AROUND THE WORLD ON A BICYCLE
From Teheran To Yokohama
By Thomas Stevens
CHAPTER I. PAGE THE START FROM TEHERAN, ........ 1
CHAPTER II. PERSIA AND THE MESHED PILGRIM ROAD, ...... 34
CHAPTER III. PERSIA AND THE MESHED PILGRIM ROAD,...... 43
CHAPTER IV. THROUGH KHORASSAN,.......... 65
CHAPTER V. MESHED THE HOLY,.......... 84
CHAPTER VI. THE UNBEATEN TRACKS Of KHORASSAN,...... 109
CHAPTER VII. BEERJAND AND THE FRONTIER OF AFGHANISTAN, .. .. 135
CHAPTER VIII ACROSS THE "DESERT OF DESPAIR,"....... 160
CHAPTER IX. AFGHANISTAN,............ 181
CHAPTER X. ARRESTED AT FURRAH,......... 197
CHAPTER XI. UNDER ESCORT TO HERAT,......... 209
CHAPTER XII. TAKEN BACK TO PERSIA,......... 230
CHAPTER XIII. ROUNDABOUT TO INDIA,...... 255
CHAPTER XIV. THROUGH INDIA,........... 284
CHAPTER XV. DELHI AND AGRA,.......... 809
CHAPTER XVI. FROM AGRA TO SINGAPORE,........ 833
CHAPTER XVII. THROUGH CHINA,........... 365
CHAPTER XVIII. DOWN THE KAN-KIANG VALLEY,........ 400
CHAPTER XIX. THROUGH JAPAN,............ 432
CHAPTER XX. THE HOME STRETCH,.......... 451
CAMBRIDGE, MASS., April 10, 1887.
FROM TEHERAN TO YOKOHAMA.
THE START FROM TEHERAN.
The season of 1885-86 has been an exceptionally mild winter in the Persian capital. Up to Christmas the weather was clear and bracing, sufficiently cool to be comfortable in the daytime, and with crisp, frosty weather at night. The first snow of the season commenced falling while a portion of the English colony were enjoying a characteristic Christmas dinner of roast-beef and plum-pudding, at the house of the superintendent of the Indo-European Telegraph Station, and during January and February, snow-storms, cold and drizzling rains alternated with brief periods of clearer weather. When the sun shines from a cloudless sky in Teheran, its rays are sometimes uncomfortably warm, even in midwinter; a foot of snow may have clothed the city and the surrounding plain in a soft, white mantle during the night, but, asserting his supremacy on the following morning, he will unveil the gray nakedness of the stony plain again by noon. The steadily retreating snow line will be driven back-back over the undulating foot-hills, and some little distance up the rugged slopes of the Elburz range, hard by, ere he retires from view in the evening, rotund and fiery. This irregular snow-line has been steadily losing ground, and retreating higher and higher up the mountain-slopes during the latter half of February, and when March is ushered in, with clear sunny weather, and the mud begins drying up and the various indications of spring begin to put in their appearance, I decide to make a start. Friends residing here who have been mentioning April 15th as the date I should be justified in thinking the unsettled weather at an end and pulling out eastward again, agree, in response to my anxious inquiries, that it is an open spell of weather before the regular spring rains, that may possibly last until I reach Meshed.
During the winter I have examined, as far as circumstances have permitted, the merits and demerits of the different routes to the Pacific Coast, and have decided upon going through Turkestan and Southern Siberia to the Amoor Valley, and thence either follow down the valley to Vladivostok or strike across Mongolia to Pekin—the latter route by preference, if upon reaching Irkutsk I find it to be practicable; if not practicable, then the Amoor Valley route from necessity. This route I approve of, as it will not only take me through some of the most interesting country in Asia, but will probably be a more straightaway continuous land-journey than any other. The distance from Teheran to Vladivostok is some six thousand miles, and, well aware that six thousand miles with a bicycle over Asiatic roads is a task of no little magnitude, I at once determine upon taking advantage of the fair March weather to accomplish at least the first six hundred miles of the journey between Teheran and Meshed, one of the holy cities of Persia.
The bicycle is in good trim, my own health is splendid, my experience of nearly eight thousand miles of straightaway wheeling over the roads of three continents ought to count for something, and it is with every confidence of accomplishing my undertaking without serious misadventure that I set about making my final preparations to start. The British Charge d'Affaires gives me a letter to General Melnikoff, the Russian Minister at the Shah's court, explaining the nature and object of my journey, and asking him to render me whatever assistance he can to get through, for most of the proposed route lies through Russian territory. Among my Teheran friends is Mr. M———, a lively, dapper little telegraphist, who knows three or four different languages, and who never seems happier than when called upon to act the part of interpreter for friends about him.
Among other distinguishing qualities, Mr. M———shines in Teheran society as the only Briton with sufficient courage to wear a chimney-pot hat. Although the writer has seen the "stove-pipe" of the unsuspecting tenderfoot from the Eastern States made short work of in a far Western town, and the occurrence seemed scarcely to be out of place there, I little expected to find popular sentiment running in the same warlike groove, and asserting itself in the same destructive manner in the little English community at Teheran. Such, however, is the grim fact, and I have ventured to think that after this there is no disputing the common destiny of us Anglo-Saxons, whatever clime, country, or government may at present claim us as its own. Having seen this unfortunate headgear of our venerable and venerated forefathers shot as full of holes as a colander in the West, I come to the East only to find it subjected to similar indignities here. I happen to be present at the wanton destruction of Mr. M———'s second or third importation from England, see it taken ruthlessly from his head, thrust through and through with a sword-stick, and then made to play the unhappy and undignified part of a football so long as there is anything left to kick at. More than our common language, methinks—more than common customs and traditions—more than all those characteristic traits that distinguish us in common, and at the same time also distinguish us from all other peoples—more than anything else, does this mutual spirit of destructiveness, called into play by the sight of a stove-pipe hat, prove the existence of a strong, resistless undercurrent of sympathy that is carrying the most distant outposts of Anglo-Saxony merrily down the stream of time together, to some particular end; perchance a glorious end, perchance an ignominious end, but certainly to an end that will not wear a stove-pipe hat.
Mr. M———'s linguistic accomplishments include a fair knowledge of Russian, and he readily accompanies me to the Russian Legation to interpret. The Russian Legation is situated down in the old Oriental quarter (birds of a feather, etc.) of the city, and, for us at least, necessitated the employment of a guide to find it. On the way down, Mr. M———, who prides himself on a knowledge of Russian character, impresses upon me his assurance that General Melnikoff will turn out to be a nice, pleasant sort of a gentleman. "All the better-class Russians are delightfully jolly and agreeable, much more agreeable to have dealings with than the same class of people of any other country," he says, and with these favorable comments we reach the legation and send up my letter. After waiting what we both consider an unnecessarily long time in the vestibule, a full-faced, sensual-looking, or, in other words, well-to-do Persian-looking individual, in the full costume of a Persian nobleman, comes out, bearing my letter unopened in his hand. Bestowing upon us a barely perceptible nod, he walks straight on past, jumps into a carriage at the door, and is driven off.
Mr. M———looks nonplussed at me, and I suppose I looked equally nonplussed at him; anyhow, he proceeds to relieve his feelings in language anything but complimentary to the Russian Minister. He's the—well, I've met scores of Russians, but—him, queer! I never saw a Russian act half as queer as this before, never!"
"Small prospect of getting any assistance from this quarter," I suggest.
"Seems deucedly like it," assents Mr. M———. "I said, just now, that, being a Russian, he was sure to be courteous and agreeable, if nothing else; but it seems as if there are exceptions to this rule as to others;" and, talking together, we try to find consolation in the thought that he may be merely eccentric, and turn out a very good sort of fellow after all. While thus commenting, a liveried servant presents himself and motions for us to follow him in the wake of the departing carriage. Following his guidance a short distance through the streets, he leads us into the court-yard of a splendid Persian mansion, delivers us into the charge of another liveried servant, who conducts us up a broad flight of marble stairs, at the top of which he delivers us into the hands of yet a third flunky, who now escorts us into the most gorgeously mirrored room it has ever been my fortune to see. The apartment is perfectly dazzling in its glittering splendor; the floor is of highly polished marble, the walls consist of mirror-work entirely, as also does the lofty, domed ceiling; not plain, large squares of looking-glass, but mirrored surfaces of all shapes and sizes, pitched at every conceivable angle, form niches, panels, and geometrical designs—yet each separate piece plays well its part in working out the harmonious and decidedly pretty effect of the whole. All the furniture the large apartment boasts is a crimson-and-gold divan or two, a few strips of rich carpet, and an ebony stand-table, inlaid with mother-of-pearl; but suspended from the ceiling are several magnificent cut-glass chandeliers. At night, when these Persian mirrored rooms are lit up, they present a scene of barbaric splendor well calculated to delight the eye of the sumptuous Oriental; every tiny square of glass reflects a point of light, and every larger one reproduces a chandelier; for every lamp he lights, the Persian voluptuary finds himself surrounded by a thousand.
Seated on a divan toward one end of this splendid room, with an open box of cigarettes before him, is the man who a few minutes ago passed us by on the other side and drove off in his carriage. Offering us cigarettes, he bids us be seated, and then, in very fair English (for he has once been Persian Minister to England), introduces himself as "Nasr-i-Mulk," the Shah's Minister for Foreign Affairs; the same gentleman, it will be remembered, to whom I was introduced on the morning of my appearance before the Shah. (Vol. I.) I readily recognize him now, and he recognizes me, and asks me when I am going to leave Teheran; but in the gloomy vestibule of the other palace, my own memory of his face and figure was certainly at fault. It turns out, after all, that the wretch whom we paid to guide us to the Russian Legation, in his ignorance guided us into the Persian Foreign Office.
"I knew—yes, dash it all! I knew he wasn't the Russian Minister the moment I saw him," says Mr. M———as we take our departure from the glittering room. His confidence in his knowledge of Russian character, which a moment ago had dropped down to zero, revives wonderfully upon discovering our ludicrous mistake, and, small as he is, it is all I can do to keep up with him as we follow the guide Nasr-i-Mulk has kindly sent to show us to the Russian Legation. A few minutes' walk brings us to our destination, where we find, in the person of General Melnikoff, a gentleman possessing the bland and engaging qualities of a good diplomatist in a most eminent degree.
"Which is Mr. Stevens?" he exclaims, with something akin to enthusiasm, as he advances almost to the door to meet us, his face fairly beaming with pleasure; and, grasping me warmly by the hand, he proceeds to express his great satisfaction at meeting a person, who had "made so wonderful a journey," etc., etc., and etc. Never did Mr. Pickwick beam more pleasantly at the deaf gentleman, or regard more benignantly Master Humphrey's clock, than the Russian Minister regards the form and features of one whom, he says, he feels "honored to meet." For several minutes we discuss, through the medium of Mr. M———, my journey from San Francisco to Teheran, and its proposed continuation to the Pacific; and during the greater part, of the interview General Melnikoff holds me quite affectionately by the hand. "Wonderful!" he says, "wonderful! nobody ever made half such a remarkable journey; my whole heart will go with you until your journey is completed."
Mr. M———looks on and interprets between us, with a fixed and confident didn't-I-tell-you-so smile, that forms a side study of no mean quality. "There will be no trouble about getting permission to go through Turkestan?" I feel constrained to inquire; for such excessive display of affection and bonhommie on the Russian diplomat's part could scarce fail to arouse suspicions. "Oh dear, no!" he replies. "Oh dear, no! I will telegraph to General Komaroff, at Askabad, to remove all obstacles, so that nothing shall interfere with your progress." Having received this positive assurance, we take our leave, Mr. M———-reminding me gleefully of what he had said about the Russians being the most agreeable people on earth, and the few remaining clouds of doubt about getting the road through Turkestan happily dissipated by the Russian Minister's assurances of assistance.
Searching through the bazaar, I succeed, after some little trouble, in finding and purchasing a belt-full of Russian gold, sufficient to carry me clear through to Japan; and on the morning of March 10th I bid farewell to the Persian capital, well satisfied at the outlook ahead. While packing up my traps on the evening before starting, it begins raining for the first time in ten days; but it clears off again before midnight, and the morning opens bright and promising as ever. Six members of the telegraph staff have determined to accompany me out to Katoum-abad, the first chapar-station on the Meshed pilgrim road, a distance of seven farsakhs. "Hodge-podge," the cook, and Meshedi Ali, the gholam, were sent ahead yesterday with plenty of substantial refreshments and sun-dry mysterious black bottles—for it is the intention of the party to remain at Katoum-abad overnight, and give me a proper send-off from that point to-morrow morning.
Some little delay is occasioned by a difficulty in meeting the fastidious tastes of some of the party as regards saddle-horses; but there is no particular hurry, and ten o'clock finds me bowling briskly through the suburbs toward the Doshan Tepe gate, with four Englishmen, an Irishman, and a Welshman cantering merrily along on horseback behind.
"Khuda rail pak Kumad!" (May God sweep your road!), All Akbar had exclaimed as I mounted at the door, and as we pass through the city gate the old sentinel, when told that I am at last starting on the promised journey to Meshed on the asp-i-awhan, supplements this with "Padaram daromad!" (My father has come out!), a Persian metaphorical exclamation, signifying that such wonderful news has had the effect of calling his father from the grave.
The weather has changed again since early morning; it is evidently in a very fitful and unsettled mood; the gray clouds are swirling in confusion about the white summit of Demavend as we emerge on the level plain outside the ramparts, and fleecy fugitives are scudding southward in wild haste. Imperfect but ridable donkey-trails follow the dry moat around to the Meshed road, which takes a straight course southeastward from the city and is seen in the distance ahead, leading over a sloping pass, a depression in the Doshan Tepe spur of the Elburz range. The road near the city is now in better condition for wheeling than at any other time of the year; the daily swarms of pack-animals bringing produce into Teheran have trodden it smooth and hard during the ten days' continuous fine weather, while it has not been dry sufficiently long to develop into dust, as it does later in the season. Our road is level and good for something over a farsakh, after which comes the rising ground leading gently upward to the pass. The gradient is sufficiently gentle to be ridable for some little distance, when it becomes too rocky and steep, and I have to dismount and trundle to the summit. The summit of the pass is only about nine miles from the city walls, and we pause a minute to investigate a bottle of homemade wine from the private cellar of Mr. North, one of our party, and to allow me to take a farewell glance at Teheran, and the many familiar objects round about, ere riding down the eastern slope and out of sight.
Teheran is in semi-obscurity beneath the same hazy veil observed when first approaching it from the west, and which always seems to hover over it. This haziness is not sufficiently pronounced to hide any conspicuous building, and each familiar object in the city is plainly visible from the commanding summit of the pass. The different gates of the city, each with its little cluster of bright-tiled minars, trace at a glance the size and contour of the outer ditch and wall; the large framework of the pavilion beneath which the Shah gives his annual tazzia (representation of the religious tragedy of Hussein and Hassan), denuded of its canvas covering, suggests from this distance the naked ribs of some monster skeleton. The square towers of the royal anderoon—which the Shah professes to believe is the tallest dwelling-house in the world—loom conspicuously skyward above the mass of indefinable mud buildings and walls that characterize the habitations of humbler folk, but perhaps happier on the whole than the fair occupants of that seven-storied gilded prison.
Hundreds of women-wives, concubines, slaves, and domestics are understood to be dwelling within these palace walls in charge of sable eunuchs, and the fate of any female whose bump of discretion in an evil moment fails her, is to be hurled headlong from the summit of one of the anderoon towers—such, at least, is the popular belief in Teheran; it may or may not be an exaggeration. Some even assert that the Shah's chief object in building the anderoon so high was to have the certainty of this awful doom ever present before its numerous inmates, the more easily to keep them in a submissive frame of mind. Off to the right, below our position, is the Doshan Tepe palace, a memorable spot for me, where I had the satisfaction of first introducing bicycle-riding to the notice of the Persian monarch. Off to the left, the Parsee "tower of silence" is observed perched among the lonely gray hills far from human habitation or any traversed road; on a grating fixed in the top of this tower, the Guebre population of Teheran deposit their dead, in order that the carrion-crows and the vultures may pick the carcass clean before they deposit the whitened bones in the body of the tower.
Having duly investigated the bottle of wine and noticed these few familiar objects, we all remount and begin the descent. It is a gentle declivity from top to bottom, and ridable the whole distance, save where an occasional washout or other small obstacle compels a dismount. The wind is likewise favorable, and from the top of the pass the bicycle outdistances the horsemen, except two who are riding exceptionally good nags and make a special effort to keep up; and at two o'clock we arrive at Katoum-abad. Katoum-abad consists of a small mud village and a half-ruined brick caravansarai; in one of the rooms of the latter we find "Hodge-podge" and Me-shedi Ali, with an abundance of roast chickens, cold mutton, eggs, and the before-mentioned mysterious black bottles.
The few Persian travellers in the caravansarai and the villagers come flocking around as usual to worry me about riding the bicycle, but the servants drive them away in short order. "We want to see the sahib ride the aap-i-awhan," they explain,-no doubt thinking their request most natural and reasonable. "The sahib won't let you see it, nor ride on it this evening," reply the servants; and, given to understand that we won't put up with their importunities, they worry us no more. "Oh, that I could get rid of them thus readily always!" I mentally exclaim; for I feel instinctively that the farther east I get, the more wretchedly worrying and inquisitive I shall find the people. We arrive hungry and thirsty, and in condition to do ample justice to the provisions at hand. After satisfying the pressing needs of hunger, we drink several appropriate toasts from the contents of the mysterious black bottles—toasts for the success of my journey, and to the bicycle that has stood by me so well thus far on my journey, and promises to stand by me equally as well for the future.
About four o'clock two of the company, who have been thoughtful enough to bring shotguns along, sally forth in quest of ducks. They come plodding wearily back again shortly after dark, without any game, but with deep designs on the credulity of the non-sporting members of the company. In reply to the general and stereotyped query, "Shoot anything?" one of the erring pair replies, "Yes, we shot several canvas-backs, but lost them in the reeds; didn't we, old un?" "Yes, five," promptly asserts "old un," a truthful young man of about three-and-twenty summers. After this, the silence for the space of a minute is so profound that we can hear each other think, until one of the company, acting as spokesman for the silent reflections of the others, inquires, "Anybody know of any reeds about Katoum-abad?" Some one is about to reply, but sportsman No. 1 artfully waives further examination by heaping imprecations on the unkempt head of a dervish, who at this opportune moment commences a sing-song monotone, in a most soul-harrowing key, outside our menzil doorway.
A slight drizzling rain is falling when the early riser of the company wakes up and peeps out at daybreak next morning, but it soon ceases, and by seven o'clock the ground is quite dry. The road for a mile or so is too lumpy to admit of mounting, as is frequently the case near a village, and my six companions accompany me to ridable ground. As I mount and wheel away, they wave hats and send up three ringing cheers and a "tiger," hurrahs that roll across the gray Persian plain to the echoing hills, the strangest sound, perhaps, these grim old hills have ever echoed; certainly, they never before echoed an English cheer.
And now, as my friends of the telegraph staff turn about and wend their way back to Teheran, is as good a time as any to mention briefly the manner in which these genial lightning-jerkers assisted to render my five months' sojourn in the Persian capital agreeable. But a few short hours after my arrival in Teheran, I was sought out by Messrs. Meyrick and North, who no sooner learned of my intention to winter here, than they extended a cordial invitation to join them in their already established bachelors' quarters, where four disconsolate halves of humanity were already messing harmoniously together. With them I took up my quarters, and, under the liberal and wholesome gastronomic arrangements of the establishment, soon acquired my usual semi-embon-point condition, and recovered from that gaunt, hungry appearance that the hardships and scant fare of the journey from Constantinople had imparted. The house belonged to Mr. North, and he managed to give me a little room to myself for literary work, and, under the influence of a steady stream of letters and papers from friends and well-wishers in England and America, that snug little apartment, with a round, moon-like hole in the thick mud wall for a window, soon acquired the den-like aspect that seems inseparable from the occupation of distributing ink.
Three native servants cooked for us, waited on us, turned up missing when wanted for anything particular, cheated us and each other, swore eternal honesty and fidelity to our faces, called us infidel dogs and pedar sags behind our backs, quarrelled daily among themselves over their modokal (legitimate pickings and stealings—ten per cent, on everything passing through their hands), and meekly bore with any abuse bestowed gratuitously upon them, for an aggregate of one hundred and thirty kerans a month—and, of course, their modokal. Some enterprising members of the colony had formed themselves into a club, and imported a billiard-table from England; this, also, was installed in Mr. North's house, and it furnished the means for many an hour of pleasant diversion. Like all Persian houses, the house was built around a square court-yard. Mr. North had also a pair of small white bull-dogs, named, respectively, "Crib" and "Swindle." The last-named animal furnished us with quite an exciting episode one February evening. He had been acting rather strangely for two or three days; we thought that one of the servants had been giving him a dose of bhang in revenge for having worried his kitten, and that he would soon recover; but on this particular day, when out for a run with his owner, his strange behavior took the form of leaping impulsively at Mr. North, and, with seemingly wild frolic, seizing and shaking his garments. When Mr. North returned home he took the precautionary measure of chaining him up in the yard. Shortly afterward, I came in from my customary evening walk, and, all unconscious of the change in his behavior, went up to him; with a half-playful, half-savage spring he seized the leg of my trousers, and, with an evidently uncontrollable impulse, shook a piece clean out of it. He became gradually worse as the evening wore away; the wild expression of his eyes developed in an alarming manner; he would try to get at any person who showed himself, and he made night hideous with the fearful barking howl of a mad dog. Poor Swindle had gone mad; and I had had a narrow escape from being bitten. We lassoed him from opposite directions and dragged him outside and shot him. Swindle was a plucky little dog, and so was Crib; one day they chased a vagrant cat up on to the roof; driven to desperation, the cat made a wild leap down into the court-yard, a distance of perhaps twenty feet; without a moment's hesitation, both dogs sprang boldly after her, recking little of the distance to the ground and the possibility of broken bones.
Sometimes the colony drives dull care and ennui away by indulging in private theatricals; this winter they organized an amateur company, called themselves the "Teheran Bulbuls," and, with burnt-corked faces and grotesque attire, they rehearsed and perfected themselves in "Uncle Ebenezer's Visit to New York," which, together with sundry duets, solos, choruses, etc., they proposed to give, an entertainment for the benefit of the poor of the city. When the Shah returned from Europe, he was moved by what he had seen there to build a small theatre; the theatre was built, but nothing is ever done with it. The Teheran Bulbuls applied for its use to give their entertainment in, and the Shah was pleased to grant their request. The mollahs raised objections; they said it would have a tendency to corrupt the morals of the Persians. Once, twice, the entertainment was postponed; but the Shah finally overruled the bigoted priests' objections, and "Uncle Ebenezer's Visit to New York" was played twice in Nasr-e-Deen's little gilded theatre a few days after I left, with great success; the first night, before the Shah and his nobles and the foreign ambassadors, and the second night before more common folk. The two postponements and my early departure prevented me from being on hand as prompter. The winter before, these dusky-faced "bul-buls" had performed before a Teheran audience, and one who was a member at that time tells an amusing story of the individual who acted as prompter on that occasion. One of the performers appeared on the stage sufficiently charged with stage-fright to cause him to entirely forget his piece. Expecting every moment to get the cue from the prompter's box, what was his horror to hear, after waiting what probably seemed to him about an hour, instead of the cue, in a hoarse whisper that could be distinctly heard all over the room, the comforting remark, "I say, Charlie, I've lost the blooming place!"
The American missionaries have a small chapel in Teheran, and on Sunday morning we sometimes used to go; the little congregation gathered there was composed of strange elements collected together from far-off places. From Colonel F _, the grizzled military adventurer, now in the Shah's service, and who was also with Maximilian in Mexico, to the young American lady who is said to have turned missionary and come, broken-hearted, to the distant East because her lover had died a few days before they were to be married, they are an audience of people each with a more or less adventurous history. It is perfectly natural that it should be so; it is the irrepressible spirit of adventure that is either directly or indirectly responsible for their presence here.
Half an hour after the echoes of the three cheers and the "tiger" have died away finds me wet-footed and engaged in fording a series of aggravating little streams, that obstruct my path so frequently that to stop and shed one's foot-gear for each soon becomes an intolerable nuisance. I should think I can lay claim, without exaggeration, to crossing fifty of these streams inside of ten miles. A good-sized stream emerges from the Elburz foot-hills; after reaching the plain it follows no regular channel, but spreads out like an open fan into a gradually widening area of small streams, that play their part in irrigating a few scattering fields and gardens, and are then lost in the sands of the desert to the south. Situated where it can derive the most benefit from these streams is the village of Sherifabad, and beyond Sherifabad stretches a verdureless waste to Aivan-i-Kaif. On this desert, I sit down, for a few minutes, on one of those little mounds of stones piled up at intervals to mark the road when the trail is buried beneath the winter snows; a green-turbaned descendant of the Prophet, bestriding a bay horse, comes from the opposite direction, stops, dismounts, squats down on his hams close by, and proceeds to regale himself with bread and figs, meanwhile casting fugitive glances at the bicycle. Presently he advances closer, gives me a handful of figs, squats down closer to the bicycle, and commences a searching investigation of its several parts.
"Where are you going?" he finally asks. "Meshed." "Where have you come from?" "Teheran." With that he hands me another handful of figs, remounts his horse, and rides away without another word. Inquisitiveness is seen almost bristling from the loose sleeves and flowing folds of his sky-blue gown, but his over-whelming sense of his own holiness forbids him holding anything like a lengthy intercourse with an unhallowed Ferenghi, and, much as he would like to know everything about the bicycle, he goes away without asking a single question about it.
Shortly after parting company with the sanctimonious seyud, I encounter a prosperous-looking party of dervishes. Some of them are mounted on excellent donkeys, and for dervishes they look exceptionally flourishing and well to do. As I ride slowly past, they accost me with their customary "huk yah huk," and promise to pray Allah for a safe journey to wherever I am going, if I will only favor them with the necessary backsheesh to command their good offices.
There are some stretches of very good road across this desert, and I reach Aivan-i-Kaif near noon. There has been no drinkable water for a long distance, and, being thirsty, my first inquiry is for tea. "There is a tchai-khan at the umbar (water-cistern), yonder," I am told, and straightway proceed to the place pointed out; but "tchai-khan neis" is the reply upon inquiring at the umbar. In this manner am I promptly initiated into one peculiarity of the people along this portion of the Meshed pilgrim road, a peculiarity that distinguishes them from the ordinary Persian as fully as the shaking of their heads for an affirmative reply does the people of the Maritza Valley from other people of the Balkan Peninsula. They will frequently ask you if you want a certain article, simply for the purpose of telling you they haven't got it. Whether this queer inconsistency comes of simon-pure inquisitiveness, to hear what one will say in reply, or whether they derive a certain amount of inquisitorial pleasure from raising a person's expectations one moment so as to witness his disappointment the next, is a question I prefer to leave to others, but more than once am I brought into contact with this peculiarity during the few brief hours I stay at Aivan-i-Kaif. It is not improbable that these people are merely carrying their ideas of politeness to the insane length of holding out the promise of what they think or ascertain one wants, knowing at the same time their inability to supply it.
It is threatening rain as I pick my way through a mile or so of mud ruins, tumble-down walls, and crooked paths, leading from the umbar to the house of the Persian telegraph-jee, who has been requested, from Teheran, to put me up, and, in view of the threatening aspect of the weather, I conclude to remain till morning. The English Government has taken charge of the Teheran and Meshed telegraph-line, during the delimitation of the Afghan and Turkestan boundary, and, besides guaranteeing the native telegraph-jees their regular salary-which is not always forthcoming from the Persian Government-they pay them something extra. In consequence of this, the telegraph-jees are at present very favorably disposed toward Englishmen, and Mirza Hassan readily tenders me the hospitality of the little mud office where he amuses himself daily clicking the keys of his instrument, smoking kalians, drinking tea, and entertaining his guests. Mr. Mclntire and Mr. Stagno are somewhere between here and Meshed, inspecting and repairing the line for the English Government, for they received it from the Persians in a wretched, tumble-down condition, and Mr. Gray, telegraphist for the Afghan Boundary Commission, is stationed temporarily at Meshed, so that, thanks to the boundary troubles, I am pretty certain of meeting three Europeans on the first six hundred miles of my journey.
Mirza Hassan is hospitable and well meaning, but, like most Persians, he is slow about everything but asking questions. Being a telegraph-jee, he is, of course, a comparatively enlightened mortal, and, among other things, he is acquainted with the average Englishman's partiality for beer. One of the first questions he asks, is whether I want any beer. It strikes me at once as a rather strange question to be asked in a Persian village, but, thinking he might perchance have had a bottle or two left here by one of the above-mentioned telegraph-inspectors, I signify my willingness to sample a little. True to the peculiar inconsistency of his fellows, he replies: "Ob-i-jow neis" (beer, no). If he hasn't ob-i-jow, however, he has tea, and in about an hour after my arrival he produces the samovar, a bowl of sugar, and the tiny glasses in which tea is always served in Persia.
Visitors begin dropping in as usual, and, before long, hundreds of villagers are swarming about the telegraph-khana, anxious to see me ride. It is coming on to rain, but, in order to rid the telegraph-office of the crowd, I take the bicycle out. Willing men carry both me and the bicycle across a stream that runs through the village, to smooth ground on the opposite side, where I ride back and forth several times, to the wild and boisterous delight of the entire population.
In this manner I succeed in ridding the telegraph-office of the crowd; but there is no getting rid of the visitors. Everybody in the place who thinks himself a little better than the ragamuffin ryots comes and squats on his hams in the little hut-like office, sips the telegraph-jee's sweetened tea, smokes his kalians, and spends the afternoon in staring wonderingly at me and the bicycle. Having picked up a little Persian during the winter, I am able to talk with them, and understand them, rather better than last season, and, Persian-like, they ply me mercilessly with questions. Often, when some one asks a question of me, Mirza Hassan, as becomes a telegraphies, and a person of profound erudition, thoughtfully saves me the trouble of replying by undertaking to furnish the desired information himself. One old mollah wants to know how many farsakhs it is from Aivan-i-Kaif to Yenghi Donia (New World-America); ere I can frame a suitable reply, Mirza Hassan forestalls my intentions by answering, in a decisive tone of voice that admits of no appeal, "Khylie!" "Khylie" is a handy word that the Persians always fall back on when their knowledge of great numbers or long distances is vague and shadowy; it is an indefinite term, equivalent to our word "many." Mirza Hassan does not know whether America is two hundred farsakhs away or two thousand, but he knows it to be "khylie farsakhs," and that is perfectly satisfactory to himself, and the white-turbaned questioner is perfectly satisfied with "khylie" for an answer.
A person from the New World is naturally a rara avis with the simple villagers of Aivan-i-Kaif, and their inquisitiveness concerning Yenghi Donia and Yenghi Donians fairly runs riot, and shapes itself into all manner of questions. They want to know whether the people smoke kalians and ride horses—real horses, not asps-i-awhans-in Yenghi Donia, and whether the Valiat smoked the kalian with me at Hadji Agha. Mirza Hassan explains about the kalian and horses; he enlightens his wondering auditors to the extent that Yenghi Donians smoke nargilehs and chibouques instead of kalians, and he contemptuously pooh-poohs the idea of them keeping riding-horses when they are clever enough to make iron horses that require nothing to eat or drink and no rest. About the question of the Heir Apparent smoking the kalian with me he betrays as lively an interest as anybody in the room, but he maintains a discreet silence until I answer in the negative, when he surveys his guests with the air of one who pities their ignorance, and says, "Kalian neis."
A lusty-lunged youngster of about three summers has been interrupting the genial flow of conversation by making "Rome howl" in an adjoining room, and Mirza Hassan fetches him in and consoles him with sundry lumps of sugar. The advent of the limpid-eyed toddler leads the thoughts and questions of the company into more domestic channels. After exhaustive questioning about my own affairs, Mirza Hassan, with more than praiseworthy frankness and becoming gravity, informs me that, besides the embryo telegraphjee and sugar-consumer in the room, he is the happy father of "yek nim" (one and a half others). I cast my eye around the room at this extraordinary announcement, expecting to find the company indulging in appreciative smiles, but every person in the room is as sober as a judge; plainly, I am the only person present who regards the announcement as anything uncommon.
After an ample supper of mutton pillau, Mirza Hassan proceeds to say his prayers, borrowing my compass to get the proper bearings for Mecca, which I have explained to him during the afternoon. With no little dismay he discovers that, according to my explanations, he has for years been bobbing his head daily several degrees east of the holy city, and, like a sensible fellow, and a person who has become convinced of the infallibility of telegraph instruments, compasses, and kindred aids to the accomplishment of human ends, he now rectifies the mistake.
Everybody along this route uses a praying-stone, a small cake of stone or hardened clay, containing an inscription from the Koran. These praying-stones are obtained from the sacred soil of Meshed, Koom, or Kerbela, and are placed in position on the ground in front of the kneeling devotee during his devotions, so that, instead of touching his forehead to the carpet or the common ground of his native village, he can bring it in contact with the hallowed soil of one of these holy cities. Distance lends enchantment to a holy place, and adds to the efficacy of a prayer-stone in the eyes of its owner, and they are valued highly or lightly according to the distance and the consequent holiness of the city they are brought from. For example, a Meshedi values a prayer-stone from Kerbela, and a Kerbeli values one from Meshed, neither of them having much faith in the efficacy of one from his own city; familiarity with sacred things apparently breeds doubts and indifference. The prayer-stone is reverently touched to lips, cheeks, and forehead at the finish of prayers, and then carefully wrapped up and stowed away until praying-time comes round again. To a sceptical and perhaps irreverent observer, these praying-stones would seem to bear about the same relation to a pilgrimage to Meshed or Kerbela as a package of prepared sea-salt does to a season at the sea-side.
PERSIA AND THE MESHED PILGRIM ROAD
It rains quite heavily during the night, but clears off again in the early morning, and at eight o'clock I take my departure, Mirza Hassan refusing to allow his son and heir to accept a present in acknowledgment of the hospitality received at his hands. The whole male population of the village is assembled again at the spot where their experience of yesterday has taught them I should probably mount; and the house-tops overlooking the same spot, and commanding a view of the road across the plain to the eastward, are crowded with women and children. The female portion of my farewell audience present quite a picturesque appearance, being arrayed in their holiday garments of red, blue, and other bright colors, in honor of Friday, the Mohammedan Sabbath.
Pour miles of most excellent camel-path lead across a gravelly plain, affording a smooth, firm, wheeling surface, notwithstanding the heavy rains of the previous night; but beyond the plain the road leads over the pass of the Sardara Kooh, one of the many spurs of the Elburz range that reach out toward the south. This spur consists of saline hills that present a very remarkable appearance in places; the rocks are curiously honey-combed by the action of the salt, and the yellowish earthy portion of the hills are fantastically streaked and seamed with white. A trundle of a couple of miles brings me to the summit, from which point I am able to mount, and, with brake firmly in hand, glide smoothly down the eastern slope. After descending about a mile, I am met by a party of travellers who give me friendly warning of deep water a little farther down the mountain. After leaving them, my road follows down the winding bed of a stream that is probably dry the greater part of the year; but during the spring thaws, and immediately after a rain-storm, a stream of brackish, muddy water a few inches deep trickles down the mountain and forms a most disagreeable area of sticky salt mud at the bottom. The streak this morning can more truthfully be described as yellow liquid mud than as water, and both myself and wheel present anything but a prepossessing appearance in ten minutes after starting down its grimy channel. I am, however, congratulating myself upon finding it so shallow, and begin to think that, in describing the water as nearly over their donkeys' backs, the travellers were but indulging their natural propensity as subjects of the Shah, and worthy followers in the footsteps of Ananias.
About the time I have arrived at this comforting conclusion, I am suddenly confronted by a pond of liquid mud that bars my farther progress down the mountain. A recent slide of land and rock has blocked up the narrow channel of the stream, and backed up the thick yellow liquid into a pool of uncertain depth. There is no way to get around it; perpendicular walls of rock and slippery yellow clay rise sheer from the water on either side. There is evidently nothing for it but to disrobe without more ado and try the depth. Besides being thick with mud, the water is found to be of that icy, cutting temperature peculiar to cold brine, and after wading about in it for fifteen minutes, first finding a fordable place, and then carrying clothes and wheel across, I emerge on to the bank formed by the land-slip looking as woebegone a specimen of humanity as can well be imagined. Plastered with a coat of thin yellow mud from head to foot, chilled through and through, and shivering like a Texas steer in a norther, feet cut and bleeding in several places from contact with the sharp rocks, and no clean water to wash off the mud! With the assistance of knife, pocket-handkerchief, and sundry theological remarks which need not be reproduced here, I finally succeed in getting off at least the greater portion of the mud, and putting on my clothes. The discomfort is only of temporary duration; the agreeable warmth of the after-glow exhilarates both mind and body, and with the disappearance of the difficulty to the rear cornea the satisfaction of having found it no harder to overcome.
A little good wheeling is encountered toward the bottom of the pass, and then comes an area of wet salt-flats, interspersed with saline rivulets—those innocent-looking little streamlets the deceptive clearness of which tempts the thirsty and uninitiated wayfarer to drink. Few travellers in desert countries but have been deceived by these innocuous-looking streamlets once, and equally few are the people who suffer themselves to be deceived by their smooth, pellucid aspect a second time; for a mouthful of either strongly saline or alkaline water from one of them creates an impression on the deceived one's palate and his mind that guarantees him to be wariness personified for the remainder of his life. Since a certain experience in the Bitter Creek country, Wyoming, the writer prides himself on being able to distinguish drinkable water from the salty or alkaline article almost as far as it can be seen, and a stream about which the least suspicion is entertained is invariably tasted with gingerly hesitancy to begin with.
Soon after noon I reach the village of Kishlag, where a halt of an hour or so is made to refresh the inner man with tea, raw eggs, and figs—a queer enough bill of fare for dinner, but no more queer than the people from whom it is obtained. Some of my readers have doubtless heard of the Milesian waiter who could never be brought to see any inconsistency in asking the guests of the restaurant whether they would take tea or coffee, and then telling them there was no tea, they would have to take coffee. The proprietor of the little tchai-khan at Kishlag asks me if I want coffee, and then, in strict conformity with the curious inconsistency first discovered and spoken of at Aivan-i-Kaif, he informs me that he has nothing but tea. The country hereabout is evidently the birthplace of Irish bulls; when the ancestors of modern Handy Andys were running wild on the bogs of Connemara, the people of Aivan-i-Kaif and Kishlag were indulging in Irish bulls of the first water.
The crowd at Kishlag are good-natured and comparatively well-behaved. In reply to their questionings, I tell them that I am journeying from Yenghi Donia to Meshed. The New World is a far-away, shadowy realm to these ignorant Persian villagers, almost as much out of their little, unenlightened world as though it were really another planet; they evidently think that in going to Meshed I am making a pilgrimage to the shrine of Imam Riza, for some of them commence inquiring whether or no Yenghi Donians are Mussulmans.
The weather-clerk inaugurates a regular March zephyr in the east, during the brief halt at Kishlag; and in addition to that doubtful favor blowing against me, the road leading out is lumpy as far as the cultivated area extends, and then it leads across a rough, stony plain that is traversed by a network of small streams, similar to those encountered yesterday at Sherifabad. To the left, the abutting front of the Elburz Mountains is streaked and frescoed with salt, that in places vies in whiteness with the lingering-patches of snow higher up; to the right extends the gray, level plain, interspersed with small cultivable areas for a farsakh or two, beyond which lies the great dasht-i-namek (salt desert) that comprises a large portion of the interior of Persia.
Wild asses abound on the dasht-i-namek, and wandering bands of these animals occasionally stray up in this direction. The Persians consider the flesh of the wild donkey as quite a delicacy, and sometimes hunt them for their meat; they are said to be untamable, unless caught when very young, and are then generally too slender-limbed to be of any service in carrying weights. Wild goats abound in the Elburz Mountains; the villagers hunt them also for their meat, but the flesh of the wild goat is said to contribute largely to the prevalence of sore eyes among the people. The Persian will eat wild donkey, wild goat, and the flesh of camels, but only the very poor people—people who cannot afford to be fastidious—ever touch a piece of beef; gusht-i-goosfang (mutton) is the staple meat of the country.
The general aspect of the country immediately south of the Elburz Mountains, beyond the circumscribed area of cultivation about the villages, is that of a desert, desolate, verdureless, and forbidding. One can scarcely realize that by simply crossing this range a beautiful region is entered, where the prospect is as different as is light from darkness. An entirely different climate characterizes the Province of Mazanderan, comprising the northern slopes of these mountains and the Caspian littoral. With a humid climate the whole year round, and the entire face of the country covered with dense jungle, the northern slopes of the Elburz Mountains present a striking contrast to the barren, salt-frescoed foot-hills facing the south hereabout. Here, as at Resht, the moisture from the Caspian Sea does for the province of Mazanderan what similar influences from the Pacific do for California. It makes all the difference between California and Nevada in the one case, and Mazanderan and the desert-like character of Central Persia in the other.
In striking and effective contrast to the general aspect of death and desolation that characterizes the desert wastes of Persia—an effect that is heightened by the ruins of caravansaries or villages, that are seldom absent from the landscape—are the cultivated spots around the villages. Wherever there is a permanent supply of water, there also is certain to be found a mud-built village, with fields of wheat and barley, pomegranate orchards, and vineyards. In a country of universal greenness these would count for nothing, but, situated like islands in the sea of sombre gray about them, they often present an appearance of extreme beauty that the wondering observer is somewhat puzzled to account for; it is the beauty of contrast, the great and striking contrast between vegetable life and death.
These impressions are nowhere more strongly brought into notice than when approaching Aradan, a village I reach about five o'clock. Like almost all Persian towns and villages, Aradan has evidently occupied a much larger area at one time than it does at present; and the mournful-looking ruins of mosques, gateways, walls, and houses are scattered here and there over the plain for a mile before reaching the present limits of habitation. The brown ruins of a house are seen standing in the middle of a wheat-field; the wheat is of that intense greenness born of irrigation and a rich sandy soil, and the mud ruins, dead, desolate, and crumbling to dust, look even more deserted and mournful from the great contrast in color, and from the myriad stems of green young life that wave and nod about them with every passing breeze. The tumble-down windows and doorways form openings through which the blue sky and the green waving sea of vegetation beyond are seen as in a picture, and the ruined mud mosque, its dome gone, its windows and doorways crumbled to shapeless openings, seems like a weather-beaten skeleton of Persia's past, while the ever-moving waves of verdant life about it, seem to be beating against it and persistently assailing it, like waves of the sea beating against an isolated rock.
While engaged in fording a stream on the stony plain between road. The shagird-chapar is with them, on a third "bag of bones," worse, if possible, than the others. Taking the world over, there is perhaps no class of horses that are, subject to so much cruelty and ill-treatment as the chapar horses of Persia, With back raw, ribs countable a hundred yards away, spavined, blind of an eye, fistula, and cursed with every ill that horseflesh in the hands of human brutes is subject to, the chapar horse is liable to be taken out at any hour of the day or night, regardless of previous services being but just finished. He is goaded on with unsparing lash to the next station, twenty, or perhaps thirty miles away, staggering beneath the weight of the traveller, or his servant, with ponderous saddlebags.
This chapar, or post-service, is established along the great highways of travel between Teheran and Tabreez, Teheran and Meshed, and Teheran and Bushire, with a branch route from the Tabreez trail to the Caspian port of Enzeli; the stations vary from four to eight farsakhs apart. Not all the chapar horses are the wretched creatures just described, however, and by engaging beforehand the best horses at each station along the route, certain travellers have made quite remarkable time between points hundreds of miles apart. In addition to horses for himself and servants, the traveller is required to pay for one to carry the shagird-chapar who accompanies them to the next station to bring back the horses. The ordinary charge is one keran a farsakh for each horse. It wouldn't be a Persian institution, however, if there wasn't some little underhanded arrangement on hand to mulct the traveller of something over and above the legitimate charges. Accordingly, we find two distinct measurements of distance recognized between each station—the "chapar distance" and the correct distance. If, for instance, the actual distance is six farsakhs, the "chapar distance" will be seven, or seven and a half; the difference between the two is the chapar-jee's modokal; without modokal there is no question but that a Persian would feel himself to be a miserable, neglected mortal.
Aradan is another telegraph control station, and Mr. Stagno informs me that the telegraph-jee is looking forward to my arrival, and is fully prepared to accommodate me over night; and, furthermore, that all along the line the people of the telegraph towns are eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Sahib, with the marvellous vehicle, of which they have heard such strange stories. Aradan is reached about five o'clock; the road leading into the village is found excellent wheeling, enabling me to keep the saddle while following at the heels of a fleet-footed ryot, who voluntarily guides me to the telegraph-khana. The telegraph-jee is temporarily absent when I arrive, but his farrash lets me inside the office yard, spreads a piece of carpet for me to sit on, and with commendable thoughtfulness shuts out the crowd, who, as usual, immediately begin to collect. The quickness with which a crowd collects in a Persian town has to be seen to be fully comprehended. For the space of half an hour, I sit in solitary state on the carpet, and endure the wondering gaze and the parrot-like chattering of a thin, long row of villagers, sitting astride the high mud wall that encloses three sides of the compound, and during the time find some amusement in watching the scrambling and quarrelling for position. These irrepressible sight-seers commenced climbing the wall from the adjoining walls and houses the moment the farash shut them out of the yard, and in five minutes they are packed as close as books on a shelf, while others are quarreling noisily for places; in addition to this, the roof of every building commanding a view into the chapar-khana compound is swarmed with neck-craning, chattering people.
Soon the telegraph-jee puts in an appearance; he proves to be an exceptionally agreeable fellow, and one of the very few Persians one meets with having blue eyes. He appears to regard it as quite an understood thing that I am going to remain over night with him, and proceeds at once to make the necessary arrangements for my accommodation, without going to the trouble of extending a formal invitation. He also wins my eternal esteem by discouraging, as far as Persian politeness and civility will admit, the intrusion of the inevitable self-sufficients who presume on their "eminent respectability" as loafers, in contradistinction to the half-naked tillers of the soil, to invade the premises and satisfy their inordinate curiosity, and their weakness for kalian, smoking and tea-drinking at another's expense. After duly discussing between us a samovar of tea, we take a stroll through the village to see the old castle, and the umbars that supply the village with water. The telegraph- gee cleared the walls upon his arrival, but the housetops are out of his jurisdiction, and before starting he wisely suggests putting the bicycle in some conspicuous position, as an inducement for the crowd to remain and concentrate their curiosity upon it, otherwise there would be no keeping them from following us about the village. We set it up in plain view on the bala-khana, and returning from our walk, are amused to find the old farrash delivering a lecture on cycling.
The fortress at Aradan is the first one of the kind one sees when travelling eastward from Teheran, but as we shall come to a larger and better preserved specimen at Lasgird, in a couple of days, it will, perhaps, be advisable to postpone a description till then. They are all pretty much alike, and were all built to serve the same purpose, of affording shelter and protection from Turkoman raiders. The Aradan umbars are nothing extraordinary, except perhaps that the conical brick-work roofs are terraced so that one can walk, like ascending stairs, to the summit; and perhaps, also, because they are in a good state of repair —asufficiently unusual thing in a Persian village to merit remark. These umbars are filled by allowing the water to flow in from a street ditch connecting with the little stream to which every village owes its existence; when the umbar is full, a few spadefuls of dirt shut the water off.
The chief occupation of the Eastern female is undoubtedly carrying water; the women of Oriental villages impress the observant Occidental, as people who will carry water-worlds may be created and worlds destroyed; all things else may change, and habits and costumes become revolutionized by the march of time, but nothing will prevent the Oriental female from carrying water, and carrying it in huge earthenware jugs! At any hour of the day—I won't speak positively about the night—women may be seen at the unbars filling large earthenware jugs, coming and going, going and coming. I don't remember ever passing one of these cisterns without seeing women there, filling and carrying away jars of water. No doubt there are occasional odd moments when no women are there, but any person acquainted with village life in the East will not fail to recognize this as simply the plain, unvarnished truth. As the ditch from which the umbar is filled not infrequently runs through half the length of the village first, the personal habits of a Mohammedan population insure that it reaches the umbar in anything but a fit condition for human consumption. But the Koran teaches that flowing water cannot be contaminated or defiled, consequently, when he takes a drink or fills the village reservoir, your thoroughbred Mussulman never troubles his head about what is going on up-stream. The Koran is to him a more reliable guide for his own good than the evidence of all his seven senses combined.
Stagnant pools of water, covered, even this early in the season (March 12th), with green scum, breed fever and mosquitoes galore in Aradan; the people know it, acknowledge it readily, and suffer from it every summer, but they take no steps to remedy the evil; the spirit of public enterprise has dwindled to such dimensions in provincial Persia, that it is no longer equal to filling up a few fever-breeding pools of water in the centre of a village. The telegraph-jee himself acknowledges that the water-holes cause fever and mosquitoes, but, intelligent and enlightened mortal though he be in comparison with his fellow-villagers, when questioned about it, he replies: "Inshalla! the water don't matter; if it is our kismet to take the fever and die, nothing can prevent it; if it is our kismet not to take it, nothing can give it to us." Such unanswerable logic could only originate in the brain of a fatalist; these people are all fatalists, and—as we can imagine—especially so when the doctrine comes in handy to dodge doing anything for the public weal.
All Persian villages, except those clustered about the immediate vicinity of a large city, have some peculiarity of their own to offer in the matter of the people's dress. The pantaloons of any Persian village are not by any means stylish garments, according to Western ideas; but the male bipeds of Aradan have something really extraordinary to offer, even among the many startling patterns of this garment met with in Eastern lands. To note the quantity of material that enters into the composition of a pair of Aradan pantaloons, would lead an uninitiated person into thinking the people all millionaires, were it not likewise observed that the material is but coarse blue cotton, woven and dyed by the wearer's wife, mother, or sister. One of the most conspicuous features about them is that their shape—if they can truthfully be said to have any shape—seems to be a wild, rambling pattern of our own ideas concerning the shape this garment ought to assume. The legs, instead of being gathered, Oriental fashion, at the ankles, dangle loosely about the feet; and yet it is these same legs that are the chief distinguishing feature of the pants. One of the legs, cut off and sewed up at one end, would make the nicest kind of an eight-bushel grain sack; rather too wide, perhaps, in proportion to the depth, to make a shapely grain sack, but there is no question about the capacity for the eight bushels. No doubt these people would be puzzled to say why they are wearing yards and yards of stuff that is not only useless, but positively in the way, except that it has been the fashion in Aradan from time immemorable to do so. These simple Persian peasants, when they make any pretence of sprucing up, probably find themselves quite as much enslaved by fashion as our very fastidious selves; a wide difference betaken ourselves and them, however, being, that while they cling tenaciously to some prehistoric style of garment, and regard innovations with abhorrence, fashion demands of us to be constantly changing.
The Aradan telegraph-jee is a young man skin-full of piety, rejoicing in the possession of a nice little praying-carpet, a praying-stone from holy Kerbela, the holiest of all except Mecca, and he owns a string of beads of the same soul-comforting material as the stone. During his waking hours he is seldom without the rosary in his hand, passing the holy beads back and forth along the string; and five times a day he produces the praying-stone from its little leathern pouch and goes through the ceremony of saying his prayers, with becoming earnestness. At eventide, when he spreads his praying-carpet and places the little oblong tablet from Kerbela in its customary position, preparatory to commencing his last prayers for the day, it is furthermore ascertained by the compass that he has been pretty accurate in his daily prostrations toward Mecca. With all these enviable advantages—the praying-carpet, the praying-stone, the holy rosary, and the happy accuracy as regards Mecca—the Aradan telegraph-jee is a Mussulman who ought to feel tolerably certain of a rose-garden, a gurgling rivulet, and any number of black-eyed houris to contribute to his happiness in the paradise he hopes to enter beyond the tomb.
Indications have not been wanting during the day that the weather is in anything but a settled condition, and upon waking in the morning I fancy I hear the pattering music of the rain. Fortunately it proves to be only fancy, and the telegraph-jee, assuming the part of a weather-prophet, reassures me by remarking, "Inshalla, am roos, baran neis" (Please God, it will not rain to-day). Being a Persian, he says this, not because he has any particular confidence in his own predictions, but because his idea of making himself agreeable is to frame his predictions by the measurement of what he discovers to be my wishes.
The road into Aradan led me through one populous cemetery, and the road out again leads me through another; beyond the cemetery it follows alongside a meandering streamlet that flows, sluggishly along over a bed of deep gray mud. The road is lumpy but ridable, and I am pedalling serenely along, happy in the contemplation of better roads ahead than I had yesterday, when one of those ludicrous incidents happen that have occurred at intervals here and there all along my journey. A party of travellers have been making a night march from the east, and as we approach each other, a wary kafaveh-carrying mule, suspicious about the peaceful character of the mysterious object bearing down toward him, pricks up his ears, wheels round, and inaugurates confusion among his fellows, and then proceeds to head them in a determined bolt across the stream. Unfortunately for the women in the kajavehs, the mud and water together prove to be deeper than the mule expected to find them, and the additional fright of finding himself in a well-nigh swamped condition, causes him to struggle violently to get out again. In so doing he bursts whatever fastenings may have bound him and his burden together, scrambles ashore, and leaves the kajavehs floating on the water!
The women began screaming the moment the mule wheeled round and bolted, and now they find themselves afloat in their queer craft, these characteristic female signals of distress are redoubled in energy; and they may well be excused for this, for the kajavehs are gradually filling and sinking; it was never intended that kajavehs should be capable of acting in the capacity of a boat. The sight of their companion's difficulties has the effect of causing the other mules to change their minds about crossing the stream, and almost to change their minds about indulging in the mulish luxury of a scare; and fortunately the charvadars of the party succeed in rescuing the kajavehs before they sink. Nobody is injured, beyond the women getting wet; no damage is done worth mentioning, and as the two heroines of the adventure emerge from their novel craft, their garments dripping with water, their doleful looks are rewarded with unsympathetic merriment from the men. Few have been my wheeling days on Asian roads that have not witnessed something in the shape of an overthrow or runaway; so far, nobody has been seriously injured by them, but I have sometimes wondered whether it will be my good fortune to complete the bicycle journey around the world without some mishap of the kind, resulting in broken limbs for the native and trouble for myself.
After a couple of miles the road and the meandering stream part company, the latter flowing southward and the road traversing a flat, curious, stone-strewn waste; an area across which one could step from one large boulder to another without touching the ground. Once beyond this, and the road develops into several parallel trails of smooth, hard gravel, that afford as good, or better, wheeling than the finest macadam. While spinning at a highly satisfactory rate of speed along these splendid paths, a small herd of antelopes cross the road some few hundred yards ahead, and pass swiftly southward toward the dasht-i-namek. These are the first antelopes, or, for that matter, the first big game I have encountered since leaving the prairies of Western Nebraska. The Persian antelope seems to be a duplicate of his distinguished American relative in a general, all-round sense; he is, if anything, even more nimble-footed than the spring-heeled habitue of the West, possesses the same characteristic jerky jump, and hoists the same conspicuous white signal of retreat. He is a decidedly slimmer-built quadruped, however, than the American antelope; the body is of the same square build, but is sadly lacking in plumpness, and he seems to be an altogether lankier and less well-favored animal. For this constitutional difference, he is probably indebted to the barren and inhospitable character of the country over which he roams, as compared with the splendid feeding-grounds of the—Far West. The Persians sometimes hunt the antelope on horseback, with falcons and greyhounds; the falcons are taught to fly in advance and attack the fleeing antelopes about the head, and so confuse them and retard their progress in the interest of the pursuing hounds and horsemen.
The little village of Deh Namek is reached about mid-day, where my ever-varying bill of fare takes the shape of raw eggs and pomegranates. Deh Namek is too small and unimportant a place to support a public tchai-khan; but along the Meshed pilgrim road the villagers are keenly alive to the chance of earning a stray keran, and the advent of one of those inexhaustible keran-mines, a "Sahib," is the signal for some enterprising person, sufficiently well-to-do to own a samovar, to get up steam in it and prepare tea.
East of Deh Namek, the wheeling continues splendid for a dozen miles, traversing a level desert on which one finds no drinkable water for about twenty miles. Across the last eight miles of the desert the road is variable, consisting of alternate stretches of ridable and unridable ground, the latter being generally unridable by reason of sand and loose gravel, or thickly strewn flints. More antelopes are encountered east of Deh Namek; at one place, particularly, I enjoy quite a little exciting spurt in an effort to intercept a band that are heading across my road from the Elburz foot-hills to the desert. The wheeling is here magnificent, the spurt develops into a speed of fourteen miles an hour; the antelopes see their danger, or, at all events, what they fancy to be danger, and their apprehensions are not by any mean lessened by the new and startling character of their pursuer. Wild antelopes are timid things at all times, and, as may be readily imagined, the sight of a mysterious glistening object, speeding along at a fourteen or fifteen mile pace to intercept them, has a magical effect upon their astonishing powers of locomotion. They seem to fly rather than run, and to skim like swallows over the surface of the level plain rather than to touch the ground; but they were some distance from the road when they first realized my terrifying presence, and I am within fifty yards of the band when they flash like a streak of winged terror across the road. These antelopes do not cease their wild flight within the range of my powers of observation; long after the mousy hue of their bodies has rendered their forms indistinguishable in the distance from the sympathetic coloring of the desert, rapidly bobbing specks of white betray the fact that their supposed narrow escape from the vengeful pursuit of the bicycle has given them a fright that will make them suspicious of the Meshed pilgrim road for weeks.
"Deh Namek" means "salt village;" and it derives its name from the salt flats that are visible to the south of the road, and the general saline character of the country round about. Salt enters very largely into the composition of the mountains that present a solid and fantastically streaked front a few miles to the north; and the streams flowing from these mountains are simply streams of brine, whose mission would seem to be conveying the saline matter from the hills, and distributing it over the flats and swampy areas of the desert. These flats are visible from the road, white, level, and impressive; like the Great American Desert, Utah, as seen from the Matlin section house, and described in a previous chapter (Vol. I.), it looks as though it might be a sheet of water, solidified and dead.
At the end of the twenty miles one comes to a small and unpretentious village and an equally small and unpretentious wayside tchai-khan, both owing their existence to a stream of fresh water as small and unpretentious as themselves. Beyond this cheerless oasis stretches again the still more cheerless desert, the rivulets of undrinkable salt water, the glaring white salt-flats to the south, and the salt-encrusted mountains to the north. The shameless old party presiding at the tchai-khan evidently realizes the advantages of his position, where many travellers from either direction, reaching the place in a thirsty condition, have no choice but between his decoction and cold water. Instead of the excellent tea every Persian knows very well how to make, he serves out a preparation that is made, I should say, chiefly from camelthorn buds plucked within a mile of his shanty; he furthermore illustrates in his own methods the baneful effects of being without the stimulus of a rival, by serving it up in unwashed glasses, and without noticing whether it is hot or cold.
Much loose gravel prevails between this memorable point and Lasgird, and while trundling laboriously through it I am overtaken by a rain-storm, accompanied by violent wind, that at first encompasses me about in the most peculiar manner. The storm comes howling from the northwest and advances in two sections, accompanied by thunder and lightning; the two advancing columns seem to be dense masses of gray cloud rolling over the surface of the plain, and between them is a clear space of perhaps half a mile in width. The rain-dispensing columns pass me by on either side with muttering rolls of thunder and momentary gleams of lightning, enveloping me in swirling eddies of dust and bewildering atmospheric disturbances, but not a drop of rain. It is plainly to be seen, however, that the two columns are united further west, and that it behooves me to don my gossamer rubbers; but before being overtaken by the rain, the heads of the flying columns are drawn together, and for some minutes I am surrounded entirely by sheets of falling moisture and streaming clouds that descend to the level plain and obscure the view in every direction; and yet the clear sky is immediately above, and the ground over which I am walking is perfectly dry. After the first violent burst there is very little wind, and the impenetrable walls of vapor encompassing me round about at so near a distance, and yet not interfering with me in any way, present a most singular appearance. While appreciating the extreme novelty of the situation, I can scarce say in addition that I appreciate the free play of electricity going on in all directions, and the irreverent manner in which the nickeled surface of the bicycle seems to glint at it and defy it; on the contrary, I deem it but an act of common discretion to place the machine for a short time where the lightning can have a fair chance at it, without involving a respectful non-combatant in the destruction. In half an hour the whole curious affair is over, and nothing is seen but the wild-looking tail-end of the disturbance climbing over a range of mountains in the southeast.
The road now edges off in a more northeasterly course, and by four o'clock leads me to the base of a low pass over a jutting spur of the mountains. At the base of the spur, a cultivated area, consisting of several wheat-fields and terraced melon-gardens, has been rescued from the unproductive desert by the aid of a bright little mountain stream, whose wild spirit the villagers of Lasgird have curbed and tamed for their own benefit, by turning it from its rocky, precipitous channel, and causing it to descend the hill in a curious serpentine ditch. The contour of the ditch is something like this: ~~~~~~~~~~~; it brings the water down a pretty steep gradient, and its serpentine form checks the speed of its descent to an uniform and circumspect pace. The road over the pass leads through a soft limestone formation, and here, as in similar places in Asia Minor, are found those narrow, trench-like trails, worn by the feet of pilgrims and the pack-animal traffic of centuries, several feet deep in the solid rock. On a broad cultivated plain beyond the pass is sighted the village of Lasgird, its huge mud fortress, the most conspicuous object in view, rising a hundred feet above the plain.
PERSIA AND THE MESHED PILGRIM ROAD.
A mile or so through the cultivated fields brings me to the village just in time to be greeted by the shouts and hand-clapping of a wedding procession that is returning from conducting the bride to the bath. Men and boys are beating rude, home-made tambourines, and women are dancing along before the bride, clicking castanets, while a crowd of at least two hundred villagers, arrayed in whatever finery they can muster for the occasion, are following behind, clapping their hands in measured chorus. This hand-clapping is, I believe, pretty generally practiced by the villagers all over Central Asia on festive occasions. As a result of riding for the crowd, I receive an invitation to take supper at the house of the bridegroom's parents. Having obtained sleeping quarters at the chapar-khana, I get the shagird-chapar to guide me to the house at the appointed hour, and arrive just in time for supper. The dining-room is a low-ceiled apartment, about thirty feet long and eight wide, and is dimly lighted by rude grease lamps, set on pewter lamp-stands on the floor.
Squatting on the floor, with their backs to the wall, about fifty villagers form a continuous human line around the room. These all rise simultaneously to their feet as I am announced, bob their heads simultaneously, simultaneously say, "Sahib salaam," and after I have been provided with a place, simultaneously resume their seats. Pewter trays are now brought in by volunteer waiters, and set on the floor before the guests, one tray for every two guests, and a separate one for myself. On each tray is a bowl of mast (milk soured with rennet—the "yaort" of Asia Minor), a piece of cheese, one onion, a spoonful or two of pumpkin butter and several flat wheaten cakes. This is the wedding supper. The guests break the bread into the mast and scoop the mixture out with their fingers, transferring it to their mouths with the dexterity of Chinese manipulating a pair of chop-sticks; now and then they take a nibble at the piece of cheese or the onion, and they finish up by consuming the pumpkin butter. The groom doesn't appear among the guests; he is under the special care of several female relations in another apartment, and is probably being fed with tid-bits from the henna-stained fingers of old women, who season them with extravagant and lying stories of the bride's beauty, and duly impress upon him his coming matrimonial responsibilities.
Supper eaten and the dishes cleared, an amateur luti from among the villagers produces a tambourine and castanets, and, taking the middle of the room, proceeds to amuse the company by singing extempore love songs in praise of the bride and groom to tambourine accompaniment and pendulous swayings of the body. Pretending to be carried away by the melodiousness and sentiment of his own productions, he gradually bends backward with hands outstretched and castanets jingling, until his head almost touches the floor, and maintains that position while keeping his body in a theatrical tremor of delight. This is the finale of the performance, and the luti comes and sets his skull-cap in front of me for a present; my next neighbor, the bridegroom's father, takes it up and hands it back with a deprecatory wave of the hand; the luti replies by promptly setting it down again; this time my neighbor lets it remain, and the luti is made happy by a coin.
Torchlight processions to the different baths are now made from the house of both bride and groom, for this is the "hammam night," devoted to bathing and festivities before the wedding-day. Torches are made with dry camelthorn, the blaze being kept up by constant renewal; a boy, with a lighted candle, walks immediately ahead of the bridegroom and his female relations, and a man with a farnooze brings up the rear. Nobody among the onlookers is permitted to lag behind the man with the farnooze, everybody being required to either walk ahead or alongside. The tambourine-beating and shouting and hand-clapping of the afternoon is repeated, and every now and then the procession stops to allow one or two of the women to face the bridegroom and favor him with an exhibition of their skill in the execution of the hip-dance.
The bridal procession is coming down another street, and I stop to try and obtain a glimpse of the bride; but she is completely enveloped in a flaming red shawl, and is supported and led by two women. There seems to be little difference in the two processions, except the preponderance of females in the bride's party; everything is arranged in the same order, and women dance at intervals before the bride as before the groom.
It begins raining before I retire for the night; it rains incessantly all night, and is raining heavily when I awake in the morning. The weather clears up at noon, but it is useless thinking of pushing on, for miles of tenacious mud intervene between the village and the gravelly desert; moreover, the prospect of the fine weather holding out looks anything but reassuring. The villagers are all at home, owing to the saturated condition of their fields, and I come in for no small share of worrying attention during the afternoon. A pilgrim from Teheran turns up and tells the people about my appearance before the Shah; this increases their interest in me to an unappreciated extent, and, with glistening eyes and eagerly rubbing fingers, they ask "Chand pool Padishah?" (How much money did the King give you?) "I showed the Shah the bicycle, and the Shah showed me the lions, and tigers, and panthers at Doshan Tepe," I tell them; and a knowing customer, called Meshedi Ali, enlightens them still further by telling them I am not a luti to receive money for letting the Shah-in-Shah see me ride. Still, luti or no luti, the people think I ought to have received a present. I am worried to ride so incessantly that I am forced to seek self-protection in pretending to have sprained my ankle, and in returning to the chapar-khana with a hypocritical limp. I station myself ostensibly for the remainder of the day on the bala-khana front, and busy myself in taking observations of the villagers and their doings.
Time was, among ourselves, or more correctly, among our ancestors, when blood-letting was as much the professional calling of a barber as scraping chins or trimming hair, and when our respected beef-eating and beer-drinking forefathers considered wholesale blood-letting as a well-nigh universal panacea for fleshly ills. In travelling through Persia, one often observes things that suggest very strikingly those "good old days" of Queen Bess. The citizens of Zendjan offering the Shah a present of 60,000 tomans, as an inducement not to visit their city, as they did when he was on his way to Europe, has a true Elizabethan ring about it, a suggestion of the Virgin Queen's rabble retinue travelling about, devouring and destroying, and of justly apprehensive citizens, seeing ruin staring them in the face, petitioning their regal mistress to spare them the dread calamity of a royal visit.