clean and certainly hot, dusty and most unattractive. One is glad to get into the train again and steam away from it.
As we get further South towards the Caucasus the country grows more barren and hot, the dust is appalling, but the types of inhabitants at the little stations become very picturesque. The Georgians are very fine people and the Armenians too, in appearance at least. The station sheds along the dusty steppes are guarded by soldiers, presumably to prevent attacks on the trains, and as one gets near the Caspian one begins to see the wooden pyramids over oil wells, and long freight trains of petroleum carried in iron cylindrical tanks. The wells get more numerous as we go along; the stations more crowded with petroleum tanks. We are nearing the great naphtha wells of Baku, where at last we arrive, having travelled from Tuesday to Sunday afternoon, or five days, except a few hours' halt in Kiev, Kharkoff and Rostoff.
The first-class railway fare from Warsaw for the whole journey was fully covered by a five-pound note, and, mind you, could have been done cheaper if one chose to travel by slower trains on a less direct route!
Baku—Unnecessary anxiety—A storm—Oil wells—Naphtha spouts—How the wells are worked—The native city—The Baku Bay—Fortifications—The Maiden's Tower—Depressing vegetation—Baku dust—Prosperity and hospitality—The Amir of Bokhara—The mail service to Persia on the Caspian—The Mercury and Caucasus line—Lenkoran—Astara (Russo-Persian boundary)—Antiquated steamers.
So many accounts are heard of how one's registered baggage in Russia generally arrives with locks smashed and minus one's most valuable property, and how unpunctual in arriving luggage is, and how few passengers escape without having their pockets picked before reaching their destination—by the way, a fellow-passenger had his pockets picked at the station of Mineralnya Vod—that I was somewhat anxious to see my belongings again, and fully expected to find that something had gone wrong with them. Much to my surprise, on producing the receipt at the very handsome railway terminus, all my portmanteaux and cases were instantly delivered in excellent condition.
The Caspian Sea steamers for Persia leave Baku on Sunday and Tuesday at midnight. There was a fierce sand storm raging at the time and the steamer had returned without being able to land her passengers at their destination. I decided to wait till the Tuesday. There is plenty to interest one in Baku. I will not describe the eternal fires, described so often by other visitors, nor tell how naphtha was tapped for the first time at this place, and how in 1886 one particular well spouted oil with such tremendous force that it was impossible to check it and it deluged a good portion of the neighbourhood. A year later, in 1887, another fountain rose to a height of 350 ft. There are myriads of other lesser fountains and wells, each covered by a wooden shed like a slender pyramid, and it is a common occurrence to see a big spout of naphtha rising outside and high above the top of the wooden shed, now from one well, now from another.
The process of bringing naphtha to the surface under ordinary circumstances is simple and effective, a metal cylinder is employed that has a valve at the lower end allowing the tube to fill while it descends, and closing automatically when the tube is full and is being raised above ground and emptied into pits provided for the purpose. The naphtha then undergoes the process of refinement. There are at the present moment hundreds of refineries in Baku. The residue and waste of naphtha are used as fuel, being very much cheaper than coal or wood.
The greater number of wells are found a few miles out of the town on the Balakhani Peninsula, and the naphtha is carried into the Baku refineries by numerous pipe lines. The whole country round is, however, impregnated with oil, and even the sea in one or two bays near Baku is coated with inflammable stuff and can be ignited by throwing a lighted match upon it. At night this has a weird effect.
Apart from the oil, Baku—especially the European settlement—has nothing to fascinate the traveller. In the native city, Persian in type, with flat roofs one above the other and the hill top crowned by a castle and the Mosque of Shah Abbas, constant murders occur. The native population consists mostly of Armenians and Persians. Cotton, saffron, opium, silk and salt are exported in comparatively small quantities. Machinery, grain and dried fruit constitute the chief imports.
The crescent-shaped Baku Bay, protected as it is by a small island in front of it, affords a safe anchorage for shipping. It has good ship-yards and is the principal station of the Russian fleet in the Caspian. Since Baku became part of the Russian Empire in 1806 the harbour has been very strongly fortified.
The most striking architectural sight in Baku is the round Maiden's Tower by the water edge, from the top of which the lovely daughter of the Khan of Baku precipitated herself on to the rocks below because she could not marry the man she loved.
The most depressing sight in Baku is the vegetation, or rather the strenuous efforts of the lover of plants to procure verdure at all costs in the gardens. It is seldom one's lot to see trees and plants look more pitiable, notwithstanding the unbounded care that is taken of them. The terrific heat of Baku, the hot winds and sand-storms are deadly enemies to vegetation. Nothing will grow. One does not see a blade of grass nor a shrub anywhere except those few that are artificially brought up. The sand is most trying. It is so fine that the wind forces it through anything, and one's tables, one's chairs, one's bed are yellow-coated with it. The tablecloth at the hotel, specklessly white when you begin to dine, gets gradually yellower at sight, and by the time you are half through your dinner the waiter has to come with a brush to remove the thick coating of dust on the table.
These are the drawbacks, but there is an air of prosperity about the place and people that is distinctly pleasing, even although one may not share in it. There is quite a fair foreign community of business people, and their activity is very praiseworthy. The people are very hospitable—too hospitable. When they do not talk of naphtha, they drink sweet champagne in unlimited quantities. But what else could they do? Everything is naphtha here, everything smells of naphtha, the steamers, the railway engines are run with naphtha. The streets are greasy with naphtha. Occasionally—frequently of late—the monotony of the place is broken by fires of gigantic proportions on the premises of over-insured well-owners. The destruction to property on such occasions is immense, the fires spreading with incalculable rapidity over an enormous area, and the difficulty of extinguishing them being considerable.
When I was in Baku the Amir of Bokhara was being entertained in the city as guest of the Government. His suite was quartered in the Grand Hotel. He had taken his usual tour through Russia and no trouble had been spared to impress the Amir with the greatness of the Russian Empire. He had been given a very good time, and I was much impressed with the pomp and cordiality with which he was treated. Neither the Governor nor any of the other officials showed him the usual stand-off manner which in India, for instance, would have been used towards an Asiatic potentate, whether conquered by us or otherwise. They dealt with him as if he had been a European prince—at which the Amir seemed much flattered. He had a striking, good-natured face with black beard and moustache, and dark tired eyes that clearly testified to Russian hospitality.
I went to see him off on the steamer which he kept waiting several hours after the advertised time of departure. He dolefully strode on board over a grand display of oriental rugs, while the military brass band provided for the occasion played Russian selections. Everybody official wore decorations, even the captain of the merchant ship, who proudly bore upon his chest a brilliant star—a Bokhara distinction received from the Amir on his outward journey for navigating him safely across the Caspian.
The Amir's suite was very picturesque, some of the men wearing long crimson velvet gowns embroidered in gold, others silk-checked garments. All had white turbans. The snapshot reproduced in the illustration shows the Amir accompanied by the Governor of Baku just stepping on board.
There is a regular mail service twice a week in summer, from April to the end of October, and once a week in winter, on the Caspian between Baku and Enzeli in Persia, the Russian Government paying a subsidy to the Kavkas and Mercury Steam Navigation Company for the purpose of conveying passengers, mails (and, in the event of war, troops) into Persia and back. There are also a number of coasting steamers constantly plying between the various ports on the Caspian both on the Russian and Persian coast.
The hurricane having abated there was a prospect of a fair voyage and the probability of landing at Enzeli in Persia, so when the Tuesday came I went on board the old rickety paddle-steamer (no less than forty-five years old) which was to convey me to that port. She was one of the Mercury-Caucasus Co. fleet, and very dirty she was, too.
It is perhaps right to mention that for the first time in Russia, purposeless rudeness and insolence came to my notice on the part of the ticket officials of the Mercury line. They behaved like stupid children, and were absolutely incompetent to do the work which had been entrusted to them. They were somewhat surprised when I took them to task and made them "sit up." Having found that they had played the fool with the wrong man they instantly became very meek and obliging. It is nevertheless a great pity that the Mercury Company should employ men of this kind who, for some aim of their own, annoy passengers, both foreign and Russian, and are a disgrace to the Company and their country.
On board ship the captain, officers and stewards were extremely civil. Nearly all the captains of the Caspian steamers were Norwegian or from Finland, and were jolly fellows. The cabins were very much inhabited, so much so that it was difficult to sleep in them at all. Insects so voracious and in such quantities and variety were in full possession of the berths, that they gave one as lively a night as it is possible for mortals to have. Fortunately the journey was not a long one, and having duly departed at midnight from Baku I reached Lenkoran the next day, with its picturesque background of mountains and thickly-wooded country. This spot is renowned for tiger-shooting.
Our next halt was at Astara, where there were a number of wooden sheds and drinking saloons,—a dreadful place, important only because on the Perso-Russian boundary line formed by the river of the same name. We landed here a number of police officers, who were met by a deputation of some fifty Persian-looking men, who threw their arms round their necks and in turn lustily kissed them on both cheeks. It was a funny sight. When we got on board again after a couple of hours on shore the wind rose and we tossed about considerably. Another sleepless night on the "living" mattress in the bunk, and early in the morning we reached the Persian port of Enzeli.
The Port of Enzeli—Troublesome landing—Flat-bottomed boats—A special permit—Civility of officials—Across the Murd-ap lagoon—Piri-Bazaar—A self-imposed golden rule—Where our stock came from—The drive to Resht—The bazaar—The native shops and foreign goods—Ghilan's trade—The increase in trade—British and Russian competitions—Sugar—Tobacco—Hotels—The British Consulate—The Governor's palace—H.E. Salare Afkham—A Swiss hotel—Banks.
One calls Enzeli a "port" pour facon de parler, for Persia has no harbours at all on the Caspian sea. Enzeli, Meshed-i-Sher or Astrabad, the three principal landing places on the Persian coast, have no shelter for ships, which have to lie a good distance out at sea while passengers and cargo are transhipped by the Company's steam launch or—in rough weather—by rowing boats. In very rough weather it is impossible to effect a landing at all, and—this is a most frequent occurrence on the treacherous Caspian—after reaching one's journey's end one has to go all the way back to the starting point and begin afresh. There are people who have been compelled to take the journey four or five times before they could land, until the violent storms which often rage along the Persian coast had completely subsided and allowed the flimsy steam-launch at Enzeli to come out to meet the steamers, lying about a mile outside.
We had passengers on board who had been unable to land on the previous journey, and were now on their second attempt to set foot in Persia. We were rolling a good deal when we cast anchor, and after waiting some hours we were informed that it was too rough for the steam-launch to come out. The captain feared that he must put to sea again, as the wind was rising and he was afraid to remain so near the coast. Two rowing boats eventually came out, and with some considerable exertion of the rowers succeeded in getting near the steamer. I immediately chartered one, and after a good deal of see-saw and banging and knocking and crackling of wood alongside the steamer, my baggage and I were transhipped into the flat-bottomed boat. Off we rowed towards the shore, getting drenched each time that the boat dipped her nose into the sea.
The narrow entrance of the Enzeli bay is blocked by a sand-bar. The water is here very shallow, only about six feet deep. Riding on the top of the breakers was quite an experience, and we occasionally shipped a good deal of water. We, however, landed safely and had to pay pretty dearly for the convenience. The boatmen do not run the risk of going out for nothing, and when they do, take every advantage of passengers who employ them. I was fortunate to get off by giving a backshish of a few tomans (dollars), but there are people who have been known to pay three, four and even five pounds sterling to be conveyed on shore.
Here, too, thanks to the civility of the Persian Ambassador in London, I had a special permit for my firearms, instruments, etc., and met with the greatest courtesy from the Belgian and Persian officers in the Customs. It is necessary to have one's passport in order, duly vise by the Persian Consul in London, or else a delay might occur at Enzeli.
There is a lighthouse at Enzeli, the Customs buildings and a small hotel. From this point a lagoon, the Murd-ap has to be crossed, either by the small steam-launch or by rowing boat. As there seemed to be some uncertainty about the departure of the launch, and as I had a good deal of luggage, I preferred the latter way. Eight powerful men rowed with all their might at the prospect of a good backshish; and we sped along at a good pace on the placid waters of the lagoon, in big stretches of open water, now skirting small islands, occasionally through narrow canals, the banks of which were covered with high reeds and heavy, tropical, confused, untidy vegetation. The air was still and stifling—absolutely unmoved, screened as it was on all sides by vegetation. The sailors sang a monotonous cadence, and the boat glided along for some three hours until we arrived at the mouth of the Piri river, hardly wide enough for a couple of boats to go through simultaneously, and so shallow that rowing was no longer practicable.
The men jumped off, tied the towing rope that hung from the mast to their belts, and ran along the banks of the Piri river, the water of which was almost stagnant. An hour or so later we suddenly came upon a number of boats jammed together in the miniature harbour of Piri Bazaar—a pool of putrid water a few feet in circumference. As the boat gradually approached, a stone-paved path still separated from you by a thick wide layer of filthy mud wound its way to the few miserable sheds—the bazaar—up above. A few trays of grapes, some Persian bread, some earthenware pottery of the cheapest kind, are displayed in the shop fronts—and that is all of the Piri-Bazaar. On landing at Enzeli one hears so much of Piri-Bazaar that one gets to imagine it a big, important place,—and as it is, moreover, practically the first really typical Persian place at which one touches, the expectations are high. Upon arrival there one's heart sinks into one's boots, and one's boots sink deep into black stinking mud as one takes a very long—yet much too short—jump from the boat on to what one presumes to be terra firma.
With boots clogged and heavy with filth, a hundred people like ravenous birds of prey yelling in your ears (and picking your pockets if they have a chance), with your luggage being mercilessly dragged in the mud, with everybody demanding backshish on all sides, tapping you on the shoulder or pulling your coat,—thus one lands in real Persia.
In the country of Iran one does not travel for pleasure nor is there any pleasure in travelling. For study and interest, yes. There is plenty of both everywhere.
Personally, I invariably make up my mind when I start for the East that no matter what happens I will on no account get out of temper, and this self-imposed rule—I must admit—was never, in all my travels, tried to the tantalising extent that it was in the country of the Shah. The Persian lower classes—particularly in places where they have come in contact with Europeans—are well-nigh intolerable. There is nothing that they will not do to annoy you in every possible way, to extort backshish from you. In only one way do Persians in this respect differ from other Orientals. The others usually try to obtain money by pleasing you and being useful and polite, whereas the Persian adopts the quicker, if not safer, method of bothering you and giving you trouble to such an unlimited degree that you are compelled to give something in order to get rid of him. And in a country where no redress can be obtained from the police, where laws do not count, and where the lower classes are as corrupt and unscrupulous as they are in the more civilised parts of Persia (these remarks do not apply to the parts where few or no Europeans have been) the only way to save one's self from constant worry and repressed anger—so bad for one's health—is to make up one's mind at once to what extent one is prepared to be imposed upon, and leave the country after. That is to say, if one does not wish to adopt the only other and more attractive alternative of inflicting summary justice on two-thirds of the natives one meets,—too great an exertion, to be sure, in so hot a climate.
They say that Persia is the country that our stock came from. It is quite possible, and if so we are indeed to be congratulated upon having morally improved so much since, or the Persians to be condoled with on their sad degeneration. The better classes, however, are very different, as we shall see later.
Personally, I adopted the first method suggested above, the easier of the two, and I deliberately put by what I thought was a fair sum to be devoted exclusively to extortion. On leaving the country several months later, much to my astonishment I found that I had not been imposed upon half as much as I expected, although I had stayed in Persia double the time I had intended. Maybe this can be accounted for by my having spent most of my time in parts not so much frequented by Europeans. Indeed, if the Persian is to-day the perfidious individual he is, we have to a great extent only ourselves to blame for making him so.
Keeping my temper under control, and an eye on my belongings, I next hired a carriage to convey me to the town of Resht, seven miles distant. In damp heat, that made one's clothes moist and unpleasant, upon a road muddy to such an extent that the wheels sank several inches in it and splashed the passenger all over, we galloped through thick vegetation and patches of agriculture, and entered the city of Resht. Through the narrow winding streets of the bazaar we slowed down somewhat in some places, the carriage almost touching the walls of the street on both sides. The better houses possess verandahs with banisters painted blue, while the walls of the buildings are generally white.
One is struck by the great number of shoe shops in the bazaar, displaying true Persian shoes with pointed turned-up toes,—then by the brass and copper vessel shops, the ancient and extremely graceful shapes of the vessels and amphoras being to this date faithfully preserved and reproduced. More pleasing still to the eye are the fruit shops, with huge trays of water-melons, cucumbers, figs, and heaps of grapes. The latter are, nevertheless, not so very tasty to the palate and do not compare with the delicate flavour of the Italian or Spanish grapes.
Somewhat incongruous and out-of-place, yet more numerous than truly Persian shops, are the semi-European stores, with cheap glass windows displaying inside highly dangerous-looking kerosene lamps, badly put together tin goods, soiled enamel tumblers and plates, silvered glass balls for ceiling decoration, and the vilest oleographs that the human mind can devise, only matched by the vileness of the frames. Small looking-glasses play an important part in these displays, and occasionally a hand sewing-machine. Tinned provisions, wine and liquor shops are numerous, but unfortunate is the man who may have to depend upon them for his food. The goods are the remnants of the oldest stocks that have gradually drifted, unsold, down to Baku, and have eventually been shipped over for the Persian market where people do not know any better. Resht is the chief city in the Ghilan province.
Ghilan's trade in piece-goods is about two-thirds in the hands of Russia, while one-third (or even less) is still retained by England,—Manchester goods. This cannot well be helped, for there is no direct route from Great Britain to Resht, and all British goods must come through Bagdad, Tabriz, or Baku. The two first routes carry most of the trade, which consists principally of shirtings, prints, cambrics, mulls, nainsooks, and Turkey-reds, which are usually put down as of Turkish origin, whereas in reality they come from Manchester, and are merely re-exported, mainly from Constantinople, by native firms either in direct traffic or in exchange for goods received.
One has heard a great deal of the enormous increase in trade in Persia during the last couple of years or so. The increase has not been in the trade itself, but in the collection of Customs dues, which is now done in a regular and business like fashion by competent Belgian officials, instead of by natives, to whom the various collecting stations were formerly farmed out.
It will not be very easy for the British trader to compete successfully with the Russian in northern Persia, for that country, being geographically in such close proximity, can transport her cheaply made goods at a very low cost into Iran. Also the Russian Government allows enormous advantages to her own traders with Persia in order to secure the Persian market, and to develop her fast-increasing industrial progress,—advantages which British traders do not enjoy. Still, considering all the difficulties British trade has to contend with in order to penetrate, particularly into Ghilan, it is extraordinary how some articles, like white Manchester shirtings, enjoy practically a monopoly, being of a better quality than similar goods sent by Russia, Austria, Hungary, Germany, Italy or Holland.
Loaf sugar, which came at one time almost entirely from France, has been cut out by Russian sugar, which is imported in large quantities and eventually finds its way all over Persia. It is of inferior quality, but very much cheaper than sugar of French manufacture, and is the chief Russian import into Ghilan.
Tobacco comes principally from Turkey and Russia. In going on with our drive through the bazaar we see it sold in the tiny tobacco shops, where it is tastily arranged in heaps on square pieces of blue paper, by the side of Russian and Turkish cigarettes.
And now for the Resht Hotels. Here is an Armenian hotel—European style. From the balcony signs and gesticulations and shouts in English, French, and Russian endeavour to attract the passer-by—a youth even rushes to the horses and stops them in order to induce the traveller to alight and put up at the hostelry; but after a long discussion, on we go, and slowly wind our way through the intricate streets crowded with men and women and children—all grumbling and making some remark as one goes by. At one point a circle of people squatting in the middle of a road round a pile of water-melons, at huge slices of which they each bit lustily, kept us waiting some time, till they moved themselves and their melons out of the way for the carriage to pass. Further on a soldier or two in rags lay sleeping flat on the shady side of the road, with his pipe (kalian) and his sword lying by his side. Boys were riding wildly on donkeys and frightened women scrambled away or flattened themselves against the side walls of the street, while the hubs of the wheels shaved and greased their ample black silk or cotton trousers made in the shape of sacks, and the horses' hoofs splashed them all over with mud. The women's faces were covered with a white cloth reaching down to the waist. Here, too, as in China, the double basket arrangement on a long pole swung across the shoulders was much used for conveying loads of fruit and vegetables on men's shoulders;—but least picturesque of all were the well-to-do people of the strong sex, in short frock-coats pleated all over in the skirt.
One gets a glimpse of a picturesque blue-tiled pagoda-like roof with a cylindrical column upon it, and at last we emerge into a large quadrangular square, with European buildings to the west side.
A little further the British flag flies gaily in the wind above H.M.'s Consulate. Then we come upon a larger building, the Palace of the Governor, who, to save himself the trouble and expense of having sentries at the entrances, had life-size representations of soldiers with drawn swords painted on the wall. They are not all represented wearing the same uniform, as one would expect with a guard of that kind, but for variety's sake some have red coats, with plenty of gold braiding on them, and blue trousers, the others blue coats and red trousers. One could not honestly call the building a beautiful one, but in its unrestored condition it is quite picturesque and quaint. It possesses a spacious verandah painted bright blue, and two windows at each side with elaborate ornamentations similarly coloured red and blue. A red-bordered white flag with the national lion in the centre floats over the Palace, and an elaborate castellated archway, with a repetition of the Persian Lion on either side, stands in front of the main entrance in the square of the Palace. So also do four useful kerosene lamp-posts. The telegraph office is to the right of the Palace with a pretty garden in front of it.
The most important political personage living in Resht is His Excellency Salare Afkham, called Mirza Fathollah Khan, one of the richest men in Persia, who has a yearly income of some twenty thousand pounds sterling. He owns a huge house and a great deal of land round Resht, and is much respected for his talent and kindly manner. He was formerly Minister of the Customs and Posts of all Persia, and his chest is a blaze of Russian, Turkish and Persian decorations of the highest class, bestowed upon him by the various Sovereigns in recognition of his good work. He has for private secretary Abal Kassem Khan, the son of the best known of modern Persian poets, Chams-echoera, and himself a very able man who has travelled all over Asia, Turkestan and Europe.
Persia is a country of disappointments. There is a general belief that the Swiss are splendid hotel-keepers. Let me give you my experience of the hotel at Resht kept by a Swiss.
"Can this be the Swiss hotel?" I queried to myself, as the driver pulled up in front of an appallingly dirty flight of steps. There seemed to be no one about, and after going through the greater part of the building, I eventually came across a semi-starved Persian servant, who assured me that it was. The proprietor, when found, received me with an air of condescension that was entertaining. He led me to a room which he said was the best in the house. On inspection, the others, I agreed with him, were decidedly not better. The hotel had twelve bedrooms and they were all disgustingly filthy. True enough, each bedroom had more beds in it than one really needed, two or even three in each bedroom, but a coup-d'oeil was sufficient to assure one's self that it was out of the question to make use of any of them. I counted four different coloured hairs, of disproportionate lengths and texture, on one bed-pillow in my room, leaving little doubt that no less than four people had laid their heads on that pillow before; and the pillow of the other bed was so black with dirt that I should imagine at least a dozen consecutive occupants of that couch would be a low estimate indeed. As for the sheets, blankets, and towels, we had better draw a veil. I therefore preferred to spread my own bedding on the floor, and slept there. The hotel boasted of three large dining-rooms in which a few moth-eaten stuffed birds and a case or two of mutilated butterflies, a couple of German oleographs, which set one's teeth on edge, and dusty, stamped cotton hangings formed the entire decoration.
To give one an appetite—which one never lost as long as one stayed there—one was informed before dinner that the proprietor was formerly the Shah's cook. After dinner one felt very, very sorry for the poor Shah, and more so for one's self, for having put up at the hotel. But there was no other place in Resht, and I stuck to my decision that I would never get angry, so I stood all patiently. The next day I would start for Teheran.
One talks of Persian extortion, but it is nothing to the example offered to the natives by Europeans in Persia. The charges at the hotel were exorbitant. One paid as much per day as one would at the very first hotel in London, New York, or Paris, such as the Carlton, the Waldorf, or Ritz. Only here one got absolutely nothing for it except very likely an infectious disease, as I did. In walking bare-footed on the filthy matting, while taking my bath, some invisible germ bored its way into the sole of my right foot and caused me a good deal of trouble for several weeks after. Animal life in all its varieties was plentiful in all the rooms.
Previous to starting on the long drive to the capital I had to get some meat cooked for use on the road, but it was so putrid that even when I flung it to a famished pariah dog he refused to eat it. And all this, mind you, was inexcusable, because excellent meat, chickens, eggs, vegetables, and fruit, can be purchased in Resht for a mere song, the average price of a good chicken, for instance, being about 5d. to 10d., a whole sheep costing some eight or ten shillings. I think it is only right that this man should be exposed, so as to put other travellers on their guard, not so much for his overcharges, for when travelling one does not mind over-paying if one is properly treated, but for his impudence in furnishing provisions that even a dog would not eat. Had it not been that I had other provisions with me I should have fared very badly on the long drive to Teheran.
It may interest future travellers to know that the building where the hotel was at the time of my visit, August, 1901, has now been taken over for five years by the Russian Bank in order to open a branch of their business in Resht, and that the hotel itself, I believe, has now shifted to even less palatial quarters!
The Imperial Bank of Persia has for some years had a branch in Resht, and until 1901 was the only banking establishment in the town.
Resht—Impostors—A visit to the Head Mullah—Quaint notions—Arrangements for the drive to Teheran—The Russian concession of the Teheran road—The stormy Caspian and unsafe harbours—The great Menzil bridge—A detour in the road—Capital employed in the construction of the road—Mistaken English notions of Russia—Theory and practice—High tolls—Exorbitant fares—A speculator's offer refused—Development of the road.
Resht is an odious place in every way. It is, as it were, the "Port Said" of Persia, for here the scum of Armenia, of Southern Russia, and of Turkestan, stagnates, unable to proceed on the long and expensive journey to Teheran. One cannot go out for a walk without being accosted by any number of impostors, often in European clothes, who cling like leeches and proceed to try to interest you in more or less plausible swindles. One meets a great many people, too, who are on the look out for a "lift" in one's carriage to the Persian capital.
I paid quite an interesting visit to a near relation of the Shah's, who was the guest of the local Head Mullah. The approach to the Mullah's palace was not attractive. I was conveyed through narrow passages, much out of repair, until we arrived in front of a staircase at the foot of which lay in a row, and in pairs, shoes of all sizes, prices, and ages, patiently waiting for their respective owners inside the house. A great many people were outside in the courtyard, some squatting down and smoking a kalian, which was passed round after a puff or two from one person to the other, care being taken by the last smoker to wipe the mouthpiece with the palm of his hand before handing it to his neighbour. Others loitered about and conversed in a low tone of voice.
A Mullah received me at the bottom of the staircase and led me up stairs to a large European-looking room, with glass windows, cane chairs, and Austrian glass candelabras. There were a number of Mullahs in their long black robes, white or green sashes, and large turbans, sitting round the room in a semicircle, and in the centre sat the high Mullah with the young prince by his side. They all rose when I entered, and I was greeted in a dignified yet very friendly manner. A chair was given me next to the high Mullah, and the usual questions about one's family, the vicissitudes of one's journey, one's age, one's plans, the accounts of what one had seen in other countries, were duly gone through.
It was rather curious to notice the interest displayed by the high Mullah in our South African war. He seemed anxious to know whether it was over yet, or when it would be over. Also, how was it that a big nation like Great Britain could not conquer a small nation like the Boers.
"It is easier for an elephant to kill another elephant," I replied, "than for him to squash a mosquito."
"Do you not think," said the Mullah, "that England is now an old nation, tired and worn—too old to fight? Nations are like individuals. They can fight in youth—they must rest in old age. She has lived in glory and luxury too long. Glory and luxury make nations weak. Persia is an example."
"Yes, there is much truth in your sayings. We are tired and worn. We have been and are still fast asleep in consequence. But maybe the day will come when we shall wake up much refreshed. We are old enough to learn, but not to die yet."
He was sorry that England was in trouble.
Tea, or rather sugar with some drops of tea on it was passed, in tiny little glasses with miniature perforated tin spoons. Then another cross-examination.
"Do you drink spirits and wine?"
"Do you smoke?"
"You would make a good Mussulman."
"Possibly, but not probably."
"In your travels do you find the people generally good or bad?"
"Taking things all round, in their badness, I find the people usually pretty good."
"How much does your King give you to go about seeing foreign countries?"
"The King gives me nothing. I go at my own expense."
This statement seemed to take their breath away. It was bad enough for a man to be sent—for a consideration—by his own Government to a strange land, but to pay for the journey one's self, why! it seemed to them too preposterous for words. They had quite an excited discussion about it among themselves, the Persian idea being that every man must sponge upon the Government to the utmost extent.
The young Prince hoped that I would travel as his guest in his carriage to Teheran. Unfortunately, however, I had made other arrangements, and was unable to accept his invitation.
My visit ended with renewed salaams and good wishes on their part for my welfare on the long journey I was about to undertake. I noticed that, with the exception of the Prince, who shook my hand warmly, the Mullahs bowed over and over again, but did not touch my hand.
Now for the business visit at the post station. After a good deal of talk and an unlimited consumption of tea, it had been arranged that a landau with four post horses to be changed every six farsakhs, at each post station, and a fourgon—a large van without springs, also with four horses,—for luggage, should convey me to Teheran. So little luggage is allowed inside one's carriage that an additional fourgon is nearly always required. One is told that large packages can be forwarded at a small cost by the postal service, and that they will reach Teheran soon after the passengers, but unhappy is the person that tries the rash experiment. There is nothing to guarantee him that he will ever see his luggage again. In Persia, a golden rule while travelling, that may involve some loss of time but will avoid endless trouble and worry in the end, is never to let one's luggage go out of sight. One is told that the new Teheran road is a Russian enterprise, and therefore quite reliable, and so it is, but not so the company of transportation, which is in the hands of natives, the firm of Messrs. Bagheroff Brothers, which is merely subsidized by the Russian Road Company.
As every one knows, in 1893 the Russians obtained a concession to construct a carriage-road from Piri-Bazaar via Resht to Kasvin, an extension to Hamadan, and the purchase of the road from Kasvin to Teheran, which was already in existence. Nominally the concession was not granted to the Russian Government itself—as is generally believed in England—but to a private company—the "Compagnie d'Assurance et de Transport en Perse," which, nevertheless, is a mere off-shoot of Government enterprise and is backed by the Russian Government to no mean degree. The Company's headquarters are in Moscow, and in Persia the chief office is at Kasvin.
Here it may be well to add that if this important concession slipped out of our hands we have only ourselves to blame. We can in no way accuse the Russians of taking advantage of us, but can only admire them for knowing how to take advantage of a good opportunity. We had the opportunity first; it was offered us in the first instance by Persia which needed a loan of a paltry sixty million francs, or a little over two million pounds sterling. The concession was offered as a guarantee for the loan, but we, as usual, temporised and thought it over and argued—especially the people who did not know what they were arguing about—and eventually absolutely refused to have anything to do with the scheme. The Russians had the next offer and jumped at it, as was natural in people well versed in Persian affairs, and well able to foresee the enormous possibilities of such an undertaking.
It was, beyond doubt, from the very beginning—except to people absolutely ignorant and mentally blind—that the concession, apart from its political importance, was a most excellent financial investment. Not only would the road be most useful for the transit of Russian goods to the capital of Persia, and from there all over the country, but for military purposes it would prove invaluable. Maybe its use in the latter capacity will be shown sooner than we in England think.
Of course, to complete the scheme the landing at Enzeli must still be improved, so that small ships may enter in safety and land passengers and goods each journey without the unpleasant alternative, which we have seen, of having to return to one's point of departure and begin again, two, or three, or even four times. One gentleman I met in Persia told me that on one occasion the journey from Baku to Enzeli—thirty-six hours—occupied him the space of twenty-six days!
The Caspian is stormy the greater part of the year, the water shallow, no protection from the wind exists on any side, and wrecks, considering the small amount of navigation on that sea, are extremely frequent. As we have seen, there are not more than six feet of water on the bar at Enzeli, but with a jetty which could be built at no very considerable expense (as it probably will be some day) and a dredger kept constantly at work, Enzeli could become quite a possible harbour, and the dangers of long delays and the present risks that await passengers and goods, if not absolutely avoided, would at least be minimised to an almost insignificant degree. The navigation of the lagoon and stream presents no difficulty, and the Russians have already obtained the right to widen the mouth of the Murd-ap at Enzeli, in conjunction with the concession of the Piri-Bazaar-Teheran road.
The road was very easy to make, being mostly over flat country and rising to no great elevation, 5,000 feet being the highest point. It follows the old caravan track nearly all the way, the only important detour made by the new road being between Paichinar and Kasvin, to avoid the high Kharzan or Kiajan pass—7,500 feet—over which the old track went.
Considering the nature of the country it crosses, the new road is a good one and is well kept. Three large bridges and fifty-eight small ones have been spanned across streams and ravines, the longest being the bridge at Menzil, 142 yards long.
From Resht, via Deschambe Bazaar, to Kudum the road strikes due south across country. From Kudum (altitude, 292 feet) to Rudbar (665 feet) the road is practically along the old track on the north-west bank of the Kizil Uzen River, which, from its source flows first in a south-easterly direction, and then turns at Menzil almost at a right angle towards the north-east, changing its name into Sefid Rud (the White River). Some miles after passing Rudbar, the river has to be crossed by the great bridge, to reach Menzil, which lies on the opposite side of the stream.
From Menzil to Kasvin the Russian engineers had slightly more trouble in constructing the road. A good deal of blasting had to be done to make the road sufficiently broad for wheeled traffic; then came the important detour, as we have seen, from Paichinar to Kasvin, so that practically the portion of the road from Menzil to Kasvin is a new road altogether, via Mala Ali and Kuhim, the old track being met again at the village of Agha Baba.
The width of the road averages twenty-one feet. In difficult places, such as along ravines, or where the road had to be cut into the rock, it is naturally less wide, but nowhere under fourteen feet. The gradient averages 1—20 to 1—24. At a very few points, however, it is as steep as 1 in 15. If the hill portion of the road is excepted, where, being in zig-zag, it has very sharp angles, a light railway could be laid upon it in a surprisingly short time and at no considerable expense, the ground having been made very hard nearly all along the road.
The capital of L340,000 employed in the construction of the road was subscribed in the following manner: 1,000 shares of 1,000 rubles each, or 1,000,000 rubles original capital subscribed in Moscow; 1,000,000 rubles debentures taken by the Russian Government, and a further 500,000 rubles on condition that 700,000 rubles additional capital were subscribed, which was at once done principally by the original shareholders.
The speculation had from the very beginning a prospect of being very successful, even merely considered as a trade route—a prospect which the British Government, capitalist, and merchant did not seem to grasp, but which was fully appreciated by the quicker and more far-seeing Russian official and trader. Any fair-minded person cannot help admiring the Russian Government for the insight, enterprise and sound statesmanship with which it lost no time in supporting the scheme (discarded by us as worthless), and this it did, not by empty-winded, pompous speeches and temporising promises, to which we have so long been accustomed, but by supplying capital in hard cash, for the double purpose of enhancing to its fullest extent Russian trade and of gaining the strategic advantages of such an enterprise, which are too palpable to be referred to again.
So it was, that while we in England relied on the everlasting and ever-idiotic notion that Russia would never have the means to take up the loan, being—as we are told—a bankrupt country with no resources, and a Government with no credit and no cash,—that we found ourselves left (and laughed at), having lost an opportunity which will never present itself again, and which will eventually cost us the loss of Northern Persia, if not of the whole of Persia.
Russia—it is only too natural—having once set her foot, or even both feet, on Persian soil, now tries to keep out other nations—which, owing to her geographical position, she can do with no effort and no trouble—in order to enhance her youthful but solid and fast-growing industries and trade.
In the case of the Teheran road, the only one, it must be remembered, leading with any safety to the Persian capital, it is theoretically open to all nations. Practically, Russian goods alone have a chance of being conveyed by this route, owing to the prohibitive Customs duties exacted in Russia on foreign goods in transit for Persia. Russia is already indirectly reaping great profits through this law, especially on machinery and heavy goods that have no option and must be transported by this road. There is no other way by which they can reach Teheran on wheels. But the chief and more direct profit of the enterprise itself is derived from the high tolls which the Russian Company, with the authorisation of the Persian Government, has established on the road traffic, in order to reimburse the capital paid out and interest to shareholders.
The road tolls are paid at Resht (and at intermediate stations if travellers do not start from Resht), and amount to 4 krans == 1s. 8d. for each pack animal, whether it be a camel, a horse, a mule, or a donkey.
A post-carriage with four horses (the usual conveyance hired between Resht and Teheran) pays a toll of no less than 17s. 2d.
s. d. A carriage with 3 horses 12 6 " " 2 " 8 4 " " 1 horse 4 2 A fourgon, or luggage van, 4 horses, L1 0s. 10d.
Passengers are charged extra and above these tolls, so that a landau or a victoria, for instance, actually pays L1 8s. for the right of using the road, and a fourgon with one's servants, as much as L1 13s. 2d.
The fares for the hire of the conveyance are very high:—
L s. d. Landau 11 16 7 Victoria 10 16 7 Coupe 11 4 10 Fourgon 10 0 10
As only 72 lbs. of personal luggage are allowed in the landau or 65 lbs. in other carriages, and this weight must be in small packages, one is compelled to hire a second conveyance, a fourgon, which can carry 650 lbs. Every pound exceeding these weights is charged for at the rate of two shillings for every 131/2 lbs. of luggage. The luggage is weighed with great accuracy before starting from Resht, and on arrival in Teheran. Care is taken to exact every half-penny to which the company is entitled on luggage fares, and much inconvenience and delay is caused by the Persian officials at the scales. It is advisable for the traveller to be present when the luggage is weighed, to prevent fraud.
It may be noticed that to travel the 200 miles, the distance from Resht to Teheran, the cost, without counting incidental expenses, tips (amounting to some L3 or more), etc.,
L s. d. L s. d. L s. d. Landau, 11 16 7 plus toll, 1 8 0 13 4 7 Fourgon, 10 0 10 plus toll, 1 13 2 11 14 0 —————— Total L24 18 7
which is somewhat high for a journey of only 72 to 80 hours.
This strikes one all the more when one compares it with the journey of several thousand miles in the greatest of luxury from London across Holland, Germany, Russia, and the Caspian to Enzeli, which can be covered easily by three five-pound notes.
As every one knows, the road from Piri-Bazaar to Kasvin and Teheran was opened for wheel traffic in January 1899.
I am told that in 1899—before the road was completed—a Persian speculator offered the sum of L200 a day to be paid in cash every evening, for the contract of the tolls. The offer was most emphatically refused, as the daily tolls even at that time amounted to between L270 and L300.
In these last three years the road has developed in a most astounding manner, and the receipts, besides being now considerably greater, are constantly increasing. The Russian shareholders and Government can indeed fairly congratulate themselves on the happy success which their well-thought-out investment has fairly won them.
A journey by landau and four—Picturesque coachman—Tolls—Intense moisture—Luxuriant vegetation—Deschambe Bazaar—The silk industry of Ghilan—The cultivation and export of rice—The Governor's energy—Agriculture and Allah—The water question—The coachman's backshish—The White River—Olive groves—Halting places on the road—The effects of hallucination—Princes abundant.
We have seen how the road was made. Now let us travel on it in the hired landau and four horses driven by a wild-looking coachman, whose locks of jet-black hair protrude on either side of his clean-shaven neck, and match in colour his black astrakan, spherical, brimless headgear. Like all good Persians, he has a much pleated frockcoat that once was black and is now of various shades of green. Over it at the waist he displays a most elaborate silver belt, and yet another belt of leather with a profusion of cartridges stuck in it and a revolver.
Why he did not run over half-a-dozen people or more as we galloped through the narrow streets of Resht town is incomprehensible to me, for the outside horses almost shaved the walls on both sides, and the splash-boards of the old landau ditto.
That he did not speaks volumes for the flexibility and suppleness of Persian men, women and children, of whom, stuck tight against the walls in order to escape being trampled upon or crushed to death, one got mere glimpses, at the speed one went.
The corners of the streets, too, bore ample testimony to the inaccuracy of drivers in gauging distances, and so did the hubs and splash-boards of the post-carriages, all twisted and staved in by repeated collisions.
It is with great gusto on the part of the drivers, but with a certain amount of alarm on the part of the passenger, that one's carriage chips off corner after corner of the road as one turns them, and one gets to thank Providence for making houses in Persia of easily-powdered mud instead of solid stone or bricks.
One's heart gets lighter when we emerge into the more sparsely inhabited districts where fields and heavy vegetation line the road, now very wide and more or less straight. Here the speed is greatly increased, the coachman making ample use of a long stock whip. In Persia one always travels full gallop.
After not very long we pull up to disburse the road toll at a wayside collecting house. There are a great many caravans waiting, camels, mules, donkeys, horsemen, fourgons, whose owners are busy counting hard silver krans in little piles of 10 krans each—a toman, equivalent to a dollar,—without which payment they cannot proceed. Post carriages have precedence over everybody, and we are served at once. A receipt is duly given for the money paid, and we are off again. The coachman is the cause of a good deal of anxiety, for on the chance of a handsome backshish he has indulged in copious advance libations of rum or votka, or both, the vapours of which are blown by the wind into my face each time that he turns round and breathes or speaks. That this was a case of the horses leading the coachman and not of a man driving the horses, I have personally not the shade of a doubt, for the wretch, instead of minding his horses, hung backwards, the whole way, from the high box, yelling, I do not know what, at the top of his voice, and making significant gestures that he was still thirsty. Coachmen of all countries invariably are.
We ran full speed into caravans of donkeys, scattering them all over the place; we caused flocks of frightened sheep to stampede in all directions, and only strings of imperturbable camels succeeded in arresting our reckless flight, for they simply would not move out of the way. Every now and then I snatched a furtive glance at the scenery.
The moisture of the climate is so great and the heat so intense, that the vegetation of the whole of Ghilan province is luxuriant,—but not picturesque, mind you. There is such a superabundance of vegetation, the plants so crammed together, one on the top of the other, as it were, all untidy, fat with moisture, and of such deep, coarse, blackish-green tones that they give the scenery a heavy leaden appearance instead of the charming beauty of more delicate tints of less tropical vegetation.
We go through Deschambe Bazaar, a place noted for its fairs.
Here you have high hedges of reeds and hopelessly entangled shrubs; there your eyes are rested on big stretches of agriculture,—Indian corn, endless paddy fields of rice and cotton, long rows of mulberry trees to feed silkworms upon their leaves. Silk is even to-day one of the chief industries of Ghilan. Its excellent quality was at one time the pride of the province. The export trade of dried cocoons has been particularly flourishing of late, and although prices and the exchanges have fluctuated, the average price obtained for them in Resht when fresh was from 201/2 krans to 221/2 krans (the kran being equivalent to about fivepence).
The cocoon trade had until recently been almost entirely in the hands of Armenian, French and Italian buyers in Resht, but now many Persian merchants have begun to export bales of cocoons direct to Marseilles and Milan, the two chief markets for silk, an export duty of 5 per cent. on their value being imposed on them by the Persian Government. The cocoons are made to travel by the shortest routes, via the Caspian, Baku, Batum, and the Black Sea.
The year 1900 seems to have been an exceptionally good year for the production and export of cocoons. The eggs for the production of silkworms are chiefly imported by Levantines from Asia Minor (Gimlek and Brussa), and also in small quantities from France. According to the report of Mr. Churchill, Acting-Consul at Resht, the quantity of cocoons exported during that year showed an increase of some 436,800 lbs. above the quantity exported the previous year (1899); and a comparison between the quantity exported in 1893 and 1900 will show at a glance the enormous apparent increase in the export of dried cocoons from Ghilan.
1893 76,160 lbs. Value L6,475 1900 1,615,488 " " L150,265
It must, however, be remembered that the value given for 1893 may be very incorrect.
Large meadows with cattle grazing upon them; wheat fields, vegetables of all sorts, vineyards, all pass before my eyes as in a kaleidoscope. A fine country indeed for farmers. Plenty of water—even too much of it,—wood in abundance within a stone's throw.
Next to the silk worms, rice must occupy our attention, being the staple food of the natives of Ghilan and constituting one of the principal articles of export from that province.
The cultivation and the export of rice from Ghilan have in the last thirty years become very important, and will no doubt be more so in the near future, when the mass of jungle and marshes will be cleared and converted into cultivable land. The Governor-General of Resht is showing great energy in the right direction by cutting new roads and repairing old ones on all sides, which ought to be of great benefit to the country.
In Persia, remember, it is not easy to learn anything accurately. And as for Persian statistics, unwise is the man who attaches any importance to them. Much as I would like to quote statistics, I cannot refrain from thinking that no statistics are a hundredfold better than slip-shod, haphazard, inaccurate ones. And this rule I must certainly apply to the export of rice from Ghilan to Europe, principally Russia, during 1900, and will limit myself to general remarks.
Extensive tracts of country have been cleared of reeds and useless vegetation, and converted into paddy fields, the natives irrigating the country in a primitive fashion.
It is nature that is mostly responsible if the crops are not ruined year after year, the thoughtless inhabitants, with their natural laziness, doing little more than praying Allah to give them plenty of rain, instead of employing the more practical if more laborious expedient of artificially irrigating their country in some efficient manner, which they could easily do from the streams close at hand. Perhaps, in addition to this, the fact that water—except rain-water—has ever to be purchased in Persia, may also account to a certain extent for the inability to afford paying for it. In 1899, for instance, rain failed to come and the crops were insufficient even for local consumption, which caused the population a good deal of suffering. But 1900, fortunately, surpassed all expectations, and was an excellent year for rice as well as cocoons.
We go through thickly-wooded country, then through a handsome forest, with wild boars feeding peacefully a few yards from the road. About every six farsakhs—or twenty-four miles—the horses of the carriage, and those of the fourgon following closely behind, are changed at the post-stations, as well as the driver, who leaves us, after carefully removing his saddle from the box and the harness of the horses. He has to ride back to his point of departure with his horses. He expects a present of two krans,—or more if he can get it—and so does the driver of the fourgon. Two krans is the recognised tip for each driver, and as one gets some sixteen or seventeen for each vehicle,—thirty-two or thirty-four if you have two conveyances,—between Resht and Teheran, one finds it quite a sufficient drain on one's exchequer.
As one gets towards Kudum, where one strikes the Sefid River, we begin to rise and the country gets more hilly and arid. We gradually leave behind the oppressive dampness, which suggests miasma and fever, and begin to breathe air which, though very hot, is drier and purer. We have risen 262 feet at Kudum from 77 feet, the altitude of Resht, and as we travel now in a south-south-west direction, following the stream upwards, we keep getting higher, the elevation at Rustamabad being already 630 feet. We leave behind the undulating ground, covered with thick forests, and come to barren hills, that get more and more important as we go on. We might almost say that the country is becoming quite mountainous, with a few shrubs here and there and scenery of moderate beauty, (for any one accustomed to greater mountains), but quite "wildly beautiful" for the ordinary traveller. We then get to the region of the grey olive groves, the trees with their contorted, thickly-set branches and pointed leaves. What becomes of the olives? They are exported to Europe,—a flourishing trade, I am told.
One bumps a great deal in the carriage, for the springs are not "of the best," and are hidden in rope bandages to keep them from falling apart. The road, too, is not as yet like a billiard table. The doors of the landau rattle continuously, the metal fastenings having long disappeared, and being replaced by bits of string.
One travels incessantly, baked in the sun by day and chilled by the cold winds at night, trying to get a little sleep with one's head dangling over the side of the carriage, one's legs cramped, and all one's bones aching. But this is preferable to stopping at any of the halting-places on the road, whether Russian or Persian, which are filthy beyond words, and where one is mercilessly swindled. Should one, however, be compelled to stop anywhere it is preferable to go to a thoroughly Persian place, where one meets at least with more courtesy, and where one is imposed upon in a more modest and less aggressive way than at the Russian places. It must, however, be stated that the Russian places are usually in charge of over-zealous Persians, or else in the hands of inferior Russian subjects, who try to make all they can out of their exile in the lonely stations.
I occasionally halted for a glass of tea at the Persian Khafe-Khanas, and in one of them a very amusing incident happened, showing the serious effects that hallucination may produce on a weak-minded person.
I had got off the carriage and had carried into the khafe-khana my camera, and also my revolver in its leather case which had been lying on the seat of the carriage. At my previous halt, having neglected this precaution, my camera had been tampered with by the natives, the lenses had been removed, and the eighteen plates most of them already with pictures on them—that were inside, exposed to the light and thrown about, with their slides, in the sand. So to avoid a repetition of the occurrence, and to prevent a probable accident, I brought all into the khafe-khana room and deposited the lot on the raised mud portion along the wall, seating myself next to my property. I ordered tea, and the attendant, with many salaams, explained that his fire had gone out, but that if I would wait a few minutes he would make me some fresh chah. I consented. He inquired whether the revolver was loaded, and I said it was. He proceeded to the further end of the room, where, turning his back to me, he began to blow upon the fire, and I, being very thirsty, sent another man to my fourgon to bring me a bottle of soda-water. The imprisoned gases of the soda, which had been lying for the whole day in the hot sun, had so expanded that when I removed the wire the cork went off with a loud report and unfortunately hit the man in the shoulder blade. By association of ideas he made so certain in his mind that it was the revolver that had gone off that he absolutely collapsed in a semi-faint, under the belief that he had been badly shot. He moaned and groaned, trying to reach with his hand what he thought was the wounded spot, and called for his son as he felt he was about to die. We supported him, and gave him some water and reassured him, but he had turned as pale as death.
"What have I done to you that you kill me?" he moaned pitifully.
"But, good man, you have no blood flowing,—look!"
A languid, hopeless glance at the ground, where he had fallen and sure enough, he could find no blood. He tried to see the wound, but his head could not revolve to a sufficiently wide arc of a circle to see his shoulder-blade, so in due haste we removed his coat and waistcoat and shirt, and after slow, but careful, keen examination, he discovered that not only there were no marks of flowing blood, but no trace whatever of a bullet hole in any of his garments. Even then he was not certain, and two small mirrors were sent for, which, by the aid of a sympathising friend, he got at proper angles minutely to survey his whole back.
He eventually recovered, and was able to proceed with the brewing of tea, which he served with terribly trembling hand on the rattling saucer under the tiny little glass.
"It was a very narrow escape from death, sahib," he said in a wavering voice—"for it might have been the revolver."
There is nothing like backshish in Persia to heal all wounds, whether real or otherwise, and he duly received an extra handsome one.
In Persia the traveller is particularly struck by the number of Princes one encounters on the road. This is to a certain extent to be accounted for by the fact that the word khan which follows a great many Persian names has been translated, mainly by flattering French authors, into the majestic but incorrect word "Prince." In many cases the suffix of khan is an equivalent of Lord, but in most cases it is no more than our nominal "Esquire."
I met on the road two fellows, one old and very dignified; the other young, and who spoke a little French. He informed me that they were both Princes. He called his friend "Monsieur le Prince, mon ami," and himself "Monsieur le Prince, moi!" which was rather amusing. He informed me that he was a high Customs official, and displayed towards his fellow countrymen on the road a great many qualities that revealed a very mean native indeed.
The elder one wore carpet slippers to which he had attached—I do not know how—an enormous pair of golden spurs! He was now returning from Russia. He was extremely gentleman-like and seemed very much annoyed at the behaviour of his companion. He begged me to believe that not all men in Persia were like his friend, and I quite agreed with him.
We travelled a great portion of the road together, and the old fellow was extremely civil. He was very well informed on nearly all subjects, and had belonged to the army. He pointed out to me the important sights on the road, such as Mount Janja (7,489 ft.) to the East.
After passing Rudbar (665 ft.) the road is mostly in narrow gorges between mountains. It is rocky and arid, with hardly any vegetation. The river has to be crossed by the new bridge, a handsome and solid structure, and we arrive at the village of Menjil or Menzil. The Russian station-house is the most prominent structure. Otherwise all is desert and barren. Grey and warm reddish tints abound in the dried-up landscape, and only a few stunted olive groves relieve the scenery with some vegetable life.
Menzil and the winds—The historical Alamut mountain—A low plateau—Volcanic formation—Mol-Ali—A genuine case of smallpox—Characteristic sitting posture—A caravan of mules—Rugged country—The remains of a volcanic commotion—The old track—Kasvin, the city of misfortunes—The Governor's palace and palatial rest house—Earthquakes and famine—Kanats, the marvellous aqueducts—How they are made—Manufactures—Kasvin strategically.
Perhaps Menzil should be mentioned in connection with the terrific winds which, coming from the north-east and from the south, seem to meet here, and blow with all their might at all times of the year. The traveller is particularly exposed to them directly above the river course on crossing the bridge. Menzil is celebrated for these winds, which are supposed to be the worst, in all Persia, but unpleasant as they may be to any one who has not experienced worse, they are merely gentle breezes as compared, for instance, with the wind storms of the Tibetan plateau. To the east there is a very mountainous region, the Biwarzin Yarak range, or Kuse-rud, averaging from 6,000 to 7,000 ft.; further north a peak of 7,850 ft., and south-west of the Janja, 7,489 ft., the high Salambar, 11,290 ft. On the historical Mt. Alamut the old state prisons were formerly to be found, but were afterwards removed to Ardebil.