Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan, by Isabella Bird

Letter xx

Yesterday we marched through narrow defiles and along hillsides to this lake, without seeing a tent, a man, or even a sheep or goat, following a stream which bears several names and receives several torrents which burst, full grown, from powerful springs in the mountain sides — a frequent phenomenon in this country — from its source till its entrance into this lake. Its two sides differ remarkably. On the right bank rise the magnificent ranges which form Shuturun, broken up into precipices, deep ravines, and peaks, all rocky and shapely, and absolutely denuded of soil. The mountains on the left bank are great shapeless masses of bare gravel rising into the high but blunt summit of the Sefid Kuh, with only occasional outcrops of rock; here and there among the crevices of the rocky spurs of Shuturun the Juniperus excelsa plants itself; otherwise, on the sun-scorched gravel only low tamarisk bushes, yellow salvias, a few belated campanulas, and a very lovely blue Trichodesma mollis remain.

On reaching the top of a very long ascent there was a unique surprise, for below, walled in by precipitous mountain sides, lies a lake of wonderful beauty, owing to its indescribable colour. Wild, fierce, and rocky are the high mountains in which this gem is set, and now verdureless, except that in some places where their steep sides enter the water willows and hawthorns find scanty roothold. Where the river enters the lake there is a thicket of small willows, and where it leaves it its bright waters ripple through a wood of cherry, pear, plum, and hawthorn. A broad high bank of gravel lies across a part of its lower end, and all seemed so safe and solitary that I pitched my camp here for Sunday at an unusual distance from the other camps.

“Things are not what they seem.” Two armed Hajwands visited the camps, shots were heard at intervals this morning, and in the night some of the watch said they saw a number of men advancing towards us from under the bushes. I heard the sharp crack of our own rifles twice, and the Agha and Sahib calling on every one to be on the alert; the mules were driven in, and a great fire was made, but nothing came of it. To-night Mirab Khan’s guides, who have been with us for some days, have gone back, journeying at night and hiding in caves by day for fear of being attacked.

This lovely lake, having no native name, will be known henceforward geographically as Lake Irene. Its waters lie in depths of sapphire blue, with streaks and shallows of green, but what a green! Surely without a rival on earth! Were a pea transparent, vivid, full of points and flashes of interior light, that would be the nearest approach to the colour, which changes never, while through the blazing hours the blue of the great depths in the centre has altered from sapphire to turquoise, and from turquoise to lapis-lazuli, one end and one side being permanently bordered round the margin with liquid emerald. The mountains have changed from rose to blue, from blue to gray, from gray to yellow, and are now flushing into pink. It is a carnival of colour, before the dusty browns and dusty grays which are to come.

Camp Sarawand, July 29.— To-day’s march has been a change from the grand scenery of the Bakhtiari mountains to low passes and gravelly spurs, which sink down upon a plain. A blazing hillside; a mountain of gravel among others of similar ugliness, sprinkled with camel thorn and thistles; a steep and long descent to a stream; ripe wheat on some irrigated slopes; above these the hundred hovels of the village of Sarawand clinging one above another to the hillside, their white clay roofs intolerable in the fierce light; more scorched gravel hills breaking off abruptly, and then a blazing plain, in a mist of dust and heat, and low hills on the farther side seen through a brown haze, make up the view from my tent. The plain is Silakhor in Persia proper, and, nolens volens, that heat and dust must shortly be encountered in the hottest month of the year. Meanwhile the mercury is at 105° in the tent.

Outside is a noisy crowd of a mixed race, more Persian than Lur, row behind row. The ketchuda said if I would stand outside and show myself the people would be pacified, but the desired result was not attained, and the crushing and pushing were fearful — not that the people here or elsewhere are ever rude, it is simply that their curiosity is not restrained by those rules which govern ours. The Agha tried to create a diversion by putting a large musical box at a little distance, but they did not care for it. I attempted to give each woman a card of china buttons, which they like for sewing on the caps of their children, but the crush was so overpowering that I was obliged to leave it to Aziz. Then came the sick people with their many woes and wants, and though now at sunset they have all gone, Aziz comes in every few minutes with the laugh of a lost spirit, bringing a fresh copper bowl for eye lotion, quite pleased to think of my annoyance at being constantly dragged up from my writing.

Camp Parwez, July 31.— We left early in the morning, en route for the fort of Yahya Khan, the powerful chief of the Pulawand tribe, with a tall, well-dressed, and very respectable-looking man, Bagha Khan, one of his many fathers-in-law, the father of the present “reigning favourite,” as guide. It was a very pretty track, pursuing sheep-paths over steep spurs of Parwez, and along the narrow crests of ridges, always with fine views. On reaching an alpine valley, rich in flowers, we halted till the caravan approached, and then rode on, the “we” that day being the guide on foot, and the Agha, the Sahib, Aziz Khan, Mirza, and myself on horseback in single file. Three men looked over the crest of a ridge to the left and disappeared abruptly, and I remarked to Mirza that this was the most suspicious circumstance we had yet seen. There was one man on the hill to the right, with whom the guide exchanged some sentences in patois.

The valley opened out on the stony side of a hill, which had to be crossed. As we climbed it was crested with a number of men with long guns. Presently a number of shots were fired at us, and the reloading of the guns was distinctly seen. The order was given to “scatter” and proceed slowly. When the first shot was fired Bagha Khan, who must have been well known to all his tribesmen, dodged under a rock. Then came an irregular volley from a number of guns, and the whistle and thud of bullets over and among us showed that the tribesmen, whatever were their intentions, were in earnest. To this volley the Agha replied by a rifle shot which passed close over their heads, but again they reloaded rapidly. We halted, and Aziz Khan was sent up to parley with them. No one could doubt his courage after that solitary ascent in the very face of the guns.

Karim cantered up, anxious to fight, Mujid and Hassan, much excited, dashed up, and we rode on slowly, Hadji and his charvadars bringing up the caravan as steadily as if there were no danger ahead. Not a man showed the “white feather,” though most, like myself, were “under fire” for the first time. When we reached the crest of the pass such a wild lot crowded about us, their guns yet hot from firing upon us. Such queer arms they had — one gun with a flint lock a century old, with the “Tower mark” upon it, loaded sticks, and long knives. With much talking and excitement they accompanied us to this camping-ground.60

The men varied considerably in their stories. They were frightened, they said, and fired because they thought we were come to harm them. At first I was sorry for them, and regarded them as merely defending their “hearths and homes,” for in the alpine valley behind the hill are their black tents, their families, their flocks and herds — their world, in fact. But they told another story, and said they took us for a party of Hajwands. This was untenable, and the Agha told them that they knew that Hajwands do not ride on English saddles, and carry white umbrellas, and march with big caravans of mules. To me, when they desired my services, they said that had they known that one of the party was a Hakīm they never would have fired.

Later, from Hadji and others I have heard what I think may be the true version of the affair. They knew that the party was a small one — only three rifles; that on the fifteen baggage-animals there were things which they specially covet, the value of which rumour had doubtless magnified a hundredfold; and that we had no escort. Behind were a number of the Sarawand men, and the Pulawands purposed, if we turned back or showed the “white feather” in any way, to double us up between the two parties and rob the caravan at discretion. The Agha was obliged to speak very severely to them, telling them that firing on travellers is a grave offence, and deserves as such to be represented to the Governor of Burujird. I cannot acquit the demure-looking guide of complicity in this transaction.

At this height of 9400 feet there is a pleasant plain, on which our assailants are camped, and our camps are on platforms in a gully near the top of Parwez. It is all very destitute of springs or streams, and we have only snow-water, and that only during the hot hours of the day, for ourselves and the animals.

The tribes among which we are now are powerful and very predatory in their habits. Their loyalty to the Ilkhani is shadowy, and their allegiance to the Shah consists in the payment of tribute, which cannot in all cases be exacted. Indeed, I think that both in Tihran and Isfahan there is only imperfect information as to the attitude of the Bakhtiari Lurs. Their unification under the rule of the Ilkhani grows more and more incomplete as the distance from Isfahan increases, and these tribes, which are under the government of Burujird nominally, are practically not under the Ilkhani at all. Blood feuds, predatory raids, Khans at war with each other, tribal disputes and hostilities, are nearly universal. It is not for the interest of Persia to produce by her misrule and intrigues such a chronic state of insecurity as makes the tribes desire any foreign interference which will give them security and rest, and relieve them from the oppressive exactions of the Persian governors.

On a recent march I was riding alone in advance of the caravan when I met two men, one mounted, the other on foot. The pedestrian could not have been passed anywhere unnoticed. He looked like a Sicilian brigand, very handsome and well dressed, walked with a long elastic stride, and was armed with a double-barrelled gun and two revolvers. He looked hard at me, with a jolly but not unfriendly look, and then seeing the caravan, passed on. This was Jiji, a great robber Khan of the Hajwand tribe, whose name inspires much fear. Afterwards he met Aziz Khan, and sent this picturesque message: “Sorry to have missed you in my own country, as I should have liked to have left you standing in your skins.”

I went up the Kuh-i-Parwez with Bagha Khan, the guide of whom I have such grave suspicions, in the early morning, when the cool blue shadows were still lying in the ravines. Parwez, which on this side is an uninteresting mountain of herbage-covered gravelly slopes, falls down 4300 feet to the Holiwar valley on the other in a series of tremendous battlemented precipices of dark conglomerate rock.

The level summit of Parwez, though about 11,000 feet in altitude, is as uninteresting as the shapeless slopes by which we ascended it, but this dip on the southern side is wonderful, and is carried on to the gap of Bahrain, where it has a perpendicular scarp from its summit to the river of 5000 feet, and as it grandly terminates the Outer range, it looks like a glorious headland abutting on the Silakhor plain.

As a panoramic view it is the finest I have had from any mountain, taking in the great Shuturun range — the wide cultivated plain of Silakhor, with its many villages; the winding Ab-i-Diz, its yellow crops, hardly distinguishable from the yellow soil and hazy yellow hills whose many spurs descend upon the plain — all merged in a haze of dust and heat. The eye is not tempted to linger long upon that specimen of a Persian summer landscape, but turns with relief to the other side of the ridge, to a confused mass of mountains of great height, built up of precipices of solid rock, dark gray, weathered into black and denuded of soil, a mystery of chasms, rifts, and river-beds, sheltering and feeding predatory tribes, but unknown to the rest of the world.

The chaos of mountain summits, chasms, and precipices is very remarkable, merging into lower and less definite ranges, with alpine meadows at great heights, and ravines much wooded, where charcoal is burned and carried to Burujird and Hamadan. Among the salient points of this singular landscape are the mighty Shuturun range, the peak of Kuh-i-Kargun on the other side of the Silakhor plain, the river which comes down from Lake Irene, the Holiwar, with the fantastic range of the Kuh-i-Haft–Kuh (seven peaks) on its left bank, descending abruptly to the Ab-i-Zaz, beyond which again rises the equally precipitous range of the Kuh-i-Ruhbar. Near the Holiwar valley is a mountain formed by a singular arrangement of rocky buttresses, surmounted by a tooth-like rock, the Tuk-i-Karu, of which the guide told the legend that in “ancient times” a merchant did a large trade in a tent at the top of it, and before he died buried his treasure underneath it.

A very striking object from the top is the gorge or cañon, the Tang-i-Bahrain, by which the Ab-i-Burujird leaves the plain of Silakhor and enters upon its rough and fretted passage through ravines, for the most part inaccessible except to practised Ilyat mountaineers.

“Had I come up to dig for the hidden treasure of Tuk-i-Karu?” the guide asked. “Was I seeking gold? Or was I searching for medicine plants to sell in Feringhistan?”

The three days here have been rather lively. The information concerning routes has been singularly contradictory. There is a path which descends over 4000 feet to the Holiwar valley, through which, for certain reasons, it is desirable to pass. Some say it is absolutely impassable for laden mules, others that it can be traversed with precautions, others again that they would not take even their asses down; that there are shelving rocks, and that if a mule slipped it would go down to ——. Hadji with much force urges that we should descend to the plain, and go by a comparatively safe route to Khuramabad, leave the heavy baggage there, and get a strong escort of sowars from the Governor for the country of the Pulawands. There is much that is plausible in this plan, the Sahib approves of it, and the Agha, with whom the decision rests, has taken it into very careful consideration, but I am thoroughly averse to it, though I say nothing.

Hadji says he cannot risk his mules on the path down to the Holiwar valley. I could have filled pages with the difficulties which have been grappled with during the last few weeks of the journey as to guides, routes, perils, etc., two or three hours of every day being occupied in the attempt to elicit truth from men who, from either inherent vagueness and inaccuracy or from a deliberate intention to deceive, contradict both themselves and each other, but on this occasion the difficulties have been greater than ever; the order of march has been changed five times, and we have been obliged to remain here because the Agha has not considered that the information he has obtained has warranted him in coming to a decision.

Yesterday evening the balance of opinion was definitely against the Holiwar route, and Hadji was so vehemently against it that he shook a man who said it was passable. This morning the Sahib with a guide and Abbas Ali examined the road. The Sahib thought it was passable. Abbas Ali said that the mules would slip off the shelving rocks. All day long there have been Lur visitors, some saying one thing, and some another, but a dream last night reconciled Hadji to take the route, and the Agha after carefully weighing the risks all round has decided upon it.

All these pros and cons have been very interesting, and there have been various little incidents. I have had many visitors and “patients” from the neighbouring camp, and among them three of the men who fired upon us.

The trifle of greatest magnitude was the illness of Aziz’s mare, the result of a kick from Screw. She had an enormous swelling from knee to shoulder, could not sleep, and could hardly eat, and as she belongs partly to Isfandyar Khan, Aziz Khan has been distracted about her, and has distracted me by constant appeals to me to open what seemed an abscess. I had not the courage for this, but it was done, and the cut bled so profusely that a pad, a stone, and a bandage had to be applied. Unfortunately there was no relief from this venture, and Aziz “worrited” me out of my tent three times in the night to look at the creature. Besides that, he had about twenty ailing people outside the tent at 6 A.M., always sending to me to “come at once.”

He was told to wash the wound, but he would do nothing till I went out with my appliances, very grudgingly, I admit. The sweet animal was indeed suffering, and the swelling was much increased. A number of men were standing round her, and when I told Aziz to remove the clot from the wound, they insisted that she would bleed to death, and so the pros and cons went on till Aziz said, “The Khanum shall do it, these Feringhi Hakīms know everything.” To be regarded as a Hakīm on the slenderest possible foundation is distressing, but to be regarded as a “vet” without any foundation at all is far worse.

However, the clot was removed, and though the wound was three inches long there was still no relief, and Aziz said solemnly, “Now do what you think best.” Very gradual pressure at the back of the leg brought out a black solid mass weighing fully a pound. “God is great!” exclaimed the bystanders. “May God forgive your sins!” cried Aziz, and fell at my feet with a genuine impulse of gratitude. He insists that “a pound of flesh” came out of the swelling. The wound is now syringed every few hours, and Aziz is learning how to do this, and to dress it. The mare can both eat and sleep, and will soon be well.

This evening Aziz said that fifteen tumans would be the charge for curing his mare, and that, he says, is my present to him. He told me he wanted me to consider something very thoroughly, and not to answer hastily. He said, “We’re a poor people, we have no money, but we have plenty of food. We have women who take out bullets, but in all our nation there is no Hakīm who knows the wisdom of the Feringhis. Your medicines are good, and have healed many of our people, and though a Kafir we like you well and will do your bidding. The Agha speaks of sending a Hakīm among us next year, but you are here, and though you are old you can ride, and eat our food, and you love our people. You have your tent, Isfandyar Khan will give you a horse of pure pedigree, dwell among us till you are very old, and be our Hakīm, and teach us the wisdom of the Feringhis.” Then, as if a sudden thought had struck him, he added, “And you can cure mules and mares, and get much money, and when you go back to Feringhistan you’ll be very rich.”

In nearly every camp I have an evening “gossip” with the guides and others of the tribesmen, and, in the absence of news from the larger world, have become intensely interested in Bakhtiari life as it is pictured for me in their simple narratives of recent forays, of growing tribal feuds and their causes, of blood feuds, and of bloody fights, arising out of trivial disputes regarding camping-grounds, right of pasture, right to a wounded bird, and things more trivial still. They are savages at heart. They take a pride in bloodshed, though they say they are tired of it and would like to live at peace, and there would be more killing than there is were it not for the aversion which some of them feel to the creation of a blood feud. When they do fight, “the life of a man is as the life of a sheep,” as the Persian proverb runs. Mirza says that among themselves their talk is chiefly of guns and fighting. The affairs of the mountains are very interesting, and so is the keen antagonism between the adherents of the Ilkani and those of Isfandyar Khan.

Sometimes the conversation takes a religious turn. I think I wronged Aziz Khan in an earlier letter. He is in his way much more religious than I thought him. A day or two ago I was asking him his beliefs regarding a future state, which he explained at much length, and which involve progressive beatitudes of the spirit through a course of one hundred years. He laid down times and seasons very definitely, and was obviously in earnest, when two Magawe men who were standing by broke in indignantly, saying, “Aziz Khan, how dare you speak thus? These things belong to God, the Judge, He knows, we don’t — we see the spirit fly away to judgment and we know no more. God is great, He alone knows.”

Apparently they have no idea generally of a future except that the spirit goes either to heaven or hell, according to its works in the flesh. Some say that they are told that there is an intermediate place called Barjakh, known as the place of evil spirits, in which those who have died in sin undergo a probation with the possibility of beneficent results.

On asking what is meant by sin the replies all have the same tendency — cowardice, breaches of the seventh commandment (which, however, seem to be so rare as scarcely to be taken into account, possibly because of the death penalty attaching to them), disobedience to a chief when he calls on them to go to war, fraternising with Sunnis, who are “accursed,” betraying to an enemy a man of their own tribe, and compassing the death of another by poison or evil machinations.

On being asked what deeds are good, bravery is put first, readiness to take up a tribal quarrel, charity, i.e. kindness to the poor, undying hatred to the Caliph Omar, shown by ostracising the Sunnis, hatred of Kafirs, and pilgrimages, especially to Mecca.

Death in battle ensures an immediate entrance into heaven, and this is regarded as such a cause of rejoicing that not only is the chapi or national dance performed at a fighting man’s grave, but if his death at a distance has been lawful, i.e. if he has been killed in fighting, they put up a rude temporary cenotaph with his gun, cap, knife, pipe, and other things about it, and dance, sing, and rejoice.

Otherwise their burial rites are simple. The corpse is washed seven times in water, certain Arabic formulas for the repose of the soul are recited, and the body, clothed and wrapped in a winding-sheet, is carried by four men to the burying-place on a bier extemporised out of tent-poles, and is buried in a shallow grave. It is not customary now to rejoice at the graves of women or old men, unless the latter have been distinguished warriors.

So far as I can learn, even in the case of the deaths of fighting men, when the chapi is danced at the grave, the women keep up the ordinary ceremonial of mourning, which is very striking. They howl and wail, beating their breasts rhythmically, keeping time with their feet, tearing their hair and gashing their faces with sharp flints, cutting off also their long locks and trampling upon them with piteous cries. This last bitter token of mourning is confined to the deaths of a husband and a first-born son, and the locks so ruthlessly treated are afterwards attached to the tombstone.

Mourning for a husband, child, or parent lasts a year, and the anniversary of the death is kept with the same ceremonies which marked the beginning of the period of mourning. In the case of a great man who has died fighting, the women of his tribe wail and beat their breasts on this anniversary for many subsequent years.

Nothing is buried with the corpse, and nothing is placed on the grave, but it is the universal custom to put a stone at the head of the body, which is always buried facing Mecca-wards. To this position they attach great importance, and they covet my compass because it would enable them at any point to find the position of the Kiblah. A comb or distaff rudely carved on a woman’s headstone, and the implements of war or hunting on that of a man, are common, and few burial-places are without one or more of the uncouth stone lions to which frequent reference has been made.

The graveyards are very numerous, and are usually on small elevations by the roadside, so that passers-by, if they be Hadjis, may pray for the repose of the soul. It must be understood that prayer consists in the repetition of certain formulas in Arabic, which very few if any of these people understand.61

As to the great matter of their religion, on which I have taken infinite trouble to gain information, I can come to no satisfactory conclusion. I think that they have very little, and that what they have consists in a fusion of some of the tenets of Islam with a few relics of a nature worship, not less rude than that of the Ainos of Yezo and other aboriginal tribes.

They are Shiahs, that is, they hate the Sunnis, and though the belief in Persia that they compel any one entering their country to swear eternal hatred to Omar is not absolutely correct, this hate is an essential part of their religion. They hold the unity of God, and that Mohammed was His prophet; but practically, though they are not Ali Ilahis, they place Ali on as high a pedestal as Mohammed. They are utterly lax in observing the precepts of the Koran, even prayer at the canonical hours is very rarely practised, and then chiefly by Seyyids and Hadjis. It has been said that the women are devout, but I think that this is a mistake. Many of them have said to me, “Women have no religion, for women won’t live again.”

Those of the Khans who can read, and who have made pilgrimages to Mecca, such as the Hadji Ilkhani, Khaja Taimur, and Mirab Khan, observe the times of prayer and read the Koran, and when they are so engaged they allow of no interruption, but these are remarkable exceptions.

Pilgrimages and visits to imamzadas are lightly undertaken, either for the accumulation of merit, or to wash away the few misdeeds which they regard as sin, or in the hope of gaining an advantage over an enemy.

They regard certain stones, trees, hill-tops, and springs as “sacred,” but it is difficult to define the very vague ideas which they attach to them. I am inclined to think that they look on them as the abodes of genii, always malignant, and requiring to be propitiated. In passing such places they use a formula equivalent to “May God avert evil,” and it is common, as in Nubra and Ladak, to hang pieces of rag on such trees and stones as offerings to the genius loci.

They regard certain places as possibly haunted by spirits, always evil, and never those of the departed; but this can scarcely be termed a belief, as it is lightly held, and quite uninfluential, except in preventing them from passing such places alone in the darkness.

The opinions concerning God represent Him chiefly as a personification of a fate, to which they must bow, and as a Judge, to whom, in some mysterious way, they must account after death. Earthly justice appears to them as a commodity to be bought and sold, as among the Persians, or as it is among themselves, as severity solely, without a sentiment of mercy; and I have asked them often if they think that anything will be able to affect the judgment of the Judge of all, in case it should go against them. Usually they reply in the negative, but a few say that Ali, the Lieutenant of God, will ask for mercy for them, and that he will not be refused.

Of God as a moral being I think they have little conception, and less of the Creator as an object of love. Of holiness as an attribute of God they have no idea. Their ejaculation, “God is good,” has really no meaning. Charity, under the term “goodness,” they attribute to God. But they have no notion of moral requirements on the part of the Creator, or of sin as the breaking of any laws which He has laid down. They concern themselves about the requirements of religion in this life and about the future of the soul as little as is possible, and they narrow salvation within the limits of the Shiah sect.

After Mohammed and Ali they speak of Moses, Abraham, and Jesus as “Prophets,” but of Moses as a lawgiver, and of Jesus as aught else but a healer, they seem quite ignorant.

And so they pass away, generation after generation, ignorant of the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, of the love to God and man which is alone the fulfilling of the law, and of the light which He, who is the resurrection and the life, has shed upon the destiny of the human spirit.

Generally I find them quite willing to talk on these subjects; but one man said contemptuously, “What has a Kafir to do with God?” The women know nothing, and, except among the sons of the leading Khans, there is no instruction in the Koran given to the children. If I have interpreted their views correctly they must be among the most ignorant of the races bound by the faith of Islam.

Khuramabad, August 6.— Leaving the camp on Parwez, and skirting the gravelly slopes on the north side of its ridge, a sudden dip over the crest took us among great cliffs of conglomerate, with steep gravelly slopes below, much covered with oaks growing out of scorched soil. Grooves, slides, broken ledges, and shelving faces of rock have to be descended. One part is awfully bad, and every available man and some passing Bakhtiaris (who wanted to be paid in advance for their services) went back to help the animals. The charvadars shouted and yelled, and the horses and some of the mules were taken by their heads and tails, but though nearly every man had a fall, horses, asses, mules, and a sheep which follows Hakīm got over that part safely. It was a fine sight, thirty animals coming down, what looked from below, a precipice, led by Hadji leading Cock o’ the Walk, shaking his tasselled head, and as full of pride and fire as usual, and the mules looking wisely, choosing their way, and leaping dexterously upon and among the rocks. It is not a route for laden animals, but personally, as I had two men to help me, I did not find it so risky or severe as the descent of the Gokun Pass.

Below these conglomerate precipices are steep and dangerous zigzags, which I was obliged to ride down, and there we were not so fortunate, for Hadji’s big saddle-mule slipped, and being unable to recover herself fell over the edge some hundred feet and was killed instantaneously.

The descent of the southern face of Parwez, abrupt and dangerous most of the way, is over 4300 feet. The track proceeds down the Holiwar valley, brightened by a river of clear green water, descending from Lake Irene. Having forded this, we camped on its left bank on a gravelly platform at the edge of the oak woods which clothe the lower spurs of the grand Kuh-i-Haft–Kuh, with a magnificent view of the gray battlemented precipices of Parwez. The valley is beautiful, and acres of withered flowers suggested what its brief spring loveliness must be, but its altitude is only 5150 feet, and the mercury in the shade was 104°, the radiation from the rock and gravel terrible, and the sand-flies made rest impossible. At midnight the mercury stood at 90°. There were no Bakhtiaris, but two or three patches of scorched-up wheat, not worth cutting, evidenced their occasional presence. Among these perished crops, revelling in blazing soil and air like the breath of a furnace, grew the blue centaurea and the scarlet poppy, the world-wide attendants upon grain; and where other things were burned, the familiar rose-coloured “sweet william,” a white-fringed dianthus, and a gigantic yellow mullein audaciously braved the heat.

No one slept that night because of the sand-flies and the need for keeping a vigilant watch. Indeed, the tents were packed shortly after sunset, and in a hot dawn we ascended to a considerable height above the valley, and then for many miles followed a stream in a wooded glen, where willows, planes, vines, rank grass, and a handsome yellow pea grew luxuriantly, looped together continually by the fragile Clematis orientalis. All that country would be pretty had it moisture and “atmosphere.” The hillsides are covered with oaks and the Paliurus aculeatus on their lower slopes, rising out of withered flowers. All else is uncut sun-cured hay, and its pale uniform buff colour is soft, and an improvement on the glare of bare gravel.

Delays, occasioned by the caravan being misled by the guide, took us into the heat of the day, and before the narrow valley opened out into the basin surrounded by wooded spurs of hills in which Khanabad stands, it was noon. Men and animals suffered from the heat and length of that march. In the middle of this basin there is a good deal of cultivation, and opium, wheat, cotton, melons, grapes, and cucumbers grow well. Rice has already succeeded wheat, and will be reaped in November. Kalla Khanabad, the fort dwelling of Yahya Khan, with terraces of poplars, mulberries, pomegranates, and apricots below it, makes a good centre of a rather pretty view. Leaving it on the right we turned up a narrow valley with a small stream and irrigation channels, and close to a spring and some magnificent plane trees camped for Sunday on a level piece of blazing ground where the mercury stood at 106° on both days. This spot was remarkable for some very fine eryngiums growing by the stream, with blossoms of a beautiful “French blue,” the size of a Seville orange.

The Khan’s son, a most unprepossessing young man, called on me, and I received him under the trees, a number of retainers armed with long guns standing round the edge of the carpet. He was well dressed, but a savage in speech and deportment. As to the dress of the Bakhtiaris, the ordinary tribesmen wear coarse cotton shirts fastening at the side, but generally unfastened, blue cotton trousers, each leg two yards wide, loose at the bottom and drawn on a string at the top, webbing shoes, worsted socks if any, woollen girdles with a Kashmir pattern, and huge loose brown felt coats or cloaks with long sleeves, costing from fifteen to twenty-five krans each, and wearing for three or four years. The Khans frequently have their shulwars of black silk, and wear the ordinary Persian full-skirted coat, usually black, but “for best” one of fine blue or fawn cloth. All wear brown or white felt skull-caps, and shave their heads for a width of five inches from the brow to the nape of the neck, leaving long side-locks. The girdle supplies the place of pockets, and in it are deposited knives, the pipe, the tobacco-pouch, the flint and steel, and various etceteras.

Every man carries a long smooth-bore gun slung from his left shoulder, or a stout shillelagh, or a stick split and loaded at one end (the split being secured with strong leather), or all these weapons of offence and defence at once.

These very wide shulwars, much like the “divided garment,” are not convenient in rough walking, and on the march a piece of the hem on the outer side is tucked into the girdle, producing at once the neat effect of knickerbockers.

The men are very well made. I have never seen deformity or lameness except from bullet wounds. They are not usually above the middle height, though that is exceeded by the men of the Zalaki tribe. They are darker than the Persians. As a general rule they have straight noses, with very fully expanded nostrils, good mouths, thin lips, straight or slightly curved eyebrows, dark gray or black eyes, hazel in a few instances, deeply set, and usually rather close together, well-developed foreheads, small ears, very small feet, and small hands with tapering fingers. The limbs below the knee are remarkably straight and well-developed, and the walk is always good.

It is not easy to say how the women are made, as their clothing gives no indications of form. They are long-limbed, and walk with a firm, even, elastic stride. They are frequently tall, and except when secluded are rarely stout. Their hands and feet are small. Their figures are spoilt (if they ever had any) by early maternity and hard work. At twenty a woman looks past forty. Many, perhaps it is not an exaggeration to say most, of them have narrowly escaped being handsome. Fine eyes, straight noses, and well-formed mouths with thin lips are the rule. The hair is always glossy and abundant, and the teeth of both sexes are white, regular, and healthy-looking, though toothache is a painfully common ailment.

The women’s dress in the “higher classes” is much like that worn by the ordinary Persian women, with the exception of what I have elsewhere called “balloon trousers,” but the hard-working tribesmen’s wives are clothed in loose blue cotton trousers drawn in at the ankles, short open chemises, and short open jackets. A black or coloured kerchief covers the head, the ends hanging down behind or in front. They wear loose woollen shoes with leather soles. The dress is not pretty or picturesque, and is apt to be dirty and ragged, but it suits their lives and their hard work.

Both sexes stain the finger-nails and the palms of the hands with henna, and all wear amulets or charms suspended round the neck, or bound on the upper part of the arm. These consist of passages from the Koran, which are written on parchment in very small characters, and are enclosed in cases of silver or leather.

At night they merely take off the outer garment where they have two. The scanty ablutions are very curious. Each family possesses a metal jug of rather graceful form, with a long spout curiously curved, and the mode of washing, which points to an accustomed scarcity of water, is to pour a little into the palm of the right hand, and bathe the face, arms, and hands with it, soap not being used. They conclude by rinsing the mouth and rubbing the teeth either with the forefinger or with the aromatic leaf of a small pink salvia.

I called by appointment on the Khan’s wives, sixteen in number. An ordinary tribesman marries as many wives as he can afford to house and keep. Poverty and monogamy are not allied here. Women do nearly all the work, large flocks create much female employment, and as it is “contrary to Bakhtiari custom” to employ female servants who are not wives, polygamy is very largely practised. On questioning the guides, who are usually very poor men, I find that they have two, three, and even four wives, the reverse of what is customary among the peasants of Turkey and Persia proper. The influence of a chief increases with the number of his wives, as it enlarges his own family connections, and those made by the marriages of his many sons and daughters. Large families are the rule. Six children is the average in a monogamous household, and the rate of infant mortality is very low.

The “fort” is really picturesque, though forlorn and dirty. It is built on the steep slope of a hill, and on one side is three stories in height. It has a long gallery in front, with fretwork above the posts which support the roof, round towers at two of the corners, and many irregular roofs, and steep zigzags cut in the rock lead up to it. The centre is a quadrangle. When I reached the gateway under the tower many women welcomed me, and led me down a darkish passage to the gallery aforesaid, which has a pretty view of low hills, with mulberries and pomegranates in the foreground. This gallery runs the whole length of the fort, and good rooms open upon it. It was furnished with rugs upon the floor, and two long wooden settees, covered with checked native blankets in squares of Indian yellow and madder red.

I had presents for the favourite wife, but as one man said this was the favourite, and another that, and the hungry eyes of sixteen women were fixed on the parcels, I took the safer course of presenting them to the Khan for the “ladies of the andarun.” Yahya Khan sent to know if it would be agreeable to me for him to make his salaam to me, a proposal which I gladly accepted as a relief from the curiosity and disagreeable familiarity of the women. There was a complete rabble of women in the gallery, with crawling children and screaming babies — a forlorn, disorderly household, in which the component parts made no secret of their hatred and jealousy of each other.

I pitied the Khan as he came in to this Babel of intriguing women and untutored children — of women without womanliness and children without innocence — the lord and master of the women, but not in any noble sense their husband, nor is the house, or any polygamous house, in any sense a home.

The wife who, I was afterwards told, is the “reigning favourite” sat on the same settee as her lord, and he ignored the whole of them. Her father, Bagha Khan, asked me to give into his care the present for her, lest it should make the other wives jealous.

Yahya Khan rules a large part of the Pulawand tribe, 1000 families, and aspires to the chieftainship of its subdivisions, among which are the Bosakis, Hajwands, Isawands, and Hebidis, numbering 2800 families.62


Yahya Khan.

He is a tall, big, middle-aged man with a very wide mouth, and a beard dyed auburn with henna — very intelligent, especially as regards his own interests, and very well off, having built his castle himself.

He asked me if I thought England would occupy south-west Persia in the present Shah’s lifetime? Which has the stronger army, England or Russia? Why England does not take Afghanistan? Did I think the Zil-es-Sultan had any chance of succeeding his father? but several times reverted to what seemed uppermost in his mind, the chances of a British occupation of Southern Persia, a subject on which I was unwilling to enter. He complained bitterly of Persian exactions, and said that the demand made on him this year is exactly double the sum fixed by the Amin-es-Sultan.

It is not easy to estimate the legitimate taxation. Probably it averages two tumans, or nearly fifteen shillings a family. The assessment of the tribes is fixed, but twenty, forty, and even sixty per cent extra is often taken from them by the authorities, who in their turn are squeezed at Tihran or Isfahan. Every cow, mule, ass, sheep, and goat is taxed. Horses pay nothing.

In order to get away from perilous topics, which had absolutely no interest for the women. I told him how interested I was in seeing all his people clothed in blue Manchester cottons, though England does not grow a tuft of cotton or a plant of indigo. I mentioned that the number of people dependent on the cotton industry in Britain equals the whole population of Persia, and this made such an impression on him that he asked me to repeat it three times. He described his tribe as prosperous, raising more wheat than it requires, and exporting 1000 tumans’ worth of carpets annually.

It is curious that nomadic semi-savages should not only sow and harvest crops, and make carpets of dyed wool, as well as goats-hair rugs and cloth, horse-furniture, khūrjins, and socks of intricate patterns, but that they should understand the advantages of trade, and export not only mules, colts, and sheep, but large quantities of charcoal, which is carried as far as Hamadan; as well as gaz, gall-nuts, tobacco, opium, rice, gum mastic, clarified butter, the skins of the fox and a kind of marten, and cherry sticks for pipes.

Certainly the women are very industrious, rising at daylight to churn, working all day, weaving in the intervals, and late at night boiling the butter in their big caldrons. They make their own clothes and those of their husbands and children, except the felt coats, sewing with needles like skewers and very coarse loosely-twisted cotton thread. They sew backwards, i.e. from left to right, and seem to use none but a running stitch. Everywhere they have been delighted with gifts of English needles and thread, steel thimbles, and scissors.

When it is remembered that, in addition to all the “household” avocations which I have enumerated, they pitch and strike tents, do much of the loading and unloading of the baggage, and attend faithfully to their own offspring and to that of their flocks and herds, it will be realised that the life of a Bakhtiari wife is sufficiently laborious.

We were to have left that burning valley at 11 P.M., and when I returned at dusk from the fort the tents were folded and the loads ready for a moonlight march, but Yahya Khan sent to say that for the ostensible reason of the path being greatly obstructed by trees we could not start till daylight! Later he came with a number of tribesmen and haggled noisily for two hours about the payment of an escort, and the sheep a day which it would require. It was not a comfortable night, for the sand-flies were legion, and we did not get off till 4.30, when we were joined by Yahya Khan and his son, who accompanied us to the Pul-i-Hawa.

The path from Kalla Khanabad runs at a considerable elevation on wooded hillsides and slopes of shelving rock, only descending to cross some curious ribs of conglomerate and the streams which flow into the Ab-i-Diz. There are frequent glimpses of the river, which has the exquisite green colour noticeable in nearly all the streams of this part of Luristan. At a distance of a few miles from Khanabad the valley, which has been pretty wide, and allows the river to expand into smooth green reaches, narrows suddenly, and the Ab-i-Diz, a full, strong stream, falls in a very fine waterfall over a natural dam or ledge of rock, which crosses it at its broadest part, and is then suddenly compressed into a narrow passage between cliffs and ledges of bituminous limestone, the lowest of which is a continuation of the path which descends upon it by some steep zigzags.

Below this gorge the river opens out into a smooth green stretch, where it reposes briefly before starting on a wild and fretted course through deep chasms among precipitous mountains, till it emerges on the plains above Dizful. These limestone cliffs exude much bitumen, and there is a so-called bituminous spring. Our men took the opportunity of collecting the bitumen and rolling it into balls for future use, as it is esteemed a good remedy for dyspepsia and “bad blood.”

At the narrowest part of its channel the river is crossed by a twig bridge wide enough for laden animals, supported on the left bank by some tree-stems kept steady by a mass of stones. In the middle it takes a steepish upward turn, and hangs on to the opposite cliff at a considerable elevation. The path up from it to the top of the cliff is very narrow, and zigzags by broken ledges between walls of rock. For loaded animals it is a very bad place, and the caravan took an hour and a half to cross, though only four mules were unloaded, the rest being helped across by men at their heads and tails. Several of them fell on the difficult climb from the bridge. It would be bad enough if the roadway of osiers were level, but it shelves slightly to the south. That gorge is a very interesting break in an uninteresting and monotonous region, and the broad fall above the bridge is not without elements of grandeur. The altitude of the river over which the Pul-i-Hawa hangs is only 3800 feet, the lowest attained on this journey.


A Twig Bridge.

The popular nomenclature is adopted here, but it would be more accurate to call this stream the Ab-i-Burujird, and to defer conferring the name of Ab-i-Diz upon it till the two great branches have united far below this point. These are the Ab-i-Burujird, rising to the west of Burujird, which with the tributaries which enter it before it reaches the Tang-i-Bahrain, drains the great plain of Silakhor, and the Ab-i-Basnoi, a part of which has been referred to under its local name of Kakulistan, or “the Curl,” which drains the upper part of the Persian district of Faraidan, and receives the important tributaries of the Guwa and the Gokun before its junction with the Ab-i-Burujird. A tributary rising in the Kuh-i-Rang has been locally considered the head-water of the Ab-i-Diz.

Leaving the Ab-i-Diz, the path pursues valleys with streams and dry torrent-beds, much wooded with oak and hawthorn, with hills above, buff with uncut sun-cured hay, magnificent pasturage, but scantily supplied with water.

The belut, or oak, grows abundantly in these valleys, and on it is chiefly collected the deposit called gaz, a sweetish glaze upon the leaf, which is not produced every year, and which is rather obscure in its origin. When boiled with the leaves it forms a shiny bottle-green mass, but when the water is drained from them and carefully skimmed, it cools into a very white paste which, when made up with rose-water and chopped almonds, is cut into blocks, and is esteemed everywhere. It is mentioned by Diodorus Siculus.63 The unwatered valleys are wooded with the Paliurus aculeata chiefly, and the jujube tree (Zizyphus vulgaris), which abounds among the Bakhtiari mountains.

The heat was frightful, and progress was very slow, owing to the low projecting branches of trees, which delayed the baggage and tore some of the tents. In places the path was farther obstructed by a species of liana known in New Zealand as “a lawyer,” with hooked thorns.

We passed by the steep ledgy village of Shahbadar, on the roofs of which I rode inadvertently, till the shouts of the people showed me my error, and encamped on the only available spot which could be found, a steep, bare prominence above a hollow, in which is a spring surrounded by some fine plane trees. The Shahbadar people live in their village for three winter months only, and were encamped above us, and there were two large camps below. Men from each of them warned us to beware of the others, for they were robbers, and there was a great deal of dexterous pilfering, which reduced my table equipments to a copper mug, one plate, and a knife and fork. My shuldari was torn to pieces, and pulled down over me, by a lively mule which cantered among the tent ropes.

The afternoon, with the mercury at 103°, was spent in entertaining successive crowds, not exactly rude, but full of untamed curiosity. I amused them to their complete satisfaction by letting them blow my whistle, fill my air-cushion, and put the whalebones into my collapsible basins. One of Milward’s self-threading needles, which had luckily been found in my carpet, surprised them beyond measure. Every man and woman insisted on threading it with the eyes shut, and the ketchuda of one camp offered to barter a sheep for it. They said that my shabby tent, with its few and shabby equipments, was “fit for God!”

The camps passed on that day were constructed of booths made of stems of trees with the bark on, the roofs being made of closely-woven branches with the leaves on. These booths are erected round a square with mat walls, and face outwards, a sort of privacy being obtained by backs of coarse reed mats four feet high, and mat divisions between the dwellings. The sheep, goats, and cattle are driven into the square at night through a narrow entrance walled with mats.

Since leaving the Karun very few horses have been seen, and the few have been of a very inferior class. Even Yahya Khan, who has the reputation of being rich, rode a horse not superior to a common pack animal. The people we have been among lately have no horses or mares, the men walk, and the loads are carried on cows and asses.

In the greater part of this country I have not seen a mule, with the exception of some mule foals on a high pass near Ali-kuh. The Bakhtiaris breed mules, however, and sell them in Isfahan in the spring, but rarely use them for burden. They breed horses in some places, exporting the colts and keeping the fillies. Their horses are small and not good-looking, but are wiry and enduring, and as surefooted as mules. In fact they will go anywhere. One check on the breeding of good horses is that, when a man has a good foal, he is often compelled to make a present of it to any superior who fancies it.

The horses are shod, as in Persia proper, with thin iron plates covering nearly the whole hoof, secured by six big-headed nails. Reared in camps and among children, they are perfectly gentle and scarcely require breaking. A good Bakhtiari horse can be bought for £6 or £8. A good mule is worth from £7 to £11. Asses are innumerable, and are used for transporting baggage, equally with oxen and small cows. A good donkey can be bought for 30s.

The goats are very big and long-haired. The sheep, which nearly always are like the goats brown or black, and very tall, are invariably of the breed with the great pendulous tails, which sometimes weigh nearly eight pounds. They give a great deal of milk, and it is on this, not on cows’ milk, that the people rely for the greater part of their food, their cheese, curds, mast, and roghan.

The goat-skins are invaluable to them. They use them for holding water and milk, and as churns for their butter. They make all their tents, their tent carpets, and their sacks for holding wool of goat’s-hair, woven on rude portable looms.

The female costume changed at Shahbadar. The women now wear loose garments like nightgowns, open to the waist, and reaching from the neck to the feet, and red trousers, tight below the knee, but rarely visible below the outer dress. Their notion of ornament consists in having a branch or frond tattooed up the throat.

These tribes breed cattle extensively. One camp possessed over 300 young beasts. The calves are nourished by their mothers up to two years old. They have a few white angora goats of great beauty, but the majority are black and are valued chiefly for their milk and for their long coarse hair.

A march through fierce heat at a low level brought us at noon to the village of Imamzada-i-Mamil. The road, after continuing along the same wooded valley, which in a happier climate would be called a glen, emerges on scenery truly “park-like,” softly-outlined hills covered with buff grass, and wooded on their gently-curved slopes with oak and hawthorn, fringing off into clumps and single trees. Smooth broad valleys, first of buff pasture, and then of golden wheat or green maize, lie among the hills. All is soft and lowland, and was bathed that day in a dreamy blue heat haze. Not a mountain rose above the gently-curved hills which were painted in soft blue on the sky of the distant horizon. The natural wood ceased. The surroundings underwent an abrupt change. Is it a change for the better, I wonder? Three months and a week have been spent in zigzagging among some of the loftiest mountains and deepest valleys of Persia, and they now lie behind, among the things that were. In fact, Khuramabad, from which I write, is not only out of the Bakhtiari country, but the Bakhtiari Lurs are left behind, and we are among the fierce and undisciplined tribes of the Feili Lurs.

The baggage animals were not dubious, as I am, as to the advantages of the change. When we reached the open, Cock o’ the Walk threw up his beautiful head, knocked down the man who led him, and with a joyous neigh set off at a canter, followed by all the mules and horses, some cantering, some trotting, regardless of their loads, and regardless of everything, proceeding irresponsibly, almost knocking one out of the saddle by striking one with the sharp edges of yekdans and tent poles, till they were headed off by mounted men, after which some of them rolled, loads and all, on the soft buff grass. This escapade shows what condition they are in after three months of hard mountain work.

Reaching the village at noon, we halted till moonrise at midnight on an eminence with some fine plane and walnut trees upon it above a stream which issues from below an imamzada on a height, and passes close to a graveyard. Possibly this contaminates the water, for there has been a great outbreak of diphtheria, which has been very fatal. It is quite a small village, but thirteen children suffering from the most malignant form of the malady, some of them really dying at the time, were brought to me during the afternoon, as well as some people ill of what appeared to be typhoid fever. One young creature, very ill, was carried three miles on her father’s back, though I had sent word that I would call and see her at night. She died a few hours later of the exhaustion brought on by the journey. The mercury that afternoon reached 103° in the shade.

Soon after midnight the mules were silently loaded, and we “stole silently away,” to ride through the territory of the powerful Sagwands, a robber tribe, and reached this place in eight hours, having done twenty-two and a half miles. It was a march full of risk, through valleys crowded with camps, and the guide who rode in front was very much frightened whenever the tremendous barking of the camp dogs threatened to bring robbers down on us in the uncertain light. The caravan was kept in steady order, and the rearguard was frequently hailed by the leader. Nothing happened, and when day broke we were in open russet country, among low, formless gravelly hills, with the striking range of rocky mountains which hems in Khuramabad in front, under a hazy sky.

Later, fording the Kashgan, I got upon the Burujird caravan road, along which are telegraph poles, and on which there was much caravan traffic. Recrossing the Kashgan, but this time by a good two-arched bridge of brick on stone piers, the Yafta Kuh came in sight, and Khuramabad with its green gardens, its walls of precipitous mountains, and its ruined fort on an isolated and most picturesque rock in the centre of the town — a very striking view.

Khuramabad, before the fourteenth century, was called Diz Siyah, or the black fort, and was the capital of the Atabegs, the powerful kings who reigned in Luri–Kushuk from A.D. 1155 to about A.D. 1600. Sir H. Rawlinson does not regard any of its remains as earlier than the eleventh or twelfth century.

The camps are outside the town, on a stretch of burning gravel, with some scorched pasture beyond it, on which are Ilyat camps, then there are divers ranges of blackish and reddish mountains, with pale splashes of scorched herbage when there is any at all. Behind my tent are a clump of willows, an irrigating stream, large gardens full of fruit trees and melons, and legions of mosquitos.

Circumstances have changed, and the surroundings now belong to the showy civilisation of Persia. As I was lying under the trees, quite “knocked up” by the long and fatiguing night march and the great heat, I heard fluent French being spoken with a good accent. The Hakīm of the Governor had called. Cavalcades of Persians on showy horses gaily caparisoned dashed past frequently. Ten infantrymen arrived as a guard and stacked their arms under the willows, and four obsequious servants brought me trays of fruit and sweetmeats put up in vine leaves from the Governor. Melons are a drug. The servants are amusing themselves in the bazars. It is a bewildering transition.

The altitude is only 4050 feet, and the heat is awful — the heat of the Indian plains without Indian appliances. When the men took up stones with which to hammer the tent pegs they dropped them “like hot potatoes.” The paraffin candles melt. Milk turns sour in one hour. Even night brings little coolness. It is only heat and darkness instead of heat and light.

I was too much exhausted by heat and fatigue to march last night, and rested today as far as was possible, merely going to pay my respects to the Governor of Luristan, the Nizam-ul-Khilwar, and the ladies of his haram. The characteristics of this official’s face are anxiety and unhappiness. There was the usual Persian etiquette — attendants in the rear, scribes and mollahs bowing and kneeling in front, and tea and cigarettes in the pretty garden of the palace, of which cypresses, pomegranates, and roses are the chief features. Mirza was not allowed to attend me in the andarun, but a munshi who spoke a little very bad French and understood less stood behind a curtain and attempted to interpret, but failed so signally that after one or two compliments I was obliged to leave, after ascertaining that a really beautiful girl of fourteen is the “reigning favourite.” The women’s rooms were pretty, and the women themselves were richly but elegantly dressed, and graceful in manner, though under difficulties. After a visit to the ruined fort, an interesting and picturesque piece of masonry, I rode unmolested through the town and bazars.

Khuramabad, the importance of which lies in its situation on what is regarded as the best commercial route from Shuster to Tihran, etc., is the capital of the Feili Lurs and the residence of the Governor of Luristan. Picturesque at a distance beyond any Persian town that I have seen, with its citadel rising in the midst of a precipitous pass, its houses grouped round the base, its fine bridge, its wooded gardens, its greenery, and the rich valley to the south of the gorge in which it stands, it successfully rivals any Persian town in its squalor, dirt, evil odours, and ruinous condition. Two-thirds of what was “the once famous capital of the Atabegs” are now “ruinous heaps.” The bazars are small, badly supplied, dark, and rude; and the roads are nothing but foul alleys, possibly once paved, but now full of ridges, holes, ruins, rubbish, lean and mangy dogs, beggarly-looking men, and broken channels of water, which, dribbling over the soil in the bazars and everywhere else in green and black slime, gives forth pestiferous odours in the hot sun.

The people slouch about slowly. They are evidently very poor, and the merchants have the melancholy apathetic look which tells that “trade is bad.” The Feili Lurs, who render the caravan route to Dizful incessantly insecure, paralyse the trade of what should and might be a prosperous “distributing point,” and the Persian Government, though it keeps a regiment of soldiers here, is unsuccessful in checking, far less in curing the chronic disorder which has produced a nearly complete stagnation in trade.

I am all the more disappointed with the wretched condition of Khuramabad because the decayed state of its walls is concealed by trees, and it is entered by a handsome bridge 18 feet wide and 900 long, with twenty-eight pointed arches of solid masonry, with a fine caravanserai with a tiled entrance on its left side. The Bala Hissar is a really striking object, its pile of ancient buildings crowning the steep mass of naked rock which rises out of the dark greenery and lofty poplars and cypresses of the irrigated gardens. This fort, which is in ruins, encloses within its double walls the Wali’s palace and other official buildings, and a fine reservoir, 178 feet by 118, fed by a vigorous spring. In the gardens by the river, north of the fort, are some remains of the walls and towers of the ancient Atabeg capital, and there are also ruins of an aqueduct and of an ancient bridge, of which ten arches are still standing. The most interesting relic, however, is a round tower sixty feet high in fairly good preservation, with a Kufic inscription round the top.

It is said that there are 1200 houses in Khuramabad, which would give it a population of over 7000. It has been visited by several Englishmen for purposes of trade or research, and it has doubtless made the same impression upon them all as it does upon me.

Burujird, August 9.— A night march of twenty-two miles through perilous country brought us in blazing heat to an encampment of Seyyids of the Bairanawand tribe, fine-looking men, showing in their haughty bearing their pride in their illustrious lineage, but not above depriving us during the night of many useful articles. Their camp had three streets of tents, in front of which oxen were treading out wheat all day long. These Seyyids have much wealth in mares and oxen. Again we started at moonrise for what was regarded as a dangerous march, a party of Sagwands having gone on ahead, with hostile intentions, it was said.

However, nothing happened, and nothing was heard except the shouts of our own charvadars and the pandemonium made by the simultaneous barking of huge dogs in the many camps we passed but could not see. We rode through cultivated valleys full of nomads, forded the placid Bawali, and at dawn were at the foot of the grand pass of Handawan, 7500 feet in altitude, which is ascended by steep zigzags over worn rock ledges, and the dry boulder-strewn bed of a torrent. A descent of 2000 feet and a long ride among large formless hills took us to a narrow gorge or chasm with a fine mountain torrent, and thence to the magnificent Tang-i-Buzful, from which we emerged with some suddenness on the slopes of the low foot-hills on the north side of the plain of Burujird or Silakhor.

This very rich plain, about thirty miles long by from six to eight broad, has been described as “waterlogged,” and the level of the water is only a foot below the surface. Certainly very numerous springs and streams rise along the hill slopes which we traversed and flow down into the plain, which is singularly flat, and most of it only relieved from complete monotony by the villages which, to the number of 180, are sprinkled over it, many of them raised on artificial mounds, at once to avoid the miasma from the rice-fields and as a protection from the Lurs. Above the south-eastern end rises the grand bulk of Shuturun Kuh, with a few snow-patches still lingering, and towards the other lies the town of Burujird, the neighbourhood of which for a few miles is well planted, but most of the plain is devoid of trees. It is watered by many streams, which flow into the Burujird river and the Kamand–Ab, which uniting, leave the plain by the magnificent Tang-i-Bahrain.

The first view, on emerging from the buff treeless mountains, was very attractive. The tall grass of the rich marshy pastures rippled in the breeze in wavelets of a steely sheen. Brown villages on mounds contrasted with the vivid green of the young rice. Towards Burujird, of which nothing but the gilding of a dome was visible, a mass of dark greenery refreshed the eyes. The charm of the whole was the contrast between the “dry and thirsty land where no water is” and abundant moisture, between the scanty and scorched herbage of the arid mountains and the “trees planted by the rivers of water,” but I confess that the length and overpowering fatigue of that thirty-three miles’ march, much of it in blazing heat, following on three nights without sleep, soon dulled my admiration of the plain. Hour after hour passed on its gravelly margin, then came melon beds, files of donkeys loaded with melons in nets, gardens of cucumbers and gourds, each with its “lodge,” irrigation channels, dykes, apricot and mulberry orchards, lanes bordered with the graceful elægnus, a large and busy village, where after a very uncertain progress we got a local guide, and then a low isolated hill, crowned by a dwelling arranged for security, and a liberally planted garden, a platform with terraced slopes and straight formal walks, a terrace with a fine view, and two tanks full of turtles (which abound in many places) under large willows, giving a pleasant shade. Between them I have pitched my tents, with the lines of an old hymn constantly occurring to me —

“Interval of grateful shade,

Welcome to my weary head.”

Burujird, one and a half mile off, and scarcely seen above the intervening woods, gives a suggestion of civilisation to the landscape. In the sunset, which is somewhat fiery, Shuturun and the precipices of the Tang-i-Bahrain are reddening.

The last three marches have been more severe than the whole travelling of the last three months. Happy thought, that no call to “boot and saddle” will break the stillness of tomorrow morning!

I. L. B.

60 This untoward affair ended well, but had there been bloodshed on either side, had any one of us been killed, which easily might have been, the world would never have believed but that some offence had been given, and that some high-handed action had been the cause of the attack. I am in a position to say, not only that no offence was given, but that here and everywhere the utmost care was taken not to violate Bakhtiari etiquette, or wound religious or national susceptibilities; all supplies were paid for above their value; the servants, always under our own eyes, were friendly but reserved; and in all dealings with the people kindness and justice were the rule. I make these remarks in the hope of modifying any harsh judgments which may be passed upon any travellers who have died unwitnessed deaths at the hands of natives. There are, as in our case, absolutely unprovoked attacks.

61 See Appendix A.

62 I am inclined to estimate the Bakhtiari population at a higher figure than some travellers have given. I took forty-three men at random from the poorest class and from various tribes, and got from them the number of their families, wives and children only being included, and the average was eight to a household.

63 Book xvii. c. viii.

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