Travels in Arabia, by John Lewis Burckhardt

Journey from Mekka to Medina.

ON the 15th of January, 1815, I left Mekka with a small caravan of hadjys, who were going to visit the tomb of the prophet: it consisted of about fifty camels, the property of some Bedouins of the Ryshye and Zebeyde tribes, who either accompanied their beasts themselves, or had sent slaves with them. I had hired two camels, to carry myself and my slave and baggage; and, as is customary in the Hedjaz, I had paid the money in advance, at the rate of one hundred and eighty piastres per camel. My late cicerone, with whom I had every reason to be satisfied, though not quite free from those professional vices already mentioned, accompanied me out of town, as far as the plain of Sheikh Mahmoud, where the camels had assembled, and from whence the caravan started at nine o’clock in the evening. The journey to Medina, like that between Mekka and Djidda, is performed by night, which renders it much less profitable to the traveller, and, in winter time, much less comfortable than it would be by day.

Having proceeded an hour and a quarter, [I had bought a watch at Mekka, and had obtained a good compass from the English ship at Djidda.] we passed the Omra thus far the road is paved in several parts with large stones, particularly on the ascents. We passed through valleys of firm sand, between irregular chains of low hills, where some shrubs and stunted acacia-trees grow. The road, with few exceptions, was perfectly level.

At five hours from Mekka, we passed a ruined building called El Meymounye, with the tomb of a saint, the dome of which was demolished by the Wahabys. Near it is a well of sweet water, and a small birket, or reservoir, built of stone: a little building annexed to the tomb serves as a sort of khan for travellers. For the first six hours from Mekka our road lay N.W., when we turned a steep hill, which caravans cannot cross, and proceeded N.N.W. to Wady Fatme, which we reached at the end of eight hours from Mekka, just at the first appearance of dawn.

January 16th. We alighted on the spot where the pilgrim caravans repose on the day before they reach Mekka, in a part of the valley of Fatme, called Wady Djemmoum. Wady Fatme is low ground, abounding in springs and wells; it extends in an E.N.E. direction to the distance of four or five hours, until it nearly joins Wady Lymoun. To the west of our resting-place, it terminates at about an hour and a half’s distance, being about six hours in its whole length. The most western point is called Medoua. On the western side are the principal plantations; to the east it is cultivated in a few spots only. It presented to the view on that side a plain of several miles in breadth, covered with shrubs, and flanked on both sides by low barren hills or elevated ground; but towards its eastern extremity it is said to be very well cultivated. Wady Fatme has different appellations in different parts; but the whole is commonly known to the people of Djidda and Mekka by the name of El Wady, or the valley. By the Arabian historians it is usually called Wady Merr. Between Wady Fatme and Hadda, (the station so named on the Djidda road,) are the two places, called Serouat and Rekany. (See Asamy.)

The cultivated grounds in Wady Fatme contain principally date-trees, which supply the markets of the two neighbouring towns; and vegetables, which are carried every night, on small droves of asses, to Mekka and Djidda. Wheat and barley are also cultivated in small quantities. The Wady being well supplied with water, might easily be rendered more productive than it now is; but the Hedjaz people are generally averse to all manual labour. Near the place where we alighted, runs a small rivulet, coming from the eastward, about three feet broad, and two feet deep, and flowing in a subterranean channel cased with stone, which is uncovered for a short space where the caravans take their supply of water, which is much more tepid than that of the Zemzem at Mekka, and is much better tasted. Close by are several ruined Saracen buildings and a large khan; and here also, according to Fasy, stood formerly a Mesdjed called El Fath. Among the date-groves are some Arab huts belonging to the cultivators of the soil, chiefly of the Lahyan tribe; the more wealthy of them belong to the tribe of the Sherifs of Mekka, called Dwy Barakat, who live here like Bedouins, in tents and huts. They have a few cattle; their cows, like all those of the Hedjaz, are small, and have a hump on their shoulders. Wady Fatme is also distinguished for its numerous henna-trees, with the odoriferous flowers of which, reduced to powder, the people of the East dye the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, or the nails of both. The henna of this valley is sold at Mekka to the hadjys in small red leathern bags; and many of them carry some of it home, as a present to their female relations. I think it probable that the Oaditæ of Ptolemy were the inhabitants of this valley, (Wady, Oadi).

We found at our halting-place a party of about twenty servants and camel-drivers belonging to the Turkish army at Mekka, who had left that place secretly to escape the embargo laid by Mohammed Aly upon all persons of their description. They were without any provisions, and had very little money; but hearing that there was a caravan to start for Medina, they thought they should be able to accompany it thither. Some of them, who were Egyptians, intended to go to Yembo; others, who were Syrians, had formed the plan of returning home through the Desert by the Hedjaz route, and of begging their way along the Bedouin encampments, not having money enough to pay for their passage by sea to Suez.

We left our resting-place at three o’clock P.M., and were one hour in crossing the Wady to its northern side; from whence the Hadj road, on which we travelled, rises gently between hills, through valleys full of acacia-trees, in a direction N. 40 W. The rock is all granite of the gray and red species. At the end of two hours, the country opens, the trees diminish, and the course changes to N. 55 W. Towards sun-set I had walked a little way in front of the caravan, and being tired, sat down under a tree to wait its approach; when five Bedouins crept along the bushes towards me, and suddenly snatched up my stick, the only weapon which was lying on the ground behind me. Their leader said that I was, no doubt, a deserter from the Turkish army, and therefore their lawful prize. I offered no resistance; but seeing them much less determined than Bedouin robbers generally are, I concluded that they were not free from fear. I told them, therefore, that I was a hadjy, and belonged to a large caravan escorted by Harb Bedouins; that they might wait a little before they stopped me, to assure themselves of this fact by the arrival of the caravan; and that they had better not offer me any violence, as our guides would no doubt know the perpetrators, and would report it to those who had the power to punish them. I felt assured that they had no intention of doing me any bodily harm, and was under no apprehension, especially as I had only a travelling dress and a few dollars to lose, should the worst happen. One of them, an old man, advised his comrades to wait a little; for that it would not be well to incur the consequences of robbing a hadjy. During our parley, I looked impatiently for the caravan coming in sight; but it had stopped behind for a quarter of an hour, to allow the travellers time to perform the evening prayers, a daily practice among them, of which. I was yet ignorant. This delay was very much against me, and I expected every moment to be stripped, when, the tread of the camels being at last heard, the Bedouins retreated as suddenly as they had approached.

Although the road from Mekka to Medina was considered safe even for caravans unarmed like ours, yet stragglers are always exposed; and had it not been for the terror with which, a few days before, Mohammed Aly’s victory over the Wahabys had inspired all the neighbouring Bedouins, I should probably have been punished for my imprudence in walking on alone. We rode the greater part of the night, over a plain more gravelly than sandy, where some ashour trees grow among the acacias, the same species (Asclepia gigantea) which I have so often mentioned in my Nubian Travels. This ground is called El Barka. After a seven hours’ march, we stopped at El Kara.

January 17th. We slept a few hours during the night, a circumstance that seldom occurred on this journey. El Kara is a black, flinty plain, with low hills at a great distance to the east: it bears a few thorny trees, but affords no water. I was struck by its great resemblance to the Nubian Desert, south of Shigre. Although in the midst of winter, the heat was intense the whole morning of our stay at Kara. Nobody in the caravan had a tent, and I was more exposed than any person; all the others being mounted on a shebrye, or shekdof, a sort of covered camel-saddle, which affords some shelter from the sun, both while on the camel, and when placed on the ground: the shebrye serves for one person, and the shekdof for two-one sitting on each side of the camel. But I had always preferred the open seat upon a loaded camel, as more commodious, besides being more Arablike, and affording the advantage of mounting or dismounting without the aid of the driver, and without stopping the animal; which it is very difficult to effect with those machines on their back, especially the shekdof, where both riders must keep continually balancing each other.

I formed today a closer acquaintance with my fellow-travellers; for, in small caravans, every one endeavours to be upon friendly terms with his companions. They were Malays, or, as they are called in the Levant, Jawas; and, with the exception of a few of them, who came from the coast of Malacca, all British subjects, natives of Sumatra, Java, and the coast of Malabar. The Malays come regularly to the Hadj, and often bring their women with them, three of whom were in our caravan. Many remain for years at Mekka, to study the Koran and the law, and are known among the Indians in the Hedjaz as scrupulous adherents to the precepts, or at least to the rites, of their religion. Few of them talk Arabic fluently; but they all read the Koran, and, even when travelling, are engaged in studying it. They defray the expenses of their journey by selling aloe-wood, the best kind of which, called Ma Wardy, they told me, cost, in their country, between three and four dollars per pound, and sells at Mekka at between twenty and twenty-five dollars. Their broad, long features, and prominent forehead, their short but stout stature, and their decayed teeth, which present a striking contrast to the pearly teeth of the Arabs, every where distinguish them, although they wear the common Indian dress. Their women, who all went unveiled, wore robes and handkerchiefs of striped silk stuff, of Chinese manufacture. They appeared to be people of very sober habits and quiet demeanour, but avaricious in the extreme; and their want of charity was sufficiently proved by their treatment of the destitute fugitives who had joined the caravan at Wady Fatme. They lived, during the whole journey, upon rice and salted fish: they boiled the rice in water, without any butter, a dear article in the Hedjaz, but which they did not dislike; for several of them begged my slave to give them secretly some of mine, for seasoning their dish. As they were people of property, avarice alone could be the motive for this abstemious diet; but they were sufficiently punished by the curses of the Bedouins, who had, of course, expected to partake of their dinners, and could not be prevailed upon to swallow the watery rice. Their copper vessels were all of Chinese manufacture, and instead of the abrik, or pot, which the Levantines use in washing and making their ablutions, they carried with them Chinese tea-pots.

During this journey, I had frequent opportunities of learning the opinion entertained by these Malays of the government and manners of the English, their present masters; they discovered a determined rancour and hostile spirit towards them, and greatly reviled their manners, of which, however, the worst they knew was, that they indulged too freely in wine, and that the sexes mixed together in social intercourse; none, however, impeached the justice of the government, which they contrasted with the oppression of their native princes; and although they bestowed upon the British the same opprobrious epithets with which the fanatic Moslims every where revile Europeans, they never failed to add, “but their government is good.” I have overheard many similar conversations among the Indians at Djidda and Mekka, and also among the Arabian sailors who trade to Bombay and Surat; the spirit of all which was, that the Moslims of India hate the English, though they love their government.

We left our resting-place at ten o’clock P.M., and proceeded over the plain of Kara, in a direction N. 40 W. At the end of three hours we passed a ruined building called Sebyl el Kara, where a well, now filled up, formerly supplied the passengers with water. I saw no hills to the west, as far as my eyes could reach. The plain is here overgrown with some trees and thick shrubs. We continued to cross it till six hours, where it closes; and the road begins to ascend slightly through a broad woody valley: here is situated Bir Asfán, a large, deep well, lined with stone, with a spring of good water in the bottom. This is a station of the Hadj. There is another way from Wady Fatme to Asfan, four miles to the eastward of our route. We passed the well without stopping. Samhoudy, the historian of Medina, mentions a village at Asfan, with a spring called Owla; there is now no village here. At seven hours begins a very narrow ascending passage between rocks, affording room for only one camel. The torrents which rush down through this passage in winter have entirely destroyed the road, and filled it with large, sharp blocks of stone; the Hadj route seemed, in several places, to be cut out of the rock, but the night was too dark for seeing any thing distinctly. At the end of eight hours we reached the top of this defile, where a small building stands, perhaps the tomb of a Sheikh. From hence we rode over a wide plain, sometimes sandy, and in other parts a mixture of sand and clay, where trees and shrubs grow. At fourteen hours, near the break of dawn, we passed a small Bedouin encampment, and alighted, at the end of fifteen hours, in the neighbourhood of a village called Kholeys. We had made several short halts during the night, and kindled fires to warm ourselves.

Kholeys stands upon a wide plain, in several parts of which date-groves are seen, with fields, where dhourra, bemye, and dokken are cultivated. Several hamlets appear scattered about, which are comprised in the general name of Kholeys; the largest is called Es–Souk, or the market-place, near which the Hadj encamps. A small rivulet, tepid, like that in Wady Fatme, rises near the Souk, and is collected on the outside of the village in a small birket, now ruined, and then waters the plain. Near the birket there are also the ruins of a sebyl. [A sebyl is a small, open building, often found by the side of fountains; in these sebyls travellers pray, and take their repose.] According to Kotobeddyn, the birket and sebyl were built by Kayd Beg, Sultan of Egypt, about A.H. 885. At that time, Kholeys had its own Emir, who was a very powerful person in the Hedjaz. I saw plenty of cattle, cows, and sheep; but the Arabs complained that their plantations suffered from drought, no rain having yet fallen, though the season was far advanced. The water from the rivulet did not appear sufficient to irrigate all the cultivated grounds, and the supply was even less than it might have been, as half of the water was suffered, through negligence, to escape from the narrow channels.

The village Es–Souk contains about fifty houses, all built of mud, and very low: its main street is lined with shops, kept by the people of Kholeys, and frequented by all the neighbouring Bedouins. The principal article for sale was dates, with which most of the shops were filled; in the others were sold dhourra, barley, lentils and onions, (both from Egypt,) rice, and some other articles of provision; but no wheat, that grain being little used by the Bedouins of this country: there were also spices, a few drugs, the bark of a tree for tanning the water-skins, and some butter. Milk was not to be found, for no one likes to be called a milk-seller. A tolerably well-built mosque stands by the rivulet, near some gigantic sycamore trees. I found in it two negro hadjys from Darfour; they had, the night before, been stripped on the road of a few piastres, earned at Mekka: one of them having attempted to defend himself, had been severely beaten; and they now intended to go back to Djidda, and endeavour to retrieve their loss by a few months’ labour. One of the Bedouins who had stripped them, was smoking his pipe in the village; but they had not the means of proving the robbery against him, nor of obtaining justice. Kholeys is the chief seat of the Arab tribe of Zebeyd, a branch of Beni Harb, and the residence of their Sheikh. The greater part of them are Bedouins; and many even of those who cultivate the ground, pass some part of the year under tents in the Desert, for the purpose of pasturing their cattle upon the wild herbage. A few families of Beni Amer, (or Aamer, [The Beni Aamer must not be confounded with Amer, another tribe of Harb.]) another branch of Harb, are mixed with this tribe at Kholeys.

Before the Turkish conquest, the usual currency at this market was dhourra; at present, piastres and paras are taken. Kholeys often sends small caravans to Djidda, which is two long days’ journeys, or three caravan journeys distant. I was told that the neighbouring mountains were well peopled with Bedouins. About three hours distant, in a N.E. direction, is a fertile valley called Wady Khowar, known for its numerous plantations of bananas, by which the fruit-markets of Mekka and Djidda are supplied.

January 18th. Having filled our water-skins, we set out at three o’clock, P.M. Our road lay N. 20 E. over the plain. In two hours we came to a high hill, called Thenyet Kholeys, the steep side of which was deeply covered with sand, through which our camels ascended with difficulty. Some ancient ruins of a large building stand on its top, and the road on both sides of the hill is lined with walls, to prevent too great an accumulation of the sand. It was covered with carcases of camels, the relics of the late Hadj caravans. On descending the other side, a plain extended before us to the north and east, as far as the eye could reach. To the E.N.E. high mountains were visible, distant between twenty and thirty miles. Descending into the plain, we took the direction N. 10 W. At three hours and a half the plain, which thus far had been firm gravel, changed into deep sand, with tarfa (or tamarisk) trees, which delight particularly in sand, and in the driest season, when all vegetation around them is withered, never lose their verdure. It is one of the most common productions of the Arabian Desert, from the Euphrates to Mekka, and is also frequent in the Nubian deserts: its young leaves form an excellent food for camels. At four hours and a quarter, we found the road covered with a saline crust, indicating the neighbourhood of the sea; from hence, our course was in various directions.

According to the usual practice in the Hedjaz, the camels walk in a single row — those behind tied to the tails of those that precede them. The Arab, riding foremost, was to lead the troop; but he frequently fell asleep, as well as his companions behind; and his camel then took its own course, and often led the whole caravan astray. After a twelve hours’ march, we alighted at the Hadj station called Kolleya, and also Kobeyba. Every spot in the plains of Arabia is known by a particular name; and it requires the eye and experience of a Bedouin to distinguish one small district from another: for this purpose, the different species of shrubs and pasturage produced in them by the rains, are of great assistance; and whenever they wish to mention a certain spot to their companions, which happens to have no name, they always designate it by the herbs that grow there; as, for instance, Abou Shyh, Abou Agál, &c.

About two hours distant from the spot where we rested, to the north-east, is water, with a small date-grove. I heard that the sea was from six to eight hours distant. The mountains continued to be seen between twenty and thirty miles on the east; their summits sharp, and presenting steep and insulated peaks. They are inhabited by the tribe of Ateybe, which in the seventeenth century, according to Asamy, also inhabited Wady Fatme. In the morning some Bedouin women appeared, with a few starved herds of sheep and goats, which were searching for the scanty herbage. No rain had fallen in the plain, and every shrub was withered; yet these Bedouins did not dare to seek for better pasturage in the neighbouring mountains, which did not belong to the territory of their tribe; for, whenever there is a drought, the limits of each territory are rigorously watched by the shepherds. I went out with several of the Malays to meet the women, and to ask them for some milk; the Malays had taken money with them to buy it; and I had filled my pockets with biscuit, for the same purpose. They refused to take the money, saying they were not accustomed to sell milk; but when I made them a present of the biscuits, they filled my wooden bowl in return. During the passage of the Hadj, these poor Bedouins fly in all directions, knowing the predatory habits of the soldiers who escort the caravan.

January 19th. We left Kolleya at half-past one o’clock P.M., and proceeded over the plain. In three hours, we came to low hills of moving sand; at four hours, to a stony plain, with masses of rock lying across the road: direction N. 25 W. At the end of nine hours, we halted during the night near the village of Rabegh, our road having been constantly level. Three or four hamlets, little distant from each other, are all comprised under this appellation; the principal of which, like that of Kholeys, is distinguished by the additional name of Es–Souk, or the market-place. The neighbouring plain is cultivated, and thick plantations of palm-trees render Rabegh a place of note on this route. Amongst the palm-trees grow a few tamarinds, or Thamr Hindy, the green fruit of which was now sufficiently ripe and pleasant. A few of these trees likewise grow at Mekka. Some rain had fallen here lately, and the ground was, in many parts, tilled. The ploughs of those Arabs, which are drawn by oxen or camels, resemble those delineated by Niebuhr, and which are, I believe, generally used in the Hedjaz and. Yemen. [I cannot conceive what could have led Ptolemy to place a river in the direction between Mekka and Yembo, as certainly no river empties itself into the sea any where in the Hedjaz. In winter time, many torrents rush down from the mountains.] Rabegh possesses the advantage of a number of wells, the water of which is, however, but indifferent: its vicinity to the sea, which, as I heard, was six or seven miles distant, though the view of it was hid by palm-groves, causes the coast of Rabegh to be visited by many country ships that are in want of water. The Bedouins of this coast are active fishermen, and bring hither from the more distant ports their salted fish; a quantity of which may always be found in the market, where it is bought up by the Arab ships’ crews, who consume a great part of it, and carry the rest to Egypt or Djidda. The inhabitants of Rabegh are of the above-mentioned Harb tribes of Aamer and Zebeyd, principally the latter. In the opposite mountains, to the east, live the Beni Owf, another tribe of Harb. The hadjys passing by sea from Egypt to Djidda, are obliged to take the ihram opposite to Rabegh, which they may do either on shore, or on board snip.

An accident occurred here, which showed in the strongest light the total want of charity in our companions the Malays. There were several poorer Malays, who, unable to pay for the hire of a camel, followed their comrades on foot; but as our night journeys were long, these men came in sometimes an hour or two after we had alighted in the morning. To-day one of them was brought in under an escort of two Bedouins of the tribe of Owf, who told us that they had found him straying in the Desert, and that he had promised them twenty piastres if they would guide him to the caravan, and that they expected his friends would make up this sum, the man, as they saw, being himself quite destitute of money. When they found that none of our party showed any inclination to pay even the smallest part of this sum, and that all of them disclaimed any knowledge or acquaintance with the man, who, they said had joined the caravan at starting from Mekka without his person being in the least known to them, the Bedouins declared that they should take the little clothing he had upon him, and keep him a prisoner in their tents till some other Malays should pass, who might release him. When the caravan was preparing to start, they seized him, and carried him off a short distance towards the wood. He was so terrified that he had lost the power of speech, and permitted himself to be led away, without making the slightest resistance. Our own guides were no match for the Owf, a tribe much dreaded for its warlike and savage character; there was no judge in the village of Rabegh, to whose authority an appeal might be made; and the two Bedouins had a legitimate claim upon their prisoner. I should have performed no great act of generosity in paying his ransom myself; but I thought that this was a duty incumbent upon his countrymen the Malays, and therefore used all my endeavours to persuade them to do it. I really never met with such hard-hearted, unfeeling wretches; they unanimously declared that they did not know the man, and were not bound to incur any expense on his account. The camels were loaded; they had all mounted, and the leader was on the point of starting, when the miserable object of the dispute broke out in loud lamentations. I had waited for this moment. Relying on the respect I enjoyed in the caravan from being supposed a hadjy in some measure attached to Mohammed Aly’s army, and the good-will of our guides, which I had cultivated by distributing victuals liberally amongst them ever since we left Mekka, I seized the leader’s camel, made it couch down, and exclaimed, that the caravan should not proceed till the man was released. I then went from load to load, and partly by imprecating curses on the Malays and their women, and partly by collaring some of them, I took from every one of their camels twenty paras, (about three pence,) and, after a long contest, made up the twenty piastres. This sum I carried to the Bedouins who had remained at a distance with their prisoner, and representing to them his forlorn state, and appealing to the honour of their tribe, induced them to take ten piastres. According to true Turkish maxims, I should have pocketed the other ten, as a compensation for my trouble; I, however, gave them to the poor Malay, to the infinite mortification of his countrymen. The consequence was, that, during the rest of the journey, they entirely discarded him from their party, and he was thrown upon my hands, till we arrived at Medina, and during his residence there. I intended to have provided him with the means of returning to Yembo, but I fell dangerously ill soon after my arrival at Medina, and know not what afterwards became of him.

Several pilgrims were begging for charity in the market of Rabegh. These poor people, in starting from Mekka for Medina with the great caravan, fancy that they are sufficiently strong to bear the fatigues of that journey, and know that, in travelling with the caravan, charitable hadjys are to be found who will supply them with food and water; but the long night-marches soon exhaust their strength, they linger behind on the road, and, after great privations and delays, are obliged to proceed on their journey by other opportunities. An Afghan pilgrim here joined our party; he was an old man, of very extraordinary strength, and had come the whole way from Kaboul to Mekka on foot, and intended to return in the same manner. I regretted his slight acquaintance with Arabic, as he seemed an intelligent man, and could no doubt have given me some interesting information respecting his country.

January 20th. We left Rabegh at four P.M. Our road lay N. 8 W., in most parts of black flint, interspersed with some hills of sand, upon which were a few trees. Having enjoyed no repose whatever for the last two days, I fell asleep upon my camel, and can only say, that after a ride of eleven hours, over hilly and sandy ground, we alighted at Mastoura, a station of the Hadj. Two large and deep wells, cased with stone, afford here a copious supply of good water. Near them stood the tomb of a saint called Sheikh Madely, which had been demolished by the Wahabys. About ten miles east of this is a high mountain, called Djebel Ayoub, “Job’s Mountain,” overtopping the other summits of the chain of which it forms a part, and covered in many spots with trees. It is inhabited by the Owf tribe. The whole road from Kolleya to this place is dangerous on account of the robberies of these Bedouins; and the caravan never passes without losing some of its loads or camels. In the time of the Wahabys it was completely secure; the Sheikhs of the Harb, and the whole tribe being made responsible for all depredations committed in their territory. The Wahabys, however, had not been able to subdue the Owf in their own mountains; and a proof of their independence appeared in the long hair which this tribe wore, contrary to the Wahaby precept, which had established it as a universal law to shave the head bare.

We found, at the wells of Mastoura, several flocks of camels and sheep, which the Owf shepherds and shepherdesses were watering. I bought from them a lamb for a few piastres and some tobacco, and divided it among our guides and those who accompanied us on foot. The Malays came to ask me for their share, giving me to understand that their compliance with my entreaties in favour of their poor countryman, was deserving of reward; but the Bedouins who were with us, saved me, by their taunting reprimands, the trouble of answering them. Several tombs of hadjys were seen near the wells, which the Wahabys had respected; for they seldom injured any tombs that pride or bigotry had left unadorned.

January 21st. We set out at three o’clock P.M. The plain we crossed is either flinty, or presents spots of cultivable clay. The direction was north. After proceeding over a sandy plain, covered with low brush-wood for two hours and a half, we had Djebel Ayoub about six miles distant: then begins a lower ridge of mountains, running parallel to the road. Here we quitted the great Hadj route, which turns off in a more westerly direction, and we proceeded towards the mountains N. 15 E. to reach Szafra by the nearest route. After a march of thirteen hours, over uneven ground and low hills, we halted near day-break, in a sandy plain, by the well called Bir-es’- Sheikh. It will have been observed, that our night marches were always very long; but the rate of the camel’s walk was very slow, scarcely more than two miles an hour, or two and a quarter. Bir-es’-Sheikh is a well between thirty and forty feet deep, and fifteen feet in diameter, solidly cased with stone; the work of men who felt more anxiety for the convenience of travellers to the holy cities, than the present chiefs of the faithful evince. If pressed for time, the Hadj sometimes takes this route; but it goes usually by Beder, where the Egyptian and Syrian caravans, on their road to Mekka, follow each other, at the interval of one day or two, their time of setting out upon the journey invariably taking place on fixed days. We were now close to the great chain, which, since we left Kholeys, had been on our right: a ridge of it, a few miles north of Bir-es’-Sheikh, takes a westerly direction towards the sea, and at its extremity lies Beder. We met Bedouins at this well also; they were of the tribe of Beni Salem, or Sowaleme: our guides bought a sheep of them, and roasted it in the Medjba, a hole dug in the sand, and lined with small stones, which are heated; the flesh is laid upon them, and then covered by cinders and the wet skin of the animal, and closely shut up with sand and clay. In an hour and a half the meat is cooked, and, as it loses none of its juices, has an excellent flavour.

January 22nd. We left the well at half-past three P.M. Route N. 10 W. ascending over uneven ground. In an hour and a half we entered the mountains, at the angle formed by the great chain on one side, and the above-mentioned branch, which extends towards Beder, on the other. From hence we continued N.N.E. in valleys of sandy soil, full of detached rocks. High mountains with sharp-pointed summits, and entirely barren, enclosed the road on both sides. The Eastern mountain, which here runs parallel with it, is called Djebel Sobh; the territory of the powerful tribe of Beni Sobh, a branch of the Beni Harb. Their mountains contain many fertile valleys, where date-trees grow, and some dhourra is sown. It is here that the Mekka balsam-tree is principally found, and the Senna Mekka, or Arabian senna, which the Syrian caravan exports, is collected exclusively in this district. The passage into the interior parts of this mountain is described as very difficult, and could never be forced by the Wahabys. Numerous families of the other tribes of Harb had retreated thither, with all their goods and cattle, from the arms of Saoud; and while all the Hedjaz Bedouins submitted to the Wahaby dominion, the Sobh was the only tribe which successfully defended their territory, and boldly asserted their independence.

After a march of six hours and a half, the road began to ascend among low rocky hills. At seven hours and a half we entered Wady Zogág, a narrow valley of gentle ascent, full of loose stones, and overgrown with acacia-trees. In proceeding up, it grew narrower, the path became steeper, and more difficult for the camels. At the end of thirteen hours, we came to level ground at its top, and there entered the valley of Es’ Szafra, close by the village of the same name, at which we alighted.

January 23d. Our camels being tired, having found very little food on the road, though they always had the whole morning to pasture, and several of them threatening to break down, the drivers stopped here the whole day. Like the before-mentioned Bedouin villages, Szafra is a market-place for all the surrounding tribes: its houses are built on the declivity of the mountain, and in the valley, which is narrow, leaving scarcely room enough for the date-groves which line both sides of it. A copious rivulet flows down the valley, the water of which is dispersed among the date-trees, and irrigates some cultivated fields in the wider parts of the windings of this valley. Wheat, dhourra, barley, and dokhen are sown here; of vegetables the Badendján, or egg-plant, Meloukhye onions and radishes are cultivated; and vines, lemon, and banana-trees abound. The soil is every where sandy, but rendered fertile by irrigation: copious rains had fallen three days since in the mountains, and a torrent twenty feet broad, and three or four feet deep, was still flowing. The date-groves extend about four miles; they belong to the inhabitants of Szafra, as well as of neighbouring Bedouins, who keep some of their own people, or Arab labourers, employed in irrigating the grounds, and repair hither themselves when the dates are ripe. The date-trees pass from one person to another in the course of trade, and are sold by the single tree; the price paid to a girl’s father on marrying her, consists often in date-trees. They all stand in deep sand, which is collected from the middle parts of the valley, and heaped up round their root, and must be renewed annually, as the torrents usually wash it away. Every small grove is enclosed by a mud or stone wall; the cultivators inhabit several hamlets, or insulated houses, scattered among the trees. The houses are low, and generally have only two rooms, and there is a small court-yard for the cattle. Several springs of running water, and many wells, are found in the gardens; the principal rivulet has its source in a grove close to the market; a small Mesdjed or mosque is built beside it, and it is overshadowed by a few large wild chesnut-trees. I saw no others of that species in the Hedjaz. Here, too, the water of the spring was tepid, but in a less degree than at Rabegh and Kholeys.

The inhabitants of this valley, the name of which is celebrated in the Hedjaz for the abundance of its dates, are of the Beni Salem tribe, the most numerous branch of Harb, and, like most other tribes of the Hedjaz, partly Bedouins and partly settled inhabitants; the latter remaining in their houses and gardens the whole year round, though they dress and live in the same manner as their brethren under tents. The Wahaby chief had been aware of the importance of this station; and having succeeded, after a long resistance, in overpowering the Beni Harb, who held the key of the Northern Hedjaz, [In this enterprise he was assisted by Medheyan, formerly a chief of Harb, who had been deprived of his post by Djezy, a fortunate rival. Medheyan was afterwards treacherously seized by the Turks at Medina, and beheaded at Constantinople; and Djezy, a friend of Mohammed Aly, was killed by the Turkish governor of Medina, for having spoken too highly of his services.] thought it necessary to keep a watchful eye over this valley, and there built several strong block-houses or towers, in which the collectors of his revenues resided, and where they deposited the taxes collected from the valley. All these Bedouins were decidedly hostile to the Wahaby system: even now, though free from their yoke, they load them with as many reproaches, as the Mekkans bestow praises on them. Before the Wababy invasion, the Beni Harb had never known a master, nor had the produce of their fields ever been taxed. The Sherif of Mekka certainly assumed a nominal supremacy over them; but they were in fact completely independent, and their Sheikhs seconded the Sherif’s views so far only as they were thought beneficial, or of pecuniary advantage to their own people. The latter now complained greatly of the heavy taxation imposed by the Wahabys, and said that, besides the money they were obliged to pay into Saoud’s treasury, the chief of all the Wahaby Sheikhs of the Hedjaz, Othman el Medheyfe, had extorted from them many additional sums. I thought the accuracy of this information doubtful; for I knew that the Wahaby chief had always shown particular care in preventing such acts of injustice in his officers, and punished those who were guilty. They also told me that not only had their gardens and plantations been taxed, but the very water with which they irrigated them had been assessed at a yearly sum.

The dress of the people of Szafra consists of a shirt, and a short gown of coarse Indian coloured calico, over which they wear a white abba of light texture, the same as that worn by the Bedouins of the Euphrates, near Aleppo, and which is similar to the dress of all the Beni Harb who have become settlers; while the Bedouins of the tribe wear the brown and white striped abba. The profits which they derive from the passage of caravans, and their petty dealings, seem to have had a baneful influence upon their character, for they cheat as much as they can: they are, however, not destitute of commiseration and hospitality towards the poor hadjys, who, in their passage, contrive to collect from the shops as much as is necessary for their daily food. We here met several poor pilgrims on their way to Medina, who had nothing to subsist upon but what they obtained from the generosity of the Bedouins on the road. This was not the first time that I reflected how ill had been applied the splendid liberality of many Khalifes and Sultans, who, while they enriched Mekka and Medina, and spent enormous sums to provide for the sumptuous passage of the great Hadj caravans through the holy land, yet entirely neglected to provide for the comfort and security of the immense number of poor pilgrims who are continually travelling through that country. Half-a-dozen houses of charity, established between Mekka and Medina, with an annual endowment of a few thousand dollars, would be of more real service to the cause of their religion, than all the sums spent in feeding the idle, or keeping up a vain show. On the whole of this route between Mekka and Medina, there is not a public khan, nor has any thing been done for the benefit of travellers, beyond keeping the wells in repair. The only instance of a truly charitable act in any of the sovereigns who enriched Mekka, recorded by the historians, is the building of an hospital at Mekka, in A.H. 816, by order of Moayed, Sultan of Egypt. No traces of it now remain.

In the market-street of Szafra, which is called Souk-es’-Szafra, dates are the principal article for sale. The pound, which costs twenty-five paras at Mekka, was sold here for ten. Honey, preserved in sheep-skins, forms another article of trade here. The neighbouring mountains are full of bee-hives. In those districts which are known to be frequented by bees, the Bedouins place wooden hives upon the ground, and the bees never fail to take possession of them. The honey is of the best quality; I saw one sort of it as white, and almost as clear, as water. Drugs and spices, and some perfumes, of which the Bedouins of those countries are very fond, may here also be purchased.

Szafra and Beder are the only places in the Hedjaz where the balsam of Mekka, or Balesan, can be procured in a pure state. The tree from which it is collected grows in the neighbouring mountains, but principally upon Djebel Sobh, and is called by the Arabs Beshem. I was informed that it is from ten to fifteen feet high, with a smooth trunk, and thin bark. In the middle of summer, small incisions are made in the bark; and the juice, which immediately issues, is taken off with the thumb-nail, and put into a vessel. The gum appears to be of two kinds; one of a white, and the other of a yellowish-white colour: the first is the most esteemed. I saw here some of the latter sort, in a small sheep-skin, which the Bedouins use in bringing it to market: it had a strong, turpentine smell, and its taste was bitter. The people of Szafra usually adulterate it with sesamum oil, and tar. When they try its purity, they dip their finger into it and then set fire to it; if it burn without hurting or leaving a mark on the finger, they judge it to be of good quality; but if it burn the finger as soon as it is set on fire, they consider it to be adulterated. I remember to have read, in Bruce’s Travels, an account of the mode of trying it, by letting a drop fall into a cup filled with water; the good Balesan falling coagulated to the bottom, and the bad dissolving, and swimming on the surface. I tried this experiment, which was unknown to the people here, and found the drop swim upon the water; I tried also their test by fire upon the finger of a Bedouin, who had to regret his temerity: I therefore regarded the balsam sold here as adulterated; it was of less density than honey. I wished to purchase some; but neither my own baggage, nor any of the shops of Szafra, could furnish any thing like a bottle to hold it: the whole skin was too dear. The Bedouins, who bring it here, usually demand two or three dollars per pound for it, when quite pure; and the Szafra Arabs re-sell it to the hadjys of the great caravan, at between eight and twelve dollars per pound in an adulterated state. It is bought up principally by Persians.

The Balesan for sale at Djidda and Mekka, from whence it comes to Cairo, always undergoes several adulterations; and if a hadjy does not casually meet with some Bedouins, from whom he may purchase it at first hand, no hopes can be entertained of getting it in a pure state. The richer classes of the hadjys put a drop of Balesan into the first cup of coffee they drink in the morning, from a notion that it acts as a tonic. The seeds of the tree from which it is obtained, are employed in the Hedjaz to procure abortion.

I must notice here, as a peculiarity in the customs of the Beni Salem tribe, that, in case of the Dye, or the fine for a man slain, (amounting here to eight hundred dollars,) being accepted by the deceased’s family, the sum is made up by the murderer and his family, and by his relations; the former paying one-third, and the kindred two-thirds; a practice which, as far as my knowledge extends, does not prevail in any other part of the Desert.

Our Bedouin guides had here a long quarrel with the Malays. The guides had bargained in the market for two camels, to replace two that were unfit to continue the journey; but not having money enough to pay for them, they required the assistance of the Malays, and begged them to lend ten dollars, to be repaid at Medina. The Malays refused, and being hardly pressed, endeavoured to engage my interposition in their behalf; but the Bedouins forced the money from them by the same means which I had employed on a former occasion: the purse of a Malay, which had been concealed in a bag of rice, now came to light; it probably contained three hundred dollars. The owner was so much frightened by this discovery, and the apprehension that the Arabs would murder him on the road for the sake of his money, that by way of punishment for his avarice, they contrived to keep him in a constant state of alarm till we arrived at Medina.

January 24th. We left the Souk–Es’-Szafra [During the night, a Kurd courier, mounted upon a dromedary, escorted by several Bedouins, passed through Szafra; he came from the head-quarters of Mohammed Aly, and was the bearer of the intelligence of the capture of Tarabe to Tousoun Pasha, at Medina] we passed the Omra thus far the road is paved in several parts with large stones, particularly on the ascents. We passed through valleys of firm sand, between irregular chains of low hills, where some shrubs and stunted acacia-trees grow. The road, with few exceptions, was perfectly level.] at 3 P.M., and rode along the valley, which widens a little beyond the market-place. The brilliant verdure of the date-trees and plantations form a singular contrast with the barren mountains on each side. Our direction was N. 10 E. I found the rock here composed throughout of red Thon stone, with transverse strata of the same substance, but of a green colour; beyond Djedeyde, a little higher up, I found, in my return from Medina, feldspar rocks. At one hour from the Souk, we passed a similar village in the valley, called El Kharma, which is comprised within the Wady Szafra. At the end of two hours, we came to a public fountain in ruins, on the road, near a well half choked up. The valley here divides; one branch turns towards the N.W.; the other, which we followed, N.N.E. Two hours and a half, we passed a hamlet called Dar el Hamra, with gardens of date-trees, and plantations, inhabited by the tribe of Howaseb, another branch of Harb. Several small watch-towers had been built here on the summits of the neighbouring mountains, on both sides of the valleys, by Othman el Medhayfe, to secure this passage. Plenty of bananas were offered us for sale, as we passed this place. At the end of two hours and three quarters, the road begins to ascend, and the soil of the valley, which thus far from Szafra is gravel intermixed with sand, now becomes stony.

In four hours and a quarter we passed the village called Mokad, which also produces dates.

We stopped here for a quarter of an hour; where we were surrounded by many of the inhabitants; and on remounting my camel, I found that several trifling articles had been pilfered from my baggage. This defile is particularly dreaded by the Hadj caravans; and stories are related of daring robberies committed by the Arabs which appear almost incredible. They dress sometimes like Turkish soldiers, and introduce themselves into the caravan while on their march during the night; and in this manner they carried off, the year before, one of the finest led horses of the Pasha of Damascus, the chief of the Syrian caravan. They jump from behind upon the camel of the sleeping hadjy, stop his mouth with their abbas, and throw down to their companions whatever valuables they find upon him. If discovered, they draw their daggers and cut their way through; for, if taken, they can expect no mercy. The usual mode of punishment on such occasions, is to impale them at the moment the caravan starts from the next station, leaving them to perish on the stake, or be devoured by wild beasts. The horrors of such a punishment, however, do not deter others from committing the same crimes; and individuals among the Bedouins pride themselves in being reckoned expert Hadj-robbers, because great courage and dexterity are necessary to such a character. From hence our road lay N. 20 E. A barren valley about three hundred yards across begins here, which, at the end of six hours and a half, conducted us with many windings to Djedeyde, situated in a spot where the road becomes straight and has a steep ascent. I saw a great many date-trees on both sides of the valley, which takes the general name of Djedeyde, and is divided into several villages. Near the southern entrance is the market-place, or Es’-Souk Djedeyde, which appeared to be of greater extent than that of Szafra; but it is now almost in ruins. From thence the valley becomes still narrower, running between steep rocks for about one hour. It was in this spot that Mohammed Aly’s first expedition against the Wahabys, under the command of his son Tousoun Beg, was defeated in autumn 1811. They had possession of both mountains, and the discharges of musketry from each side reached across the valley, where the Turkish army attempted in vain to pass. Most of the Sheikhs of the tribe of Harb, and the two great southern Wahaby chiefs, Othman el Medheyfe and Tamy, were present, with two of the sons of Saoud.

At seven hours and a half, we passed El Kheyf, the last village in the valley of Djedeyde; several insulated groups of houses are also scattered along the valley. About eighty tents of Turkish soldiers were pitched here, to guard this pass; one of the most important positions in the Hedjaz, because it is the only way by which caravans can proceed from Mekka or Yembo to Medina. The Harb tribe are well fitted, by their warlike temper, to defend this post. Even before the Wahaby conquest, they had repeatedly been at war with the Syrian caravan, and Djezzar Pasha himself had been several times repulsed here, and obliged to take the eastern Hadj route, at the back of the great chain, rather than submit to the exorbitant demands of the Beni Harb for permitting the Hadj to pass through their territories. Abdullah Pasha of Damascus, who conducted the Hadj eighteen times in person to Mekka, was compelled to do the same. Whenever the Harb are in amity with the caravan, they have a right to a considerable passage duty, which is paid at Djedeyde.

Szafra appeared to me better peopled, and to contain more houses, than are now in Djedeyde. In speaking of this pass, the Arabs generally join the two names, and say, “the valley of Szafra and Djedeyde.” Beyond El Kheyf the valley widens, and forms many windings. Our caravan was here in constant fear of robbers, which kept us awake, though the severe cold during the night would not have suffered us to sleep. Our main direction from Kheyf was N. 40 E. At twelve hours, gently ascending through the valley, we entered a plain, situated in the midst of the mountains, about ten miles in length, called El Nazye, where we alighted.

January 26th. We remained encamped here the whole day, some passengers having acquainted us that disturbances had broken out on the road before us, which we did not discover to be a false report till the next day. The rocks surrounding this plain are partly of granite, and partly of lime-stone. The plain is thickly covered with acacia-trees.

Good water is found on the side of the mountains, but not in the plain itself. Some Bedouins of Beni Salem, to which tribe the inhabitants of Djedeyde also belong, pastured their flocks here: they were chiefly occupied in collecting food for their camels from the acacia-trees; for this purpose, they spread a straw mat under the tree, and beat its boughs with long sticks, when the youngest and freshest leaves, from the extremities of the twigs, fall down: these are esteemed the best food for camels. I saw them sold in measures, in the market at Szafra. We exchanged some biscuits for milk with these Bedouins; and one, to whom I had given a small dose of rhubarb, brought me some fresh butter in return.

January 26th. We started at two P.M., and an hour and a half’s march over the plain brought us to the mountain. The whole breadth of this plain is about six miles. We then entered the mountain in the direction N. 50 E. The mixed rocks of granite and lime-stone present no regular strata. We next passed through a short defile, and, at the end of two hours and a half, entered a small plain called Shab el Hál, between the mountains, where were several encampments of Bedouins. At five hours, we entered a broad valley, running in a straight line, and covered with white sand. The night was cold, and the moon shone beautifully; I therefore walked in front of the caravan, whose pace being slow, I soon advanced, without perceiving it, to a considerable distance a-head. Finding that it did not come up, I sat down under a tree, and was going to light a fire, when I heard the tread of horses advancing towards me. I kept hidden behind the trees, and presently saw some Bedouins of very suspicious appearance pass by. After waiting a long time for the caravan, and unable to account for its delay, I retraced my steps, and found the camels standing at rest, and taking breath, and every soul upon them fast asleep, the foot-passengers being still behind. This happened to us several times during our journey. When the camel hears no voices about it, and is not urged by the leader, it slackens its pace, and at last stands still to rest; and if the leading camel once stops, all the rest do the same. I roused the Arabs, and we proceeded. The next day, we learnt that some travellers had been plundered this night on the road — no doubt by the horsemen who passed me, and who probably dispersed when they saw a large caravan approaching.

The valley in which we were travelling is called Wady es’ Shohada, or the “Valley of Martyrs,” where many followers of Mohammed are said to have been killed in battle: their remains are covered by rude heaps of stones in different parts of the valley. Here also are seen several tombs of hadjys; and I observed some walls, much ruined, where a small chapel or mosque appeared to have stood: no water is found here. This is a station of the Hadj caravan. At the end of nine hours, we issued from this wady, which is on a very slight ascent; and then taking a direction E.N.E. we crossed a rocky ground, and entered a wide plain called El Fereysh, where two small caravans from Medina bound to Yembo passed us. At the end of eleven hours and a half we alighted.

The plain of Fereysh, according to the historian Asamy, was the scene of a sanguinary battle, between the Sherif of Mekka and the Bedouin tribes of Dhofyr and Aeneze, in A.H. 1063. The Dhofyr, who are now settled in Mesopotamia, towards Baghdad, were at that time pasturing their herds in the neighbourhood of Medina.

January 27th. The rocks here are all of red granite. A party of Bedouins, with their women, children, and tents passed us; they belonged to the tribe of Harb, called El Hamede, and had left the upper country, where no rain had yet fallen, to seek better pasturage in the lower mountains. While we were encamped, a heavy storm, with thunder and lightning, overtook us, and the rain poured down: as it threatened to be of long duration, and we had no tents, it was thought advisable to proceed. We started in the afternoon; and it continued to rain during the rest of the day and the whole night, which, joined to the cold climate in these elevated regions, was severely felt by all of us. Our road ascended through rocky valleys full of thorny trees; it was crossed by several torrents that had rapidly swollen, and which we passed with difficulty. After seven hours’ march we reached the summit of this chain of mountains, when the immense eastern plain lay stretched before us: we passed several insulated hills. The ground is covered with black and brown flints. In nine hours we passed at some distance to the west of the date-plantations, and the few houses built round the well called Bir Aly. At the end of ten hours, in the middle of the night, just as the weather had cleared up, and a severe frost succeeded the rain, we arrived before the gate of Medina. It was shut, and we had to wait till day-light before it could be opened. Being unable to light a fire on the wet ground with wet fuel, and being all completely soaked with the rain, the sharp frost of the morning became distressing to us, and was probably the cause of the fever which confined me so long in this town; for I had enjoyed perfect health during the whole journey.

We entered Medina at sun-rise on the 28th of January, the thirteenth day after our leaving Mekka, having halted two days on the road. The Hadj caravan usually performs the journey in eleven days, and, if pressed for time, in ten.

The Bedouins apply to the whole country between Mekka and Medina, west of the mountains, the name of El Djohfe, which, however, is sometimes understood to mean the country from Mekka to Beder only.

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