Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan, by Isabella Bird

Letter xvi

Two days before we left Chigakhor fierce heat set in, with a blue heat haze. Since then the mercury has reached 98° in the shade. The call to “Boot and Saddle” is at 3.45. Black flies, sand-flies, mosquitos, scorpions, and venomous spiders abound. There is no hope of change or clouds or showers until the autumn. Greenery is fast scorching up. “The heaven above is as brass, and the earth beneath is as iron.” The sky is a merciless steely blue. The earth radiates heat far on into the night. “Man goeth forth to his work,” not “till the evening,” but in the evening. The Ilyats, with their great brown flocks, march all night. The pools are dry, and the lesser streams have disappeared. The wheat on the rain-lands is scorched before the ears are full, and when the stalks are only six inches long. This is a normal Persian summer in Lat. 32° N. The only way of fighting this heat is never to yield to it, to plod on persistently, and never have an idle moment, but I do often long for an Edinburgh east wind, for drifting clouds and rain, and even for a chilly London fog! This same country is said to be buried under seven or eight feet of snow in winter.

On leaving Chigakhor we crossed a low hill into the Seligun valley, so fair and solitary a month ago, now brown and dusty, and swarming with Ilyats and their flocks, and Lake Albolaki has shrunk into something little better than a swamp. A path at a great elevation above a stream and a short rocky ascent brought us to the top of the pass above Naghun, a wall of rock, with an altitude of 7320 feet, and a very stiff zigzag descent upon Isfandyar Khan’s garden, where the heat made a long halt necessary. The view from the Naghun Pass of the great Ardal valley is a striking one, though not so striking as one would suppose from the altitude of the mountains, which, however, do not nearly reach the limit of perpetual snow, though the Kuh-i-Kaller, the Kuh-i-Sabz, the great mass of the Kuh-i-Gerra, the range of the Kuh-i-Dinar, and the Kuh-i-Zirreh are all from 11,000 to 13,000 feet in height. Even on the north side the range which we crossed by the Gardan-i-Zirreh exceeds 9000 feet. The Karun, especially where it escapes from the Ardal valley by the great Tang-i-Ardal, is a grand feature of the landscape from the Naghun Pass.

On leaving Naghun we were joined by Aziz Khan, a petty chief, a retainer of Isfandyar Khan, who has been deputed to attend on the Agha, and who may be useful in various ways.

Between Naghun and Ardal, in an elevated ravine, a species of aristolochia, which might well be mistaken for a pitcher-plant, was growing abundantly, and on the Ardal plain the “sweet sultan” and the Ferula glauca have taken the place of the Centaurea alata, which is all cut and stacked.

A hot and tedious march over the Ardal plateau, no longer green, and eaten up by the passage of Ilyat flocks, brought us to the village of Ardal, now deserted and melancholy, the great ibex horns which decorate the roof of the Ilkhani’s barrack giving it a spectral look in its loneliness. The night was hot, and the perpetual passing of Ilyats, with much braying and bleating, and a stampede of mules breaking my tent ropes, forbade sleep. It was hot when we started the next morning, still following up the Ardal valley and the Karun to Kaj, a village on bare hummocks of gravel alongside of the Karun, a most unpromising-looking place, but higher up in a lateral valley there was a spring and a walled orchard, full of luxuriant greenery, where we camped under difficulties, for the only entrance was by a little stream, leading to a low hole with a door of stone, such as the Afghans use for security, and through which the baggage could not be carried. The tents had to be thrown over the wall. There was little peace, for numbers of the Kaj men sat in rows steadily staring, and there were crowds of people for medicine, ushered in by the ketchuda.

Four miles above Ardal is a most picturesque scene, which, though I had ridden to it before, I appreciated far more on a second visit. This is the magnificent gorge of the Tang-i-Darkash Warkash, a gigantic gash or rift in the great range which bounds the Ardal and Kaj valleys on the north, and through which the river, on whose lawn-like margin the camps were pitched at Shamsabad, find its way to the Karun. A stone bridge of a single arch of wide span is thrown across the stream at its exit from the mountains. Above the bridge are great masses of naked rock, rising into tremendous precipices above the compressed water, with roses and vines hanging out of their clefts.

Below, the river suddenly expands, and there is a small village, now deserted, with orchards and wheatfields in the depression in which the Darkash Warkash finds its way across the Kaj valley, a region so sheltered from the fierce sweep of the east wind, and so desirable in other respects, that it bears the name of Bihishtabad, the Mansion of Heaven.

Geographically this tang has a great interest, for the water passing under the bridge is the united volume of the water system to which three out of the four districts known as the Chahar Mahals owe their fertility, and represents the drainage of 2500 square miles. It will be remembered that we entered the Chahar Mahals by the Kahva Rukh Pass, and crossed that portion of them lying between Kahva Rukh and the Zirreh Pass, which is politically, not geographically, a portion of the Bakhtiari country, and is partially Christian.

I started at five the next morning to follow the left bank of the Karun for nearly a whole march, sometimes riding close beside it among barley-fields, then rising to a considerable height above it. It is occasionally much compressed between walls of conglomerate, and boils along furiously, but even where it is stillest and broadest, it is always deep, full, and unfordable, bridged over, however, at a place where there are several mills. An ascent from it leads to the village of Rustam-i, where the people were very courteous and put me on the road to Ali-kuh, a village not far from the river, at the foot of a high range very much gashed by its affluents, one of which is very salt.

Ali-kuh is quite deserted, and every hovel door is open. There is nothing to tempt cupidity. The people, when they migrate to the high pastures, take all their goods with them. There was not a creature left behind who could tell me of a spring, and it was a tiresome search before I came, high upon the hillside, on a stream tumbling down under willows over red rock, in a maze of campanulas and roses. The first essential of a camping-ground is that there should be space to camp, and this is lacking; my servants sleep in the open, and my bed and chair are propped up by stones on the steep slope. Scorpions, “processional” caterpillars, earwigs, and flies abound. It is very pretty, but very uncomfortable. The stream is noisy, and a rude flour mill above has the power, which it has exercised, of turning it into another channel for irrigation purposes. There are some large Ilyat camps above, and from these and from Rustam-i the people have been crowding in.

The wild flowers about Ali-kuh are in great profusion just now, the most showy being hollyhocks — white, pink, and mauve, which affect the cultivated lands. Three parasitic plants are also abundant, one of them being the familiar dodder. Showy varieties of blue and white campanulas, a pink mallow, a large blue geranium, chicory, the blue cornflower, and the scarlet poppy all grow among the crops.

In the course of a day’s expedition to the summit of the Ali-kuh Pass large Ilyat camps abounded, and the men were engaged in stacking the leaves and the blossoming stalks of the wild celery for fodder later in the season. These flower-stalks attain a height of over six feet. These, and the dried leaves of the Centaurea alata, which are laid in heaps weighted down with stones, are relied upon by the nomads for the food of their flocks on the way down from the summer to the winter pastures, and much of their industry, such as it is, is spent in securing these “crops.”

This Ali-kuh Pass, 9500 feet in altitude, is on the most direct route from Isfahan to the Bazuft river, but is scarcely used except by the Ilyats. It is in fact horribly steep on the Ali-kuh side. The great Bakhtiari ranges on its south-west side, and a deep valley below, closed by the great mass of Amin-i-lewa, are a contrast to the utterly shadeless and mostly waterless regions of Persia proper which lie eastwards, blazing and glaring in the summer sunshine. There is a little snow and some ice, and the snow patches are bordered by a small rosy primula, delicate white tulips, and the violet penguicula so common on our moorlands. Mares with mule foals were grazing at a height of over 9000 feet.

The Khan of Rustam-i, married to a daughter of the Ilkhani, “called.” He is very intelligent, has some idea of conversation, and was very pleasant and communicative. He says the “Bakhtiaris love fighting, and if there’s a fight can’t help taking sides, and if they have not guns fight with stones,” and that “one Bakhtiari can beat ten Persians”! I asked him if he thought there would be fighting at Chigakhor, and he said it was very likely, and he and his retainers would take the Ilkani’s side. He showed me with great pleasure a bullet wound in his ankle, and another in his head, where a piece of the skull had been removed. He wishes that “the English” would send them a doctor. “We would gladly receive even a Kafir,” he said. Mirza politely translated this word Christian. He says they “suffer so much in dying from want of knowledge.” I explained to him the virtues of some of their own medicinal herbs, and he at once sent his servant to gather them, and having identified them he wrote down their uses and the modes of preparing them.

With the Khan was his prim little son, already, at ten years old, a bold rider and a good shot, the pale auburn-haired boy whom his grandmother, the Ilkhani’s principal wife, offered me as a present if I would cure him of deafness, debility, and want of appetite! I gave him a large bottle of a clandestinely-made decoction of a very bitter wormwood, into which I put with much ceremony, after the most approved fashion of a charlatan, some tabloids of nux vomica and of permanganate of potash. When I saw him at the fort of Chigakhor he was not any better, but since, probably from leading a healthier life than in Ardal, he has greatly improved, and being strong is far less deaf, and consequently the virtues of wormwood have forced themselves on the Khan’s attention.

The boy had suffered various things. He had been sewn up in raw sheepskins, his ears had been filled with fresh clotted blood, and he had been compelled to drink blood while warm, taken from behind the ear of a mare, and also water which had washed off a verse of the Koran from the inside of a bowl. It transpired that the Khan, who is a devout Moslem and a mollah, could not allow his son to take my medicine unless a piece of paper with a verse of the Koran upon it were soaked in the decoction.

I asked him why the Bakhtiaris like the English, and he replied, “Because they are brave and like fighting, and like going shooting on the hills with us, and don’t cover their faces.” He added after a pause, “and because they conquer all nations, and do them good after they have conquered them.” I asked how they did them good, and he said, “They give them one law for rich and poor, and they make just laws about land, and their governors take the taxes, and no more, and if a man gets money he can keep it. Ah,” he exclaimed earnestly, “why don’t the English come and take this country? If you don’t, Russia will, and we would rather have the English. We’re tired of our lives. There’s no rest or security.”

It may well be believed that there are no schools, though some deference is paid to a mollah, which among the Bahktiaris means only a man who can write, and who can read the Koran. These rare accomplishments are usually hereditary. The chiefs’ sons are taught to read and write by munshis. A few of the highest Khans send their sous to Tihran or Isfahan for education, or they attend school while their fathers are detained as hostages in the capital for the good behaviour of their clans. There they learn a few words of French and English, along with pure Persian and Arabic, and the few other branches of the education of a Persian noble. They are fine manly boys, and ride and shoot well from an early age. But the worst of them is that they never are “boys.” They are little men, with the stiffness and elaboration of manner which the more important Khans have copied from the Persians, and one can never fancy their abandoning themselves to “miscellaneous impulses.”


Stone Lion and Guide.

Killa Bazuft, Bazuft Valley, June 18.— A few days ago we left the last village of the region behind, to enter upon a country not laid down in any maps. It is a wild land of precipitous mountain ranges, rising into summits from 11,000 to 13,000 feet high, enclosing valleys and gorges or cañons of immense depth, some of them only a few feet wide, a goodly land in part, watered by springs and streams, and green with herbage and young wheat, and in part naked, glaring, and horrible. It is very solitary, although at times we come upon Bakhtiaris in camp, or moving with their flocks, much darker in complexion and more uncivilised in appearance than those of Ardal and its neighbourhood. From these camps Aziz Khan procures guides, milk, and bread. The heat increases daily, and the hour of getting up is now 2.45. There are many forlorn burial-grounds, and their uncouth stone lions, more or less rudely carved, are the only permanent inhabitants of the region. Wheat and barley grow in nearly all the valleys, and clothe the hill-slopes, but where are the sowers and the reapers, and where are the barns? Cultivation without visible cultivators is singularly weird.

Although the Bakhtiaris expend great labour on irrigation, their methods of cultivation are most simple. They plough with a small plough with the share slightly shod with iron; make long straight furrows, and then cross them diagonally. They do not manure the soil, but prevent exhaustion by long fallows. After they come up to the mountains they weed their crops carefully, and they look remarkably clean. In reaping they leave a stubble five or six inches long. There is a good deal of spade husbandry in places where they have no oxen, or where the arable patches are steep. The spades are much longer than ours, and the upper corners of the sides are turned over for three inches.

A spade is worked by two men, one using his hands and one foot, and the other a rope placed where the handle enters the iron, with which he gives the implement a sharp jerk towards him.

In the higher valleys they grow wheat and barley only, but in the lower rice, cotton, melons, and cucumbers are produced, and opium for exportation. They plough and sow in the autumn, and reap on their return to their “yailaks” the following summer. Their rude water mills, and the hand mills worked by women, grind the wheat into the coarse flour used by them.

It appears from the statements of the Mollah-i-Murtaza, Aziz Khan, an intelligent son of Chiragh Ali Khan, and others, that the tenure of arable lands is very simple and well understood. “From long ago” certain of such lands have been occupied by certain tribes, and have been divided among families. Some of the tribes possess documents, supposed to secure these rights, granted by Ali Mardan Khan, the Bakhtiari King of Persia, in the anarchical period which followed the death of Nadīr Shah. Those of them who are without documents possess the lands by right of use. Nearly all the tribes have individual rights of tillage, and have expended much labour on their lands in irrigation and removing stones. A fee for the use of these lands is paid to the Ilkhani every year in money or cattle.

For pasturage there is only the right of “use and wont,” and the grazing is free. For camping-grounds each tribe has its special “use and wont,” subject to change by the order of the Ilkhani, but it was out of quarrels concerning these and the pasture lands that many of the feuds at present existing arose.

We left Ali-kuh in a westerly direction, followed and crossed the Karun, left it at its junction with the Duab, ascended this short affluent to its source, crossed the Gardan-i-Cherri at an elevation of 9200 feet, and descended 4000 feet into the Bazuft or Rudbar valley, where the camps now are. The road after leaving Ali-kuh, where the slopes were covered with pink and white hollyhocks, keeps along a height above the Karun, and then descends abruptly into a chasm formed of shelves of conglomerate, on the lowest of which there is just room for a loaded mule between the cliffs and the water at the narrowest part. Shadowed by shelf upon shelf of rock, the river shoots through a narrow passage, as though impatient for its liberation from an unnatural restraint, and there is what I hesitate to call — a bridge. At all events there is a something by which men and beasts can cross the chasm — a rude narrow cradle of heavy branches, filled with stones, quite solid and safe, resting on projections of rock on either side. The Karun, where this Pul-i-Ali-kuh crosses it, is only nine feet six inches in width. I found the zigzag ascent on the right bank a very difficult one, and had sundry falls.


Karun at Pul-i-ali-kuh.

Two hours more brought us to the junction of the Karun and Duab (“two rivers”) above which the former is lost to view in a tremendous ravine, the latter coming down a green valley among high and mostly bare mountains, on a gravelly slope of one of which we camped, for the purpose of ascending a spur of a lofty mountain which overhangs the Karun. On such occasions I take my mule, Suleiman, the most surefooted of his surefooted race, who brings me down precipitous declivities which I could not look at on my own feet. After crossing the Duab, a green, rapid willow-fringed river, by a ford so deep as to be half-way up the bodies of the mules, and zigzagging up a steep mountain side to a ridge of a spur of Kaisruh, so narrow that a giant might sit astride upon it, a view opened of singular grandeur.

On the southern side of the ridge, between mountains of barren rock, snow-slashed, and cleft by tremendous rifts, lying in shadows of cool gray, the deep, bright, winding Duab flows down the green valley which it blesses, among stretches of wheat and mounds where only the forgotten dead have their habitation — a silver thread in the mellow light. On the northern side lies the huge Tang-i-Karun, formed by the magnificent mountain Kaisruh on its right bank, and on the left by mountains equally bold, huge rock-masses rising 3000 feet perpendicularly, and topped by battlements of terra-cotta rock, which took on vermilion colouring in the sunset glow. Through this mighty gorge the Karun finds its way, a green, rapid willow-fringed stream below the ridge, and visible higher up for miles here and there in bottle-green pools, everywhere making sharp turns in its stupendous bed, and disappearing from sight among huge piles of naked rock. Even on this splintered ridge, at a height of 8000 feet, there were tulips, celery in blossom, mullein, roses, legions of the Fritillaria imperialis, anemones, blue linum, and a wealth of alpine plants.

There also are found in abundance the great umbelliferous plants —Ferula glauca, Ferula candelabra, and the Ferula asafoetida. The latter I have never seen elsewhere, and was very much rejoiced to procure some of its “tears,” though the odour will cling to my gloves till they are worn out. Hadji had heard that it is found in one or two places in the Bakhtiari country, but up to this time I had searched for it in vain. There also for the first time I found the Astragalus verus, the gum tragacanth of commerce. The ordinary tragacanth bush, the “goat’s thorn,” the Astragalus tragacantha, which is found everywhere on the arid hillsides, produces a gummy juice but no true gum, and its chief value is for kindling fires.

Following up the Duab, through brush of tamarisk, Hippophae rhamnoides, and Indian myrtle, above the cultivated lands, and passing burial mounds with their rude stone lions with their sculptured sides, we camped in a valley at the foot of the Gardan-i-Cherri and Kuh-i-Milli, close to the powerful spring in the hillside which is the source of the stream, where there was abundant level ground for three camps. The next evening Karim, the man who so nearly lost his arm some time ago, was carried past my tent fainting, having been severely kicked in the chest by the same horse that lacerated his arm. “I am unlucky,” he murmured feebly, when he came to himself in severe pain.

I have crossed the Gardan-i-Cherri twice, and shall cross it a third time. It marks a great change in the scenery, and the first intimation of possible peril from the tribesmen. The ascent from the east, which is extremely rugged and steep, is one of 2000 feet in three and a half miles. Near the top were many Ilyats camping without their tents, a rough-looking set, with immense flocks, and on the summit the Agha, who was without his attendants, met some men who were threatening both in speech and gesture.

From the top there is a wonderful view into an unknown land. The ranges are heavily wooded, and much broken up into spurs and rounded peaks. Between the great range, crossed at a height of 9550 feet by the Cherri Pass, and a wall-like range of mighty mountains of white limestone with snow on them hardly whiter than themselves, lies the Bazuft valley, 4000 feet below, and down upon it come sharp forest-covered spurs, often connected by sharp ridges of forest-covered rocks cleft by dark forest-filled ravines, with glimpses now and then of a winding peacock-green river, flowing at times through green lawns and slopes of grain, at others disappearing into gigantic cañons — great forest-skirted and snow-slashed mountains apparently blocking up the valley at its higher end. At the first crossing all lay glorified in a golden veil, with indigo shadows in the rifts and white lights on the heights.

The first part of the descent is fearfully rough, a succession of ledges of broken rock encumbered here and there with recently dead horses or mules, and the whole downward course of 4000 feet is without a break, the climate getting hotter and hotter as one descends. At 8000 feet the oak forests begin. This oak bears acorns nearly three inches long, which are ground and made into bread. All other vegetation is dried and scorched, and the trees rise out of dust. In this forest we came upon a number of Ilyats, some of whom were lying under a tree, ill of fever, and Aziz Khan insisted that then and there I should give them quinine.

At the bottom of this unalleviated descent there is a shady torrent, working a rude flour mill; a good deal of wheat speckled with hollyhocks, white campanulas, and large snapdragons; some very old tufa cones, and below them level lawns, eaten bare, fringed with oaks, with dry wood for the breaking; and below again the translucent, rapid, peacock-green, beautiful Bazuft. But not even the sound of the rush of its cool waters could make one forget the overpowering heat, 100°, even in the shade of a spreading tree.

I know not which is the more trying, the ascent or the descent of the 4000 feet of ledges and zigzags on the southern face of the Gardan-i-Cherri. The road is completely encumbered with stones, and is being allowed to fall into total disrepair, although it is the shortest route between Isfahan and Shuster. Things are undoubtedly deteriorating. The present Ilkhani is evidently not the man to get and keep a grip on these turbulent tribesmen. I notice a gradual weakening of his authority as the distance from Ardal increases.

When Hussein Kuli Khan, the murdered father of Isfandyar Khan, was Ilkhani, he not only built substantial bridges such as those over the Karun in the Tang-i-Ardal and at Dupulan, but by severe measures compelled every tribe using this road in its spring and autumn migrations to clear off the stones and repair it. As it is, nearly all our animals lost one or more of their shoes on the descent. The ascent and descent took eight hours.

Some of the cliffs on the right bank of the Bazuft are of gypsiferous rock, topped with pure white gypsum, resting on high, steep elevations of red and fawn coloured earths, with outcrops of gravel conglomerate.

Yesterday was spent in a very severe expedition of twenty-four miles from Mowaz to the lofty plateau of Gorab, mostly through oak forest, crossing great cañons 800 feet deep and more, with almost precipitous sides, descending upon the awful gorge through which the Bazuft passes before it turns round the base of the Kuh-i-Gerra, the monarch of this mass of mountains. The ascents and descents were endless and severe as we crossed the mountain spurs. It was a simple scramble up and down rock ledges, among great boulders, or up or down smooth slippery surfaces. Even my trusty mule slipped and fell several times. Often the animals had to jump up or down ledges nearly as high as their chests, and through rifts so narrow as only just to admit the riders. In some places it was absolutely necessary to walk, and in attempting to get down one bad place on my own feet I fell and hurt my knee badly — a serious misfortune just at present.

After twelve miles of a toilsome march the guide led us up among the boulders of a deep ravine to the treeless plateau of Gorab, an altitude of 8000 feet, where the air was fresh and cool. The scenery is on a gigantic scale, and the highly picturesque Bazuft is seen passing through magnificent cañons of nearly perpendicular rock, and making sharp turns round the bases of lofty spurs, till after a course of singular beauty it joins the Karun at Shalil. It is glorious scenery, full of magnificence and mystery. This beautiful Ab-i-Bazuft, which for a long distance runs parallel with the Karun within fifteen or eighteen miles of it, is utterly unlike it, for the Karun is the most tortuous of streams and the Bazuft keeps a geographically straight course for a hundred miles. Springs bursting from the mountain sides keep it always full; it passes nearly ice-cold among lawns and woods, and its colour is everywhere a pure peacock-green of the most exquisite tint, contrasting with the deep blue-green of the Karun. Shuster is only seven marches off, and in the direction in which it lies scorched barren hills fill up the distance, sinking down upon yellow barren plains, softened by a yellow haze, in which the imagination sees those vast alluvial stretches which descend in an unbroken level to the Shat-el-Arab and the Persian Gulf. Many a lofty range is seen, but the eye can rest only on the huge Gerra mass, with the magnificent snowy peak of Dalonak towering above all, bathed in a heavenly blue.

The shelter-tent was pitched till the noonday heat moderated. Abbas Ali and Mehemet Ali were inside it, and I was reading Ben Hur aloud. Aziz Khan was lying half in and half out, with a quizzical look on his face, wondering at a woman knowing how to read. Not a creature had been seen, when as if by magic nine or ten Lurs appeared, established themselves just outside, and conversed with Aziz. I went on reading, and they went on talking, the talk growing disagreeably loud, and Aziz very much in earnest. Half an hour passed thus, the Agha, who understood their speech, apparently giving all his attention to Ben Hur.

I did not hear till the evening that the topic of the talk was our robbery, with possible murder, and that Aziz was spending all his energies on dissuading them, telling them that we are guests of the Ilkhani and under the protection of the Shah, and that they and their tribe would be destroyed if they carried out their intention. They discovered that his revolvers were not loaded — he had in fact forgotten his cartridges, and one said to the others, “Don’t give him time to load.”

While the tent was being packed, I sat on a stone watching the Lurs, dark, handsome savages, armed with loaded clubbed sticks, and the Agha was asking them about the country, when suddenly there was a mêlée, and the semblance of an attack on him with the clubs. He seemed to shake his assailants off, lounged towards his mule, took his revolver from the holster, fired it in the air, and with an unconcerned, smiling face, advanced towards the savages, and saying something like calling attention to the excellences of that sort of firearm, fired two bullets close over their heads. They dread our arms greatly, and fell back, and molested us no further. Till later I did not know that the whole thing was not a joke on both sides. Aziz says that if it had not been for the Agha’s coolness, all our lives would have been sacrificed.

In returning, the Agha, walking along a lower track than we were riding upon, met some Lurs, who, thinking that he was alone, began to be insolent, and he heard them say to each other, “Strip him, kill him,” when their intention was frustrated by our appearance just above. After crossing the Serba torrent with its delicious shade of fine plane trees, the heat of the atmosphere, with the radiation from rock and gravel, was overpowering. I found the mercury at 103° in my shady tent.

Aziz Khan now pays me a visit each evening, to give me such information as is attainable regarding the people and locality, and, though he despised me at first, after Moslem fashion, we are now very good friends. He is a brave man, and made no attempt to magnify the danger at Gorab, merely saying that he was devoutly thankful that we had escaped with our lives. He remonstrated with me for pitching my tent in such a lonely place, quite out of sight of the other camps, but it was then too dark to move it. He said that there was some risk, for the Lurs had declared they would “rob us yet,” but he should watch all night. I knew he would, for the sake of his Arab mare!

This morning, soon after leaving Mowaz, the Sahib’s guide galloped up, saying that his master had been robbed of “everything” the night before, and was without the means of boiling water. Orders were given for the camps to close up, for no servants to ride in advance of or behind the caravan, and that no Ilyats should hang about the tents.

Although the Bakhtiari Lurs are unified under one chief, who is responsible to the Shah for the security of the country, and though there has been a great improvement since Sir A. H. Layard’s time, the advance, I think, is chiefly external. The instincts and traditions of the tribes remain predatory. Possibly they may no longer attack large caravans, but undoubtedly they rob, when and where they can, and they have a horrid habit of stripping their victims, leaving them with but one under garment, if they do not kill them. They have a gesture, often used by Aziz Khan in his descriptions of raids, which means stripping a man to his shirt. The word used is skin, but they are not such savages as this implies. The gesture consists in putting a finger into the mouth, slowly withdrawing it, and holding it up with a look of infinite complacency. Aziz admits with some pride that with twenty men he fell upon a rich caravan near Shiraz, and robbed it of £600.


Killa Bazuft.

To-day’s march has been mainly through very attractive scenery. We crossed the Ab-i-Mowaz, proceeded over slopes covered with wheat and flowers, and along a rocky path overhanging the exquisitely tinted Bazuft, forded the Ab-i-Nozi, at a place abounding in tamarisks bearing delicate, feathery pink blossoms, and ascended to upland lawns of great beauty, on which the oaks come down both in clumps and singly, as if planted. The views from this natural park are glorious. Besides the great ranges with which I have become familiar, the Safid–Kuh, or “white mount,” on the right bank of the river, at present deserves its name, its snows descending nearly to the forests which clothe its lower heights. A deep chasm conceals the Tabarak stream up to the point of its foamy junction with the Bazuft, which emerges on the valley by an abrupt turn through a very fine cañon.

We crossed the pure green waters by a broad ford, and camped on the right bank on a gravel plateau above it, on which is Killa Bazuft, a large quadrangular stone fort with round towers at the corners, an arcaded front, a vaulted entrance, and rooms all round the quadrangle. It is now ruinous. Some irrigated land near it produces rice and mosquitos. The Sahib’s camp is pitched here. He has been badly robbed, both of clothing and cooking-pots, and was left without the means of cooking any food.

Dima, June 26.— We retraced our steps as far as the source of the Duab, crossed into the Shamisiri valley, and by a low pass into the Karun valley, forded the Karun by a strong deep ford, crossed a low range into the Zarin valley, where are some of the sources of the Zainderud, from thence marched to the Tang-i-Ghezi, through which the Zainderud, there a vigorous river, passes into the Chahar Mahals, went up the Kherson valley, crossed Gargunak, and by a very steep and rugged descent reached this camp, a place of springs, forming the upper waters of the Zainderud. These days have been severe, the heat great, and the incidents few.

The ascent of the Gardan-i-Cherri was difficult. The guide misled us, and took us through a narrow rift in the crest of a ridge on broken ledges of rock. We camped at a height of 9000 feet in the vicinity of snow. The new arrangement, which is necessary for safety, does not increase comfort, for the Arab horses, noisy, quarrelsome fellows, are in camp, and the mules shake their bells and sneeze and bray at intervals all night.

The descent of 2000 feet into the Shamisiri valley, over bare gravel chiefly, was a very hot one. It is a wide, open valley with stony hills of no great height enclosing it, with much green sward along the river banks, above which, running to a great height on the hillsides, are stretches of irrigated wheat. So far as I have yet seen, the wheat is all “bearded.” It is a most smiling valley; so cultivated, indeed, and so trim and free from weeds are the crops, that one naturally looks for neat farm-houses and barns. But one looks in vain, for except the ruins of some Armenian villages there are no traces of inhabitants, till night comes, when the glimmer of camp fires here and there high up on the hillsides shows the whereabouts of some migratory families.

I start so early as to get in to the camping-ground about nine now, and the caravan, two hours later, comes in with mules braying, bells ringing, horses squealing for a fight, servants shouting. Then the mules roll, the tent-pegs are hammered down, and in the blazing, furnace-like afternoons the men, who have been up since 2 A.M., take a prolonged siesta, and a solemn hush falls on the camp. After the Gorab affair I loaded my revolver, and now sleep with it under my pillow, carry it in my holster, and never have it out of my reach. I think I should only fire it in the air if I were attacked, but the fact of being known to be armed with such a weapon is more likely than anything else to prevent attack. No halt is now made on the march.

The sick people who appeared at Shamisiri, from no one knows where, were difficult and suspicious, and so they have been since. The dialect of Persian has somewhat changed, and Aziz Khan now interprets the strange accounts of maladies to Mirza, and he interprets to me. When they crowd almost into the tent, Aziz, when appealed to, pelts them with stones and beats them with a stick, and they take it very merrily. He thinks that I have appliances in the “leather box” for the cure of all ills, and when he brings blind people, and I say that I cannot do anything for them, he loses his temper. No matter where we camp, dark, handsome men spring up as if by magic, and hang about the fires for the rest of the day. From among these the guides are usually selected.

Numbers of “patients” appear everywhere, and the well assemble with the sick round my tent. At Berigun the people were very ignorant and obstinate. After spending a whole hour on two men, and making medicines up for them, they said they would have the “Feringhi’s ointment,” but “nothing that goes down the throat.” Another said (and he had several disciples) that he would not take the medicine “for fear it should make him a Christian.” One man, who has fever, took away four quinine powders yesterday for four days, and came back today deaf and giddy, saying that I have killed him. He had taken them all at once!

It is very pleasant to see how very fond the men are of their children, and how tender and loving they are to their little girls. The small children are almost always pretty, but by three years old the grace and innocence of childhood are completely lost, and as in Persia there are no child faces; indeed, the charm of childhood scarcely survives the weaning-day. If they are sick the fathers carry them for miles on their backs for medicine, and handle them very gently, and take infinite pains to understand about the medicine and diet. Even if both father and mother come with a child, the man always carries it, holds it, is the spokesman, and takes the directions. Several men have offered me mares and cows if I will cure their children. All the “patients” ask finally, “What must I eat, and not eat?”

The Bakhtiaris have often asked me whether it is unwholesome to live so much as they do on cheese and sour milk. They attribute much of their dyspepsia to their diet. They live principally on mast or curdled milk, buttermilk, cheese, roghan or clarified butter, nān, a thin leavened cake, made of wheat or acorn flour, bannocks of barley meal, celery pickled in sour milk, kabobs occasionally, and broth flavoured with celery stalks and garlic frequently. They never use fresh milk. They eat all fruits, whether wild or cultivated, while they are quite unripe. Almonds are eaten green.

They hunt the ibex and shoot the francolin and the bustard, and make soup of them. They are always on the hills after game, and spare nothing that they see. I have seen them several times firing at red-legged partridges sitting on their nests. They use eggs considerably, boiling them hard. Alcohol in any form is unknown among them, and few, except the Khans, have learned the delights of tea and coffee. Buttermilk, pure water, and sharbat, when they can get lime-juice, are their innocent beverages. The few who drink tea use it chiefly to colour and flavour syrup. They eat twice in the day. Though their out-of-doors life is healthy and their diet simple, they rarely attain old age. A man of sixty is accounted very old indeed. The men are certainly not polite to their wives, and if they get in their way or mine they kick them aside, just as rough men kick dogs.


Fording the Karun.

We have been marching through comparatively lowland scenery, like the Chahar Mahals, from which we are not far. At Shamisiri, except for the fine peak of Dilleh, there are no heights to arrest the eye. The hills on the north side are low, gravelly, and stony, with perpendicular outbreaks of rock near their summits. To the south they are of a different formation, with stratification much contorted. The next march was over low stony hills, with scanty herbage and much gum tragacanth, camel thorn, and the Prosopis stephaniana, down a steep descent into the Karun valley, where low green foot-hills, cultivated levels, and cultivation carried to a great altitude on the hillsides refresh the tired eyes. The Karun, liberated for a space from its imprisonment in the mountains, divides into several streams, each one a forcible river, winds sinuously among the grass, gleams like a mirror, and by its joyous, rapid career gives animation to what even without it would be at this season a very smiling landscape. Crossing the first ford in advance of the guide, we got into very deep water, and Screw was carried off his feet, but scrambled bravely to a shingle bank, where we waited for a native, who took us by long and devious courses to the left bank. The current is strong and deep, and the crossing of the caravan was a very pretty sight.

We halted for Sunday at Berigun, an eminence on which are a ruinous fort, a graveyard with several lions rampant, and a grove of very fine white poplars, one of them eighteen feet in circumference six feet from the ground. A sea of wheat in ear, the Karun in a deep channel in the green plateau, some herbage-covered foot-hills, and opposite, in the south-west, the great rocky, precipitous mass of the Zard Kuh range, with its wild crests and great snow-fields, made up a pleasant landscape. The heat at this altitude of 8280 feet, and in the shade, was not excessive.

The next day’s march was short and uninteresting, partly up the Karun valley, and partly over gravelly hills with very scanty herbage and no camps, from which we came down abruptly into the elevated plain of Cheshmeh Zarin (the Golden Fountain) at a height of 8500 feet, the plain being about five miles by two and a half. Receding hills with some herbage upon them border the plateau, and the Zard Kuh, though at some distance, apparently blocks up the western end. A powerful spring bursts from under a ridge of rock half-way down the plain, and becomes at once a clear gentle stream, fifty feet broad, which passes through the level green sward in a series of turns which are quite marvellous. Smooth sward, green barley, many yoke of big oxen ploughing up rich black soil, dark flocks of thousands of sheep and goats, asses, mares, mules, cows, all feeding, large villages of black tents, one of them surrounding the white pavilion of a Khan, saddle-horses tethered, flocks being led to and fro, others being watered, laden asses arriving and departing, butter being churned, and carpets being woven, form a scene of quiet but busy industry which makes one feel quite “in the world.” This stream is one of the chief sources of the Zainderud.

From this cheerful camping-ground we marched over low hills, forded the Zainderud several times, and came upon several Ilyat camps on low, rich pasture lands. These nomads had no tents, but dwelt in booths without fronts, the roofs and backs being made of the tough yellow flowering stalks of the celery. The path follows the left bank of the river, there a full, broad stream, flowing through the Tang-i-Ghezi, through rounded hills, and scenery much like that of the Cheviots. At the Tang-i-Ghezi we camped, and this morning crossed a low hill into a heavily-grassed valley watered by the Kherson, ascended a shoulder of Gargunak, and halted at Aziz Khan’s tents, where the women were very hospitable, bringing out cows’ milk, and allowing themselves to be photographed.

An unpleasant contretemps occurred to me while we were marching through some very lonely hills. If Mirza rides as he should, behind me, his mule always falls out of sight, and he is useless, so lately I have put him in front. To-day I dropped a glove, and after calling and whistling to him vainly, got off and picked it up, for I am reduced to one pair, but attempt after attempt to get on again failed, for each time, as I put my hand on the saddle, Screw nimbly ran backwards, and in spite of my bad knee I had to lead him for an hour before I was missed, running a great risk of being robbed by passing Lurs. When Mirza did come back he left his mule in a ravine, exposed to robbers, and Aziz Khan was so infuriated that he threatened to “cut his throat.” Aziz despises him as a “desk-bred” man for his want of “out-doorishness,” and mimics the dreamy, helpless fashion in which he sits on his mule, but Mirza can never be provoked into any display of temper or discourtesy.

From Aziz’s camp we had a very steep and rugged descent to this place, Cheshmeh Dima, where we have halted for two days. Three streams, the head-waters of the Zainderud, have their sources in this neighbourhood, and one of them, the Dima, rises as a powerful spring under a rock here, collects in a basin, and then flows away as a full-fledged river. The basin or pool has on one side a rocky hill, with the ruins of a fort upon it, and on the three others low stone walls of very rude construction. The Lurs, who soon came about us, say that the ruined fort was the pleasure palace of a great king who coined money here. The sides of the valley are dotted with camps. Opposite are the large camp and white tent of Chiragh Ali Khan, a chief who has the reputation of being specially friendly in his views of England.

The heat yesterday was overpowering, and the crowds of Bakhtiari visitors and of sick people could hardly be received with benevolent equanimity. This great heat at an altitude of 7600 feet is most disappointing. These head-waters of the Zainderud, rising in and beautifying the Zarin, Kharba, and Dima valleys, unite before reaching the Tang-i-Ghezi, from which they pass to Isfahan, and are, as has been stated before, eventually lost in a swamp. This is the most watery region I have seen in Persia. Besides the gushing, powerful springs which form vigorous streams at the moment of their exit from the mountain sides, there are many moist, spongy places in the three valleys, regularly boggy, giving out a pleasant squish under a horse’s tread, and abounding in plants associated in my ideas with Highland bogs, such as the Drosera rotundifolia, which seems to thrive on a small red fly unknown to me. These waters and swampy places occupy a small area, just within the Outer range, below the southern slopes of the Kuh-i-Rang.

From this place I made an expedition of thirty miles up a very fine valley, much of which is irrigated and cultivated, by an ascent of 2500 feet to the Gal-i-Bard-i-Jamal, a pass 10,500 feet in altitude, with a tremendous descent into an apparent abyss, from whose blue depths rise the imposing mass of the Kuh-i-Shahan, and among other heights Faidun, a striking peak of naked rock, superimposed on a rocky ridge. At this height the air was really cool, and it was an escape from the heat of Dima.

This region seems much disturbed. We heard of bloodshed two days ago, and today in the Kharba valley of fighting among the Kuh-i-Shahan mountains with the loss of twelve lives, and horsemen passed us armed with long guns and swords on their way to tribal war. I fear I shall have to return to Isfahan. Things are regarded as looking very precarious farther on, and every movement, retrograde or forward, is beset with difficulties.

I. L. B.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/bird/isabella/persia_and_kurdistan/chapter20.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31