Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan, by Isabella Bird

Letter xviii (continued)57

The call to “Boot and Saddle” was at three, and I was nearly too tired to pack in the sultry morning air. The heat is overpowering. Khaja Taimur no doubt had reasons for a difficulty in providing guides, which caused delay. The track lay through pretty country, with abounding herbage, to the village and imamzada of Makhedi. There the guide said he dared not go any farther for fear of being killed, and after some time another was procured. During this delay a crowd of handsome but hardship-aged women gathered round me, many of them touching the handkerchiefs on their heads and then tapping the palms of their hands, a significant sign, which throughout Persia, being interpreted, means, “Give me some money.”

The Agha is in the habit of gathering the little girls about him and giving them krans as from his own children, a most popular proceeding usually; but here the people were not friendly, and very suspicious. Even the men asked me clamorously, “Why does he give them money? It’s poisoned, it’s cursed, it’s to make them blind.” However, avarice prevailed over fear. The people rarely see money, and it is not used as a medium of exchange, but they value it highly for paying the tribute and as ornaments for the women. Barter is the custom, and with regard to “tradesmen,” whether in camps or villages, it is usual for each family to pay so much grain annually to the blacksmith, the carpenter, the shoemaker —i.e. the man who makes compressed rag or leather soles for ghevas and unites the cotton webbing (“upper”) to the sole — and the hammam keeper, in the rare cases where there is one. They were cutting wheat on July 12 there at an altitude of 7000 feet. Where there are only camps the oxen tread it out at once on the hard soil of the fields, but where there is a village the sheaves are brought in on donkeys’ backs to a house roof of sun-dried clay, and are there trodden out, the roofs being usually accessible from the slope above.

We descended to a deep ford, crossed the river Ab-i-Baznoi (locally known as Kakulistan, or “the curl,” from its singular windings), there about sixty feet wide, with clear rapid water of a sky-blue tint, very strong, and up to the guide’s waist, and entered a steep-sided stony valley, where the heat was simply sickening. There the second guide left us, saying he should be killed if he went any farther, but another was willing to succeed him. After a steep ascent we emerged on a broad rolling upland valley, deeply gashed by a stream, with the grand range of the Kala Kuh on the south side, and low bare hills on the north. It is now populous, the valley and hillsides are spotted with large camps, and the question at once arose, “Hostile or Friendly?”

I was riding as usual with Mirza behind me, when a man with a gun rushed frantically towards me from an adjacent camp, waving his gun and shouting, “Who are you? Why are you in our country? You’re friends of Khaja Taimur, you’ve given him presents, we’ll rob you”! With these and many similar words he pursued us, and men started up as by magic, with long guns, running alongside, the low spurs became covered with people in no time, and there was much signalling from hill to hill, “A-hoy-hoy-hoy-hoy,” and sending of messengers. Mirza pacified them by saying that we are friends of Isfandyar Khan, and that I have presents for Aslam Khan, their chief; but soon the shout of “Feringhis” was raised, and from group to group along the knolls swelled the cry of “Feringhis! Feringhis!” mixed with a few shouts of Kafir; but without actual molestation we reached a steep and uncomfortable camping-ground, Padshah-i-Zalaki, at an altitude of 7800 feet, with an extensive view of the broad green valley.

Before we halted Aslam Khan, a very fine-looking man, and others met us, and performed feats of horsemanship, wheeling their horses in small circles at a gallop, and firing pantomimically over their left shoulders and right flanks. The Sahib came in later, so that our party was a tolerably strong one.

The first thing the people did was to crowd into the shelter-tent and lie down, staring fixedly, a thing which never happened before, and groups steadily occupied the tops of the adjacent spurs. After my tent was pitched the people assembled round it in such numbers, ostensibly desiring medicine, that the Khan sent two tufangchis to keep order among them, and Karim, whose arm is now well, was added as a protection. The Agha ordered that the people should sit in rows at the sides and take their turn, one at a time, to come into the verandah, but no sooner were he and Aziz Khan out of sight than they began to crowd, to shout, and to become unmanageable, scuffling and pushing, the tufangchis pretending to beat them with the barrels of their guns, but really encouraging them, and at length going away, saying they could not manage them. Karim begged me to stop giving medicine, for he was overpowered, and if he opposed them any more there would be a fight. They had said that if he “spoke another word they would kill him.” They were perfectly good-humoured all the time, but acted like complete savages, getting under the flys, tugging at the tent ropes, and trying to pull my blankets off the bed, etc. At last the hindmost gave a sudden push, sending the foremost tumbling into the tent and over me, upsetting a large open packet of sulphate of zinc, just arrived from Julfa, which was on my lap.

I left the tent to avoid further mischief, but was nearly suffocated by their crowding and tugging my dress, shouting “Hakīm! Hakīm!” The Sahib, who came to the rescue, and urged them in Persian to depart, was quite powerless. In the midst of the confusion the Khan’s wives and daughter came to visit me, but I could only show them the crowd and walk, followed by it, in the opposite direction from the tent, till I met the Agha, whose presence restored order. That night nearly all Hadji’s juls or mule blankets and a donkey were stolen.

The Zalakis are a large and powerful tribe, predatory by habit and tradition. Aslam Khan himself directed certain thefts from which we suffered, and quoted a passage from the Koran not only to extenuate but to warrant depredations on the goods of “infidels.”

Sunday was spent in the hubbub of a crowd. I was suffering somewhat from a fall, and yet more from the fatigues of Kalahoma, and longed for rest, but the temperature of the tent when closed was 106°, and when open the people crowded at the entrance, ostensibly for medicine, but many from a pardonable and scarcely disguised curiosity to see the “Feringhi Hakīm,” and hear her speak.

In the afternoon, with Mirza and Karim as a guard, I went somewhat reluctantly to the Khan’s camp to return the abortive visit of the ladies. This camp consists of a number of black tents arranged in a circle, the Khan’s tents only distinguishable from the rest by their larger size. Mares, dogs, sheep, goats, and fireholes were in the centre, and some good-looking horses were tethered outside.

The Khan’s mother, a fine, buxom, but coarse-looking woman, met me, and took me to an open tent, fully forty feet long, the back of which was banked up by handsome saddle-bags. Bolsters and rugs were laid in the middle, on which the four legitimate wives and several inferior ones, with a quantity of babies and children crawling about them, were seated. Among them was a very handsome Jewish-looking girl of eighteen, the Khan’s daughter, pleasing in expression and graceful in manner. She is married to a son of Taimur Khan, but he does not care for her, and has practically discarded her, which adds insult to the “blood feud” previously existing.

After I entered the tent the whole camp population, male and female, crowded in, pressing upon us with clamour indescribable. The Khan’s mother slapped the wives if they attempted to speak and conducted herself like a ruling virago, occasionally shrieking at the crowd, while a tufangchi with a heavy stick belaboured all within his reach, and those not belaboured yelled with laughter.

The senior lady beckoned Mirza to lean towards her, and told him in a whisper that her handsome granddaughter is hated and despised by her husband, and has been sent back with a baby a year old, he having taken another wife, and that she wanted me to give her a “love philtre” that would answer the double purpose of giving her back his love and making her rival hateful in his eyes. During this whispered conference as many as could reach leant close to the speakers, like the “savages” that they are. I replied that I knew of no such philtres, that if the girl’s beauty and sweetness could not retain her husband’s love there was no remedy. She said she knew I had them, and that I kept them, as well as potions for making favourite wives ugly and odious to their husbands, in a leather box with a gold key! Then many headaches and sore eyes were brought, and a samovar and tea, and I distributed presents in a Babel in which anything but the most staccato style of conversation was impossible. When I left the crowd surged after me, and a sharp stone was thrown, which cut through my cloak.

Later, Aslam Khan, his brothers, and the usual train of retainers called. He is a very fine-looking man, six feet high, with a most sinister expression, and a look at times which inspired me with the deepest distrust of him. His robber tribe numbers 3500 souls, and he says that he can bring 540 armed horsemen into the field. He too asked for medicine for headache. Not only is there a blood feud between him and Khaja Taimur, but between him and Mirab Khan, through whose valley we must pass. In the evening the Khan’s mother returned with several women, bent on getting the “love philtre.” At night Hadji, who was watching, said that men were prowling round the tents at all hours, and a few things were taken.

On Monday morning early all was ready, for the three caravans from that day were to march together, and I was sitting on my horse talking with the Sahib, waiting for the Agha to return from the Khan’s camp, when he rushed down the slope exclaiming, “There’s mischief!” and I crossed the stream and watched it. About twenty men with loaded sticks had surrounded Mujid, and were beating him and finally got him down. I leapt back to my own camp, where Hassan and Karim were taking a parting smoke, and ordered them to the rescue. The soldier rushed into the mêlée, armed with only a cane, which was broken at once, and the Bakhtiaris got him by his thick hair, and all but forced him down; but he fought like a bulldog, and so did Hassan, who was unarmed and got two bad cuts. Dashed too into the fray Hadji Hussein, who fought like a bull, followed by his muleteers and by Abbas Ali, who, being early knocked down, hung on to a man’s arm with his teeth. The Sahib, who was endeavouring to make peace, was untouched, possibly because of his lineage and faith, and he yelled to Mirza (who in a fight is of no account) to run for the Agha, whose presence is worth fifty men.

Meanwhile a number of Zalakis, armed, two with guns and the rest with loaded sticks, crowded round me, using menacing gestures and calling me a Kafir, on which I took my revolver out of the holster, and very slowly examined the chambers, though I knew well that all were loaded. This had an excellent effect. They fell back, and were just dispersing when over the crest of the hill cantered Aziz Khan, followed by the Agha, who, galloping down the slope, fired a revolver twice over the head of a man who was running away, who, having stolen a sheep, and being caught in the act by Mujid, had begun the fray. Aslam Khan followed, and, the men say, gave the order to fire, but recalled it on finding that one of his tribesmen had been the aggressor. I thought he took the matter very coolly, and he almost immediately told Mirza to ask me for a penknife!

After this we started, the orders being for the caravans to keep well together, and if we were absolutely attacked to “fire.” After ascending a spur of the Kala Kuh we left the track for an Ilyat camp on a steep hill among oaks and pears, where I had promised to see a young creature very ill of fever.

Among the trees was a small booth of four poles, roofed with celery stalks, but without sides or ends, and in this, on a sheepskin, was a heap out of which protruded two white wasted arms. I uncovered the back of a head which turned slowly, and revealed, in a setting of masses of heavy shining hair, the white face of a young girl, with large brilliant eyes and very beautiful teeth. Her pulse was fluttering feebly, and I told the crowd that death was very near, for fear they should think I had poisoned her with the few drops of stimulant that she was able to swallow. Even here the death penalty sometimes follows the joy of maternity. She died in the evening, and now nothing remains of the camp but a heap of ashes, for these people always at once leave the camping-ground where a death has occurred.

Meanwhile the Agha was making friends with the people, and giving krans to the children, as is his habit. Scarcely had we left when he found that he had been robbed of a fine pair of binocular glasses, almost a necessity under the circumstances. English rifles, binoculars, and watches are all coveted by the Bakhtiaris. Aziz Khan became very grave, and full of dismal prophecies regarding the remainder of the journey.

After this divergence the scenery was magnificent. The Kala Kuh range is certainly finer than the Zard Kuh. It is more broken up into peaks of definite outline, and is more deeply cut by gorges, many of them the beds of torrents, densely wooded. In fact it is less of a range and more of a group. The route lay among huge steep mountains of naked rock, cut up by narrow, deep, and gigantic clefts, from whose depths rise spires of rock and stupendous, almost perpendicular cliffs. Green torrents flecked with foam boom through the shadows, or flash in the sunlight, margined wherever it is possible by walnuts, oaks, lilacs, roses, the Lastrea dilatata, and an entanglement of greenery revelling in spray.

A steep zigzag descent through oak and pear trees brought us to the vigorous torrent Ab-i-Sefid (white water), one of many of the same name, crossed by a natural bridge of shelving rock, slippery from much use. One of the Arabs so nearly fell on this that I dismounted, and just as I did so Abbas Ali’s mule fell on his side, and Screw following did the same, breaking several things in the holster.

After crossing a deep ravine Abbas Ali sprang back down the steep to it, and the Sahib, who was behind, also ran down with three men to what was evidently a disaster. Mirza’s mule had fallen over twenty feet, rolling over him three times with its load, hurting his knee badly. The Sahib said he never saw so narrow an escape from a broken neck. The loss of a bottle containing a quart of milk was the chief damage. A little farther up three men were tugging Hakīm up to the track by the tail. It was a very steep ascent by stony broken zigzags and ledges to the fairly level top of a spur of the Kala Kuh range, with a high battlemented hill behind, at the back of which dwell robber hordes, and many Seyyids, who pay no tribute, and are generally feared.

At this open, breezy height of 9200 feet the camps have been pitched for three days, and of the many camping-grounds which we have hitherto occupied I like it the best, so lofty is it, so lonely, so mysterious and unexplored. It has a glorious view of tremendous wooded ravines, down which green waters glide or tumble, of small lawn-like plateaux among woods, and of green peaks in the foreground, and on the other side of the narrow, sinuous valley, several thousand feet below, there is a confused mass of mountains, among which the snow-slashed southern faces of the peaks of the Zard Kuh and the grand bulk of a mountain of the Faidun range, are the most prominent.

Five thousand feet below, reached by a remarkable track, is Basnoi, a lonely depth, with successive terraces of figs, pomegranates, and walnuts, dense woods, and a luxuriant undergrowth of long grass and ferns. Among them are the remains of an ancient road of good width and construction, and of a very fine bridge of small blocks of carefully-dressed stone, with three arches, now ruined, with fine piers and stone abutments, the centre arch having a span of sixty feet. The roadway of the bridge is gone, and a crazy wicker framework is suspended in its place. The Bakhtiaris attribute these relics of an extinct civilisation to Shapur, one of the three kings of that name who reigned in the third and fourth centuries. All these green waters fall into the Ab-i-Diz.

Before sunset heads of men and barrels of guns were seen over the rocky cliff behind us. We had been warned against the outlaw tribes of that region, and had been told that they were preparing to rob the camp that night with thirty men, and had declared that if they failed they would dog us till they succeeded. This news was brought by Aslam Khan’s brother in the afternoon. I asked Aziz with how much I should reach Burujird, and he answered, “It’s well if you take your life there.”

This and a whole crop of other rumours, magnified as they passed from man to man, produced a novel excitement in the lonely camps. Hadji buried his money, of which he had a large sum, and lay down upon it. Rifles and revolvers were cleaned and loaded, swords and knives sharpened, voices were loud and ceaseless, and those who were slightly hurt in the morning’s fray recounted their adventures over and over again. All dispositions for safety were carefully made before night. Hassan, who has a horse, and large property in good clothes, wanted a revolver, but was wisely refused, on the ground that to arm undisciplined men indiscriminately would be to run a great risk of being ourselves shot in any confusion. There were then four men with rifles, five with revolvers, and Aslam Khan’s brother and two tufangchis with guns.

About eight the Bakhtiari signal-call was several times repeated, and I wondered if it were foe or friend, till Aziz’s answering signal rang out loud and clear, announcing that it was “friends of Isfandyar Khan.” Shortly I heard, “the plot thickens,” and the “friends” turned out to be another brother of Aslam Khan, with four tufangchis and a promise of eight more, who never arrived. According to these men reliable information had been received that Khaja Taimur, our friend of Kalahoma, was sending forty men to rob us on Aslam Khan’s territory in order to get him into trouble.

This arrival increased the excitement among the men, who piled tamarisk and the gum tragacanth bush on the fires most recklessly, the wild, hooded tufangchis and their long guns being picturesque in the firelight. I am all but positively sure that the rumour was invented by Aslam Khan, in order to show his vigilant care of guests, and secure from their gratitude the much-coveted possession of an English rifle. Hadji came to my tent, telling me “not to be the least afraid, for they would not harm a lady.” The Agha has a resource for every emergency, the Sahib is cool and brave, and besides that, I strongly suspected the whole thing to be a ruse of Aslam Khan, whom I distrust thoroughly. At all events I was asleep very early, and was only disturbed twice by Aziz calling to know if my servants were watching, and was only awakened at five by the Sahib and the Agha going past my tent, giving orders that any stranger approaching the camp was to be warned off, and was to be fired upon if he disregarded the warning.

A blissfully quiet day followed the excitement of the night before. The men slept after their long watch, and the fighting horses were at a distance. The Agha did not return, and for a day and night I was the only European in camp. Aziz Khan, with an English rifle, a hundred cartridges, and two revolvers in his belt, kept faithful watch, and to “make assurance doubly sure” I walked through the camp twice during the night to see that the men on guard were awake.

Before midnight there was a frightful “row” for two hours, which sounded as if fifty men were taking part in it. I have often wondered at the idiotic things that Hassan does, and at the hopelessly dazed way in which he sometimes stands. Now it has come out that he is smoking more and more opium, and has been supplying Karim with it.

Mujid, who was formerly the Agha’s cook, has been promoted to be major-domo, rules the caravan on the march, heads it on a fine horse, keeps accounts, and is generally “confidential.” Karim resents all this. He lately bought a horse because he could not bear to ride a baggage mule when the other man was well mounted, and being that night mad with opium, and being armed both with rifle and revolver, with which he threatened to kill Mujid, it was only by the united and long-continued efforts of all the men that bloodshed was prevented. The next day Hassan destroyed his opium pipe, and is trying to cure himself of the habit with the aid of morphia, but he complains of “agony in the waist,” which is just the fearful craving which the disuse of the drug causes.

The Agha encountered very predatory Lurs in the lower regions. A mule was stolen by two Lurs, then robbed from them by three, who in their turn were obliged to surrender it to some passing Ilyats, from whom he recovered it. While he was resting at night he was awakened by hearing some Lurs who had joined them discussing the practicability of robbing him, but when one told the others that he had found out that “the Feringhi has six shots,” they gave it up. At this camp we are only a few days’ march from classic ground, the ancient Elam with its capital of Susa, and the remains of so fine a bridge, with the unusual feature, still to be distinctly traced, of level approaches, the adjacent ruins, and the tradition of an old-world route, a broad road having followed the river-bed to the plains of Lower Elam, all point to an earlier and higher civilisation. Overlooking the bridge on the left bank of the Ab-i-Basnoi a large square enclosure, with large stone slabs inside, was found, which had probably been used for a cistern, and outside there were distinct traces of an aqueduct.

The “Sang Niwishta” (inscribed stone), which has been talked about for a hundred miles, and promised to be a great discovery, was investigated by a most laborious march, and turned out a great disappointment. It was to be hoped, indeed it might have been expected, that a journey through these, till now unexplored, regions would have resulted in the discovery of additional records of the past carved in stone, but such is not the case.

Still, it is something to have learned that even here there was once a higher civilisation, and that in its day there was great traffic along the Basnoi road, and that every route through this Upper Elam, whether from north, west, or east, from the Persian highlands to the plains of Arabistan, and the then populous banks of the Kerkhah, must have passed through the great gap below Pul-i-Kul.

The Gokun, Sahid, Guwa, and any number of other streams fall into this Ab-i-Basnoi, which is the channel for the drainage of far-off Faraidan, and after a full-watered course joins the Ab-i-Burujird, which drains the plain of Silakhor, the two forming the Ab-i-Diz, on which the now famous town of Dizful (lit. Pul-i-Diz or Bridge of Diz) is situated.

Gardan-i-Gunak, July 20.— On July 17 we retraced our steps to Padshah-i-Zalaki, and camped on a height above Aslam Khan’s tents on ground so steep that the tent floor had to be cut into steps with a spade. Aslam Khan and others came to meet us, again performing feats of horsemanship. No sooner were the tents pitched than the crowd assembled, and it was another noisy and fagging day. Among the things taken from my tent were an umbrella, knife, scissors, and most of my slender stock of underclothing. The scissors and cotton were taken by a young sister-in-law of the Khan, while I was attending to a terrible hurt outside. It turns out that Aslam Khan has got the Agha’s binocular, and that he told his men to acquire a small but very powerful telescope which he coveted. My milk bottle in a leather sling-case has a likeness to it, and this morning as I was giving a woman some eye-lotion her son withdrew this, almost under my eyes!

The Khan’s face is a most faithful reproduction of that of Judas in Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper.” He is so fine-looking that one is surprised that he should condescend to do small mean things. I sent him the knife he asked for, and soon he called and asked for a bigger one. He passed off his handsome daughter, the wife of Taimur Khan’s son, as his wife, in order to get, through her, a travelling-clock which he coveted.

They brought a woman to me who might have been produced from a London slum, ophthalmia in one eye, the other closed up and black, and behind it and through her nose a deep wound, gaping fully an inch, blood caked thick and black all over her face and matting her hair, her upper lip cut through, and two teeth knocked out — a regular hospital case. Her brother, they said, had quarrelled with her and had thrown stones at her only the day before, but they had already filled up the wounds with some horrible paste. I asked Sardah Khan why the Khan did not have the man thrashed for such a brutality, and he replied that no one would touch him, as he had killed three men last winter.

I spent two hours upon the poor creature, and the relief was so great that her gratitude was profuse, and the blessings invoked manifold. It was a great pleasure to me. But many things were taken out of the tent while I sat outside attending to her. The Khan’s brothers, tufangchis with their long guns, Seyyids with their green turbans and contemptuous scowl, women, and children were all pressing upon me, hindering and suffocating me in a temperature of nearly 100°. They seem to have no feeling for pain or shrinking from painful spectacles, and rather to enjoy the groans of the sufferer. Each time a piece of stone was taken out of the wounds they exclaimed “God is great!” Occasionally, when the crush interfered with what I was doing, a man beat them with his gun, or Aziz Khan threw stones at them, but it was useless.

The people tell our men that Kafirs have never before entered their valley, and that if we were not under the Shah’s protection they would take all that we have. I imagine that the difficulties are far greater than I know, for the Agha, who minimises all danger, remarked last night that this is a most anxious time, and that he should be most thankful to get every one out of the country, for it was impossible to say what a day might bring forth. All idea of my returning to Julfa is now abandoned. Bad as it is it is safer to go on.

As the welcome darkness fell the hillsides near and far blazed with fires, and Aslam Khan’s camp immediately below was a very picturesque sight, its thirty-one tents forming a circle, with the Khan’s two tents in the middle, each having a fire in front. Supper was prepared in large pots; the men ate first, then the women, children, and dogs. The noise suggested pandemonium. The sheep and goats bleated, the big dogs barked, the men and women shouted and shrieked all together, at the top of their voices, rude musical instruments brayed and clanged — it sounded diabolical. Doubtless the inroad of the Feringhis was the topic of talk. Savage life does not bear a near view. Its total lack of privacy, its rough brutality, its dirt, its undisguised greed, its unconcealed jealousies and hatreds, its falseness, its pure selfishness, and its treachery are all painful on a close inspection.

The following morning early we came up to the Gunak, the narrow top of a pass in the Kala Kuh range with an altitude of 10,200 feet, crossing on the way a steep and difficult snow-slide, and have halted here for two days. Marching with the caravan is a necessary precaution, but a most tedious and fatiguing arrangement. No more galloping, only a crawl at “caravan pace,” about two and a half miles an hour for five, six, or seven hours, and though one is up at 2.45 it is fully five before the mules are under way, and meantime one is the centre of that everlasting crowd which, on some pretext or other, asks for medicine. If no ailment can be produced at present, then the request is, “Give me something from the leather box, I’ve a cough in the winter,” or an uncovered copper bowl is brought, the contents of which would evaporate in a fortnight in this climate, with the plaint, “I’ve a brother,” or some other relative, “who has sore eyes in spring, please give me some eye-lotion.” Nothing is appreciated made from their own valuable medicinal herbs. “Feringhi medicine” is all they care for, and in their eyes every Feringhi is a Hakīm.

I have often wondered that the Moslem contempt for women does not prevent even the highest chiefs from seeking a woman’s medical help, but their own Hakīms, of whom there are a few, though I have never seen any, are mostly women, and the profession is hereditary. The men, they say, are too unsettled to be Hakīms. Some of these women are renowned for their skill as bullet extractors. If a father happens to have any medical knowledge he communicates it to his daughter rather than to his son. Aziz’s grandmother learned medicine from a native Indian doctor in Fars, and his mother had a repute as a bullet extractor. A woman extracted the three bullets by which he has been wounded. The “fees” are very high, but depend entirely on the cure. A poor man pays for the extraction of a bullet and the cure of the wound from fifteen to twenty tumans (from £5 to £6:10s.), a rich man from forty to sixty. In all cases they only give medicine so long as they think there is hope of recovery, and have no knowledge of any treatment which can alleviate the sufferings of the dying. When death seems inevitable they stuff the nose with a paste made of aromatic herbs.

They dress wounds with an astringent paste made from a very small gall-nut found on one species of oak. For dyspeptic pains and “bad blood” they eat bitumen. For snake-bite, which is common, they keep the bitten person moving about and apply the back part of live hens to the wound till the hens cease to be affected, or else the intestines of a goat newly killed. For rheumatism, headache, and debility they have no remedies, but for fever they use an infusion of willow bark, which is not efficacious. They have great faith in amulets and charms, and in chewing and swallowing verses of the Koran in case of illness. They are rigid “abstainers,” and arak is not to be procured in the Bakhtiari country. This partly accounts for the extreme and almost startling rapidity of the healing of surgical wounds.

Ophthalmia, glaucoma, bulging eyeballs, inflamed eyes and eyelids, eczema, rheumatism, dyspepsia, and coughs are the prevailing maladies, and among men, bad headaches, which they describe as periodical and incapacitating, are common. The skin maladies and some of the eye maladies come from dirt, and the parasites which are its offspring. Among the common people the clothes are only washed once a year, and then in cold water, with the root of a very sticky soap wort. They attribute all ailments but those of the skin and eyes to “wind.” Rheumatism doubtless comes from sleeping in cotton clothing, and little enough of it, on the damp ground.

There are no sages femmes. Every woman is supposed to be able to help her neighbour in her hour of need. Maternity is easy. The mother is often at work the day after the birth of her child, and in less than a week regains her usual strength.

Possession by bad spirits is believed in, and cowardice is attributed to possession. In the latter case medicine is not resorted to, but a mollah writes a text from the Koran and binds the paper on the coward’s arm. If this does not cure him he must visit a graveyard on the night of the full moon, and pass seven times under the body of one of the sculptured lions on the graves, repeating an Arabic prayer.

This pass gives a little rest. It is solitary, cold (the mercury 48° at 10 P.M.), and very windy. I appreciate the comparatively low temperature all the more because the scenery beyond the Zalaki valley, in which scorched valleys and reddish rocky ranges are repeated ad nauseam, lies under a blazing sun and in a hot dust haze like that of the Indian plains. The ridge is only just wide enough for the camps, and falls down in abrupt descents to the source of the Ab-i-Sefid. Tremendous precipices and the naked peaks of the Kala Kuh surround us, and to the east the Zard Kuh and the long straight-topped range of the Kuh-i-Gokun (or Kainu?), deeply cleft, to allow of the exit of the Ab-i-Gokun, wall in the magnificent prospect, woods and streams and blue and violet depths suggesting moisture and coolness. The ridge has a remarkably rich alpine flora.

Life is now only a “struggle for existence” on the lower altitudes, with their heat and hubbub; there is no comfort or pleasure in occupation under 9000 feet. Here there are only the sick people of the camps to attend to. The guides and guards all need eye-lotion, one bad wound needs dressing, and the Khan’s brother has had fever severely, which is cured, and he offers me as a present a boy of five years old. Aslam Khan’s face of Judas is not for nothing, but his brother is beautiful, and has the face of St. John. I. L. B.

57 From Kalahoma for the rest of the route the predatory character of the tribes, the growing weakness of the Ilkhani’s authority, the “blood feuds” and other inter-tribal quarrels, and the unsettled state of the Feili Lurs, produced a general insecurity and continual peril for travellers, which rendered constant vigilance and precautions necessary, as well as an alteration of arrangements.

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