Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah, by Richard Burton

Chapter XXIV.

From Al-Madinah to Al-Suwayrkiyah.

FOUR roads lead from Al-Madinah to Meccah. The [“]Darb al-Sultani,” or “Sultan’s Highway,” follows the line of coast: this general passage has been minutely described by my exact predecessor. The “Tarik al-Ghabir,” a mountain path, is avoided by the Mahmil and the great Caravans on account of its rugged passes; water abounds along the whole line, but there is not a single village and the Sobh Badawin, who own the soil[,] are inveterate plunderers. The route called “Wady al-Kura” is a favourite with Dromedary Caravans; on this road are two or three small settlements, regular wells, and free passage through the Benu Amr tribe. The Darb al-Sharki, or “Eastern road,” down which I travelled, owes its existence to the piety of the Lady Zubaydah, wife of Harun al-Rashid. That munificent princess dug wells from Baghdad to Al-Madinah, and built, we are told, a wall to direct pilgrims over the shifting sands.1 There is a fifth road, or rather mountain path, concerning which I can give no information.

At eight A.M. on Wednesday, the 26th Zu’l Ka’adah (31st August, 1853), as we were sitting at the window of Hamid’s house after our early meal, suddenly appeared, in hottest haste, Mas’ud, our Camel-Shaykh. He was accompanied by his son, a bold boy about fourteen years of age, who fought sturdily about the weight of each package as it was thrown over the camel’s back; and his nephew, an ugly pock-marked lad, too lazy even to quarrel. We were ordered to lose no time in loading; all started into activity, and at nine A.M. I found myself standing opposite the Egyptian Gate, surrounded by my friends, who had accompanied me thus far on foot, to take leave with due honour. After affectionate embraces and parting mementoes, we mounted, the boy Mohammed and I in the litter, and Shaykh Nur in his cot. Then in company with some Turks and Meccans, for Mas’ud owned a string of nine camels, we passed through the little gate near the castle, and shaped our course towards the North. On our right lay the palm-groves, which conceal this part of the city; far to the left rose the domes of Hamzah’s Mosques at the foot of Mount Ohod; and in front a band of road, crowded with motley groups, stretched over a barren stony plain.

After an hour’s slow march, bending gradually from North to North-East, we fell into the Nijd highway, and came to a place of renown called Al-Ghadir, or the Basin.2 This is a depression conducting the drainage of the plain towards the northern hills. The skirts of Ohod still limited the prospect to the left. On the right was the Bir Rashid (Well of Rashid), and the little whitewashed dome of Ali al-Urays, a descendant from Zayn al-Abidin:— the tomb is still a place of Visitation. There we halted and turned to take farewell of the Holy City. All the pilgrims dismounted and gazed at the venerable minarets and the Green Dome — spots upon which their memories would for ever dwell with a fond and yearning interest.

Remounting at noon, we crossed a Fiumara which runs, according to my Camel-Shaykh, from North to South; we were therefore emerging from the Madinah basin. The sky began to be clouded, and although the air was still full of Samu[m], cold draughts occasionally poured down from the hills. Arabs fear this

“bitter change

Of fierce extremes, extremes by change more fierce,”

and call that a dangerous climate which is cold in the hot season and hot in the cold. Travelling over a rough and stony path, dotted with thorny Acacias, we arrived about two P.M. at the bed of lava heard of by Burckhardt.3 The aspect of the country was volcanic, abounding in basalts and scoriae, more or less porous: sand veiled the black bed whose present dimensions by no means equal the descriptions of Arabian historians. I made diligent enquiries about the existence of active volcanoes in this part of Al-Hijaz, and heard of none.

At five P.M., travelling towards the East, we entered a Bughaz,4 or Pass, which follows the course of a wide Fiumara, walled in by steep and barren hills — the portals of a region too wild even for Badawin. The torrent-bed narrowed where the turns were abrupt, and the drift of heavy stones, with a water-mark from six to seven feet high, showed that after rains a violent stream runs from East and South-East to West and North-West. The fertilising fluid is close to the surface, evidenced by a spare growth of Acacia, camel-grass, and at some angles of the bed by the Daum, or Theban palm.5 I remarked what was technically called “Hufrah,” holes dug for water in the sand; and the guide assured me that somewhere near there is a spring flowing from the rocks.

After the long and sultry afternoon, beasts of burden began to sink in numbers. The fresh carcases of asses, ponies, and camels dotted the wayside: those that had been allowed to die were abandoned to the foul carrion-birds, the Rakham (vulture), and the yellow Ukab; and all whose throats had been properly cut, were surrounded by troops of Takruri pilgrims. These half-starved wretches cut steaks from the choice portions, and slung them over their shoulders till an opportunity of cooking might arrive. I never saw men more destitute. They carried wooden bowls, which they filled with water by begging; their only weapon was a small knife, tied in a leathern sheath above the elbow; and their costume an old skull-cap, strips of leather like sandals under the feet, and a long dirty shirt, or sometimes a mere rag covering the loins. Some were perfect savages, others had been fine-looking men, broad-shouldered, thin-flanked, and long-limbed; many were lamed by fatigue and by thorns; and looking at most of them, I fancied death depicted in their forms and features.

After two hours’ slow marching up the Fiumara eastwards, we saw in front of us a wall of rock; and, turning abruptly southwards, we left the bed, and ascended rising ground. Already it was night; an hour, however, elapsed before we saw, at a distance, the twinkling fires, and heard the watch-cries of our camp. It was pitched in a hollow, under hills, in excellent order; the Pasha’s pavilion surrounded by his soldiers and guards disposed in tents, with sentinels, regularly posted, protecting the outskirts of the encampment. One of our men, whom we had sent forward, met us on the way, and led us to an open place, where we unloaded the camels, raised our canvas home, lighted fires, and prepared, with supper, for a good night’s rest. Living is simple on such marches. The pouches inside and outside the Shugduf contain provisions and water, with which you supply yourself when inclined. At certain hours of the day, ambulant vendors offer sherbet, lemonade, hot coffee, and water-pipes admirably prepared.6 Chibuks may be smoked in the litter; but few care to do so during the Samu[m]. The first thing, however, called for at the halting-place is the pipe, and its delightfully soothing influence, followed by a cup of coffee, and a “forty winks” upon the sand, will awaken an appetite not to be roused by other means. How could Waterton, the traveller, abuse a pipe? During the night-halt, provisions are cooked: rice, or Kichri, a mixture of pulse and rice, is eaten with Chutnee and lime-pickle, varied, occasionally, by tough mutton and indigestible goat.

We arrived at Ja al-Sharifah at eight P.M., after a march of about twenty-two miles.7 This halting-place is the rendezvous of Caravans: it lies 50° south-east of Al-Madinah, and belongs rather to Nijd than to Al-Hijaz.

At three A.M., on Thursday (Sept. 1), we started up at the sound of the departure-gun, struck the tent, loaded the camels, mounted, and found ourselves hurrying through a gloomy pass, in the hills, to secure a good place in the Caravan. This is an object of some importance, as, during the whole journey, marching order must not be broken. We met with a host of minor accidents, camels falling, Shugdufs bumping against one another, and plentiful abuse. Pertinaciously we hurried on till six A.M., at which hour we emerged from the Black Pass. The large crimson sun rose upon us, disclosing, through purple mists, a hollow of coarse yellow gravel, based upon a hard whitish clay. About five miles broad by twelve long, it collects the waters of the high grounds after rain, and distributes the surplus through an exit towards the North-west, a gap in the low undulating hills around. Entering it, we dismounted, prayed, broke our fast, and after half an hour’s halt proceeded to cross its breadth. The appearance of the Caravan was most striking, as it threaded its slow way over the smooth surface of the Khabt (low plain).8 To judge by the eye, the host was composed of at fewest seven thousand souls, on foot, on horseback, in litters, or bestriding the splendid camels of Syria.9 There were eight gradations of pilgrims.

The lowest hobbled with heavy staves. Then came the riders of asses, of camels, and of mules. Respectable men, especially Arabs, were mounted on dromedaries, and the soldiers had horses: a led animal was saddled for every grandee, ready whenever he might wish to leave his litter. Women, children, and invalids of the poorer classes sat upon a “Haml Musattah,”— rugs and cloths spread over the two large boxes which form the camel’s load.10 Many occupied Shibriyahs; a few, Shugdufs, and only the wealthy and the noble rode in Takht-rawan (litters), carried by camels or mules.11 The morning beams fell brightly upon the glancing arms which surrounded the stripped Mahmil,12 and upon the scarlet and gilt conveyances of the grandees. Not the least beauty of the spectacle was its wondrous variety of detail: no man was dressed like his neighbour, no camel was caparisoned, no horse was clothed in uniform, as it were. And nothing stranger than the contrasts; a band of half-naked Takruri marching with the Pasha’s equipage, and long-capped, bearded Persians conversing with Tarbush’d and shaven Turks.

The plain even at an early hour reeked with vapours distilled by the fires of the Samum: about noon, however, the air became cloudy, and nothing of colour remained, save that milky white haze, dull, but glaring withal, which is the prevailing day-tint in these regions. At mid-day we reached a narrowing of the basin, where, from both sides, “Irk,” or low hills, stretch their last spurs into the plain. But after half a mile, it again widened to upwards of two miles. At two P.M. (Friday, Sept. 2), we turned towards the South-west, ascended stony ground, and found ourselves one hour afterwards in a desolate rocky flat, distant about twenty-four miles of unusually winding road from our last station. “Mahattah Ghurab,13” or the Raven’s Station, lies 10° south-west from Ja al-Sharifah, in the irregular masses of hill on the frontier of Al-Hijaz, where the highlands of Nijd begin.

After pitching the tent, we prepared to recruit our supply of water; for Mas’ud warned me that his camels had not drunk for ninety hours, and that they would soon sink under the privation. The boy Mohammed, mounting a dromedary, set off with the Shaykh and many water-bags, giving me an opportunity of writing out my journal. They did not return home until after nightfall, a delay caused by many adventures. The wells are in a Fiumara, as usual, about two miles distant from the halting-place, and the soldiers, regular as well as irregular, occupied the water and exacted hard coin in exchange for it. The men are not to blame; they would die of starvation but for this resource. The boy Mohammed had been engaged in several quarrels; but after snapping his pistol at a Persian pilgrim’s head, he came forth triumphant with two skins of sweetish water, for which we paid ten piastres. He was in his glory. There were many Meccans in the Caravan, among them his elder brother and several friends: the Sharif Zayd had sent, he said, to ask why he did not travel with his compatriots. That evening he drank so copiously of clarified butter, and ate dates mashed with flour and other abominations to such an extent, that at night he prepared to give up the ghost.

We passed a pleasant hour or two before sleeping. I began to like the old Shaykh Mas’ud, who, seeing it, entertained me with his genealogy, his battles, and his family affairs. The rest of the party could not prevent expressing contempt when they heard me putting frequent questions about torrents, hills, Badawin, and the directions of places. “Let the Father of Moustachios ask and learn,” said the old man; “he is friendly with the Badawin,14 and knows better than you all.” This reproof was intended to be bitter as the poet’s satire —

“All fools have still an itching to deride,

And fain would be upon the laughing side.”

It called forth, however[,] another burst of merriment, for the jeerers remembered my nickname to have belonged to that pestilent heretic, Sa’ud the Wahhabi.

On Saturday, the 3rd September, the hateful signal-gun awoke us at one A.M. In Arab travel there is nothing more disagreeable than the Sariyah or night-march, and yet the people are inexorable about it. “Choose early Darkness (daljah) for your Wayfarings,” said the Prophet, “as the Calamities of the Earth (serpents and wild beasts) appear not at Night.” I can scarcely find words to express the weary horrors of the long dark march, during which the hapless traveller, fuming, if a European, with disappointment in his hopes of “seeing the country,” is compelled to sit upon the back of a creeping camel. The day-sleep, too, is a kind of lethargy, and it is all but impossible to preserve an appetite during the hours of heat.

At half-past five A.M., after drowsily stumbling through hours of outer gloom, we entered a spacious basin at least six miles broad, and limited by a circlet of low hill. It was overgrown with camel-grass and Acacia (Shittim) trees, mere vegetable mummies; in many places the water had left a mark; and here and there the ground was pitted with mud-flakes, the remains of recently dried pools. After an hour’s rapid march we toiled over a rugged ridge, composed of broken and detached blocks of basalt and scoriæ, fantastically piled together, and dotted with thorny trees. Shaykh Mas’ud passed the time in walking to and fro along his line of camels, addressing us with a Khallikum guddam, “to the front (of the litter)!” as we ascended, and a Khallikum wara, “to the rear!” during the descent. It was wonderful to see the animals stepping from block to block with the sagacity of mountaineers; assuring themselves of their forefeet before trusting all their weight to advance. Not a camel fell, either here or on any other ridge: they moaned, however, piteously, for the sudden turns of the path puzzled them; the ascents were painful, the descents were still more so; the rocks were sharp; deep holes yawned between the blocks, and occasionally an Acacia caught the Shugduf, almost overthrowing the hapless bearer by the suddenness and the tenacity of its clutch. This passage took place during daylight. But we had many at night, which I shall neither forget nor describe.

Descending the ridge, we entered another hill-encircled basin of gravel and clay. In many places basalt in piles and crumbling strata of hornblende schiste, disposed edgeways, green within, and without blackened by sun and rain, cropped out of the ground. At half-past ten we found ourselves in an “Acacia-barren,” one of the things which pilgrims dread. Here Shugdufs are bodily pulled off the camel’s back and broken upon the hard ground; the animals drop upon their knees, the whole line is deranged, and every one, losing temper, attacks his Moslem brother. The road was flanked on the left by an iron wall of black basalt. Noon brought us to another ridge, whence we descended into a second wooded basin surrounded by hills.

Here the air was filled with those pillars of sand so graphically described by Abyssinian Bruce. They scudded on the wings of the whirlwind over the plain — huge yellow shafts, with lofty heads, horizontally bent backwards, in the form of clouds; and on more than one occasion camels were thrown down by them. It required little stretch of fancy to enter into the Arabs’ superstition. These sand-columns are supposed to be Jinnis of the Waste, which cannot be caught, a notion arising from the fitful movements of the electrical wind-eddy that raises them, and as they advance, the pious Moslem stretches out his finger, exclaiming, “Iron! O thou ill-omened one15!”

During the forenoon we were troubled by the Samum, which, instead of promoting perspiration, chokes up and hardens the skin. The Arabs complain greatly of its violence on this line of road. Here I first remarked the difficulty with which the Badawin bear thirst. Ya Latif — “O Merciful!” (Lord) — they exclaimed at times; and yet they behaved like men.16 I had ordered them to place the water-camel in front, so as to exercise due supervision. Shaykh Mas’ud and his son made only an occasional reference to the skins. But his nephew, a short, thin, pock-marked lad of eighteen, whose black skin and woolly head suggested the idea of a semi-African and ignoble origin, was always drinking; except when he climbed the camel’s back, and, dozing upon the damp load, forgot his thirst. In vain we ordered, we taunted, and we abused him: he would drink, he would sleep, but he would not work.

At one P.M. we crossed a Fiumara; and an hour afterwards we pursued the course of a second. Mas’ud called this the Wady al-Khunak, and assured me that it runs from the East and the South-east in a North and North-west direction, to the Madinah plain. Early in the afternoon we reached a diminutive flat, on the Fiumara bank. Beyond it lies a Mahjar or stony ground, black as usual in Al-Hijaz, and over its length lay the road, white with dust and with the sand deposited by the camels’ feet. Having arrived before the Pasha, we did not know where to pitch; many opining that the Caravan would traverse the Mahjar and halt beyond it. We soon alighted, however, pitched the tent under a burning sun, and were imitated by the rest of the party. Mas’ud called the place Hijriyah. According to my computation, it is twenty-five miles from Ghurab, and its direction is South-East twenty-two degrees.

Late in the afternoon the boy Mohammed started with a dromedary to procure water from the higher part of the Fiumara. Here are some wells, still called Bir Harun, after the great Caliph. The youth returned soon with two bags filled at an expense of nine piastres. This being the 28th Zu’l Ka’adah, many pilgrims busied themselves rather fruitlessly with endeavours to sight the crescent moon. They failed; but we were consoled by seeing through a gap in the Western hills a heavy cloud discharge its blessed load, and a cool night was the result.

We loitered on Sunday, the 4th September, at Al-Hijriyah, although the Shaykh forewarned us of a long march. But there is a kind of discipline in these great Caravans. A gun17 sounds the order to strike the tents, and a second bids you move off with all speed. There are short halts, of half an hour each, at dawn, noon, the afternoon, and sunset, for devotional purposes, and these are regulated by a cannon or a culverin. At such times the Syrian and Persian servants, who are admirably expert in their calling, pitch the large green tents, with gilt crescents, for the dignitaries and their harims. The last resting-place is known by the hurrying forward of these “Farrash,” or tent “Lascars,” who are determined to be the first on the ground and at the well. A discharge of three guns denotes the station, and when the Caravan moves by night a single cannon sounds three or four halts at irregular intervals. The principal officers were the Emir Hajj, one Ashgar Ali Pasha, a veteran of whom my companions spoke slightingly, because he had been the slave of a slave, probably the pipe-bearer of some grandee who in his youth had been pipe-bearer to some other grandee. Under him was a Wakil, or lieutenant, who managed the executive. The Emir al-Surrah — called simply Al-Surrah, or the Purse — had charge of the Caravan-treasure, and of remittances to the Holy Cities. And lastly there was a commander of the forces (Bashat al-Askar): his host consisted of about a thousand Irregular horsemen, Bash-Buzuks, half bandits, half soldiers, each habited and armed after his own fashion, exceedingly dirty, picturesque-looking, brave, and in such a country of no use whatever.

Leaving Al-Hijriyah at seven A.M., we passed over the grim stone-field by a detestable footpath, and at nine o’clock struck into a broad Fiumara, which runs from the East towards the North-West. Its sandy bed is overgrown with Acacia, the Senna plant, different species of Euphorbiae, the wild Capparis, and the Daum Palm. Up this line we travelled the whole day. About six P.M., we came upon a basin at least twelve miles broad, which absorbs the water of the adjacent hills. Accustomed as I have been to mirage, a long thin line of salt efflorescence appearing at some distance on the plain below us, when the shades of evening invested the view, completely deceived me. Even the Arabs were divided in opinion, some thinking it was the effects of the rain which fell the day before: others were more acute. It is said that beasts are never deceived by the mirage, and this, as far as my experience goes, is correct. May not the reason be that most of them know the vicinity of water rather by smell than by sight? Upon the horizon beyond the plain rose dark, fort-like masses of rock which I mistook for buildings, the more readily as the Shaykh had warned me that we were approaching a populous place. At last descending a long steep hill, we entered upon the level ground, and discovered our error by the crunching sound of the camel[s’] feet upon large curling flakes of nitrous salt overlying caked mud.18 Those civilised birds, the kite and the crow, warned us that we were in the vicinity of man. It was not, however, before eleven P.M. that we entered the confines of Al-Suwayrkiyah. The fact was made patent to us by the stumbling and the falling of our dromedaries over the little ridges of dried clay disposed in squares upon the fields. There were other obstacles, such as garden walls, wells, and hovels, so that midnight had sped before our weary camels reached the resting-place. A rumour that we were to halt here the next day, made us think lightly of present troubles; it proved, however, to be false.

During the last four days I attentively observed the general face of the country. This line is a succession of low plains and basins, here quasi-circular, there irregularly oblong, surrounded by rolling hills and cut by Fiumaras which pass through the higher ground. The basins are divided by ridges and flats of basalt and greenstone averaging from one hundred to two hundred feet in height. The general form is a huge prism; sometimes they are table-topped. From Al-Madinah to Al-Suwayrkiyah the low beds of sandy Fiumaras abound. From Al-Suwayrkiyah to Al-Zaribah, their place is taken by “Ghadir,” or hollows in which water stagnates. And beyond Al-Zaribah the traveller enters a region of water-courses tending West and South-West The versant is generally from the East and South-East towards the West and North-West. Water obtained by digging is good where rain is fresh in the Fiumaras; saltish, so as to taste at first unnaturally sweet, in the plains; and bitter in the basins and lowlands where nitre effloresces and rain has had time to become tainted. The landward faces of the hills are disposed at a sloping angle, contrasting strongly with the perpendicularity of their seaward sides, and I found no inner range corresponding with, and parallel to, the maritime chain. Nowhere had I seen a land in which Earth’s anatomy lies so barren, or one richer in volcanic and primary formations.19 Especially towards the South, the hills were abrupt and highly vertical, with black and barren flanks, ribbed with furrows and fissures, with wide and formidable precipices and castellated summits like the work of man. The predominant formation was basalt, called the Arabs’ Hajar Jahannam, or Hell-stone; here and there it is porous and cellular; in some places compact and black; and in others coarse and gritty, of a tarry colour, and when fractured shining with bright points. Hornblende is common at Al-Madinah and throughout this part of Al-Hijaz: it crops out of the ground edgeways, black and brittle. Greenstone, diorite, and actinolite are found, though not so abundantly as those above mentioned. The granites, called in Arabic Suwan,20 abound. Some are large-grained, of a pink colour, and appear in blocks, which, flaking off under the influence of the atmosphere, form ooidal blocks and boulders piled in irregular heaps. Others are grey and compact enough to take a high polish when cut. The syenite is generally coarse, although there is occasionally found a rich red variety of that stone. I did not see eurite or euritic porphyry except in small pieces, and the same may be said of the petrosilex and the milky and waxy quartz.21 In some parts, particularly between Yambu’ and Al-Madinah, there is an abundance of tawny yellow gneiss markedly stratified. The transition formations are represented by a fine calcareous sandstone of a bright ochre colour: it is used at Meccah to adorn the exteriors of houses, bands of this stone being here and there inserted into the courses of masonry. There is also a small admixture of the greenish sandstone which abounds at Aden. The secondary formation is represented by a fine limestone, in some places almost fit for the purposes of lithography, and a coarse gypsum often of a tufaceous nature. For the superficial accumulations of the country, I may refer the reader to any description of the Desert between Cairo and Suez.

1 The distance from Baghdad to Al-Madinah is 180 parasangs, according to ’Abd al-Karim: “Voyage de l’Inde, a la Mecque;” translated by M. Langles, Paris, 1797. This book is a disappointment, as it describes everything except Al-Madinah and Meccah: these gaps are filled up by the translator with the erroneous descriptions of other authors, not eye-witnesses.

2 Here, it is believed, was fought the battle of Buas, celebrated in the pagan days of Al-Madinah (A.D. 615). Our dictionaries translate “Ghadir” by “pool” or “stagnant water.” Here it is applied to places where water stands for a short time after rain.

3 Travels in Arabia, vol. 2, p, 217. The Swiss traveller was prevented by sickness from visiting it. The “Jazb al-Kulub” affords the following account of a celebrated eruption, beginning on the Salkh (last day) of Jamadi al-Awwal, and ending on the evening of the third of Jamadi al-Akhir, A.H. 654. Terrible earthquakes, accompanied by a thundering noise, shook the town; from fourteen to eighteen were observed each night. On the third of Jamadi al-Akhir, after the Isha prayers, a fire burst out in the direction of Al-Hijaz (eastward); it resembled a vast city with a turretted and battlemental fort, in which men appeared drawing the flame about, as it were, whilst it roared, burned, and melted like a sea everything that came in its way. Presently red and bluish streams, bursting from it, ran close to Al-Madinah; and, at the same time, the city was fanned by a cooling zephyr from the same direction. Al-Kistlani, an eye-witness, asserts that “the brilliant light of the volcano made the face of the country as bright as day; and the interior of the Harim was as if the sun shone upon it, so that men worked and required nought of the sun and moon (the latter of which was also eclipsed?).” Several saw the light at Meccah, at Tayma (in Nijd, six days’ journey from Al-Madinah), and at Busra, of Syria, reminding men of the Prophet’s saying, “A fire shall burst forth from the direction of Al-Hijaz; its light shall make visible the necks of the camels at Busra.” Historians relate that the length of the stream was four parasangs (from fourteen to sixteen miles), its breadth four miles (56? to the degree), and its depth about nine feet. It flowed like a torrent with the waves of a sea; the rocks, melted by its heat, stood up as a wall, and, for a time, it prevented the passage of Badawin, who, coming from that direction, used to annoy the citizens. Jamal Matari, one of the historians of Al-Madinah, relates that the flames, which destroyed the stones, spared the trees; and he asserts that some men, sent by the governor to inspect the fire, felt no heat; also that the feathers of an arrow shot into it were burned whilst the shaft remained whole. This he attributes to the sanctity of the trees within the Harim. On the contrary, Al-Kistlani asserts the fire to have been so vehement that no one could approach within two arrow-flights, and that it melted the outer half of a rock beyond the limits of the sanctuary, leaving the inner parts unscathed. The Kazi, the Governor, and the citizens engaged in devotional exercises, and during the whole length of the Thursday and the Friday nights, all, even the women and children, with bare heads wept round the Prophet’s tomb. Then the lava current turned northwards. (I remarked on the way to Ohod signs of a lava-field.) This current ran, according to some, three entire months. Al-Kistlani dates its beginning on Friday, 6 Jamadi al-Akhir, and its cessation on Sunday, 27 Rajab: in this period of fifty-two days he includes, it is supposed, the length of its extreme heat. That same year (A.H. 654) is infamous in Al-Islam for other portents, such as the inundation of Baghdad by the Tigris, and the burning of the Prophet’s Mosque. In the next year first appeared the Tartars, who slew Al-Mu’tasim Bi’llah, the Caliph, massacred the Moslems during more than a month, destroyed their books, monuments, and tombs, and stabled their war-steeds in the Mustansariyah College.

4 In this part of Al-Hijaz they have many names for a pass:— Nakb, Saghrah, and Mazik are those best known.

5 This is the palm, capped with large fan-shaped leaves, described by every traveller in Egypt and in the nearer East.

6 The charge for a cup of coffee is one piastre and a half. A pipe-bearer will engage himself for about £1 per mensem: he is always a veteran smoker, and, in these regions, it is an axiom that the flavour of your pipe mainly depends upon the filler. For convenience the Persian Kaliun is generally used.

7 A day’s journey in Arabia is generally reckoned at twenty-four or twenty-five Arab miles. Abulfeda leaves the distance of a Marhalah (or Manzil, a station) undetermined. Al-Idrisi reckons it at thirty miles, but speaks of short as well as long marches. The common literary measures of length are these:— 3 Kadam (man’s foot) = 1 Khatwah (pace): 1000 paces = 1 Mil (mile); 3 miles = 1 Farsakh (parasang); and 4 parasangs = 1 Barid or post. The “Burhan i Katia” gives the table thus:— 24 finger breadths (or 6 breadths of the clenched hand, from 20 to 24 inches!) = 1 Gaz or yard; 1000 yards = 1 mile; 3 miles = 1 parasang. Some call the four thousand yards measure a Kuroh (the Indian Cos), which, however, is sometimes less by 1000 Gaz. The only ideas of distance known to the Badawi of Al-Hijaz are the fanciful Sa’at or hour, and the uncertain Manzil or halt: the former varies from 2 to 3½ miles, the latter from 15 to 25.

8 “Khabt” is a low plain; “Midan,” “Fayhah,” or “Sath,” a plain generally; and “Batha,” a low, sandy flat.

9 In Burckhardt’s day there were 5,000 souls and 15,000 camels. Capt. Sadlier, who travelled during the war (1819), found the number reduced to 500. The extent of this Caravan has been enormously exaggerated in Europe. I have heard of 15,000, and even of 20,000 men. I include in the 7,000 about 1,200 Persians. They are no longer placed, as Abd al-Karim relates, in the rear of the Caravan, or post of danger.

10 Lane has accurately described this article: in the Hijaz it is sometimes made to resemble a little tent.

11 The vehicle mainly regulates the expense, as it evidences a man’s means. I have heard of a husband and wife leaving Alexandria with three months’ provision and the sum of £5. They would mount a camel, lodge in public buildings when possible, probably be reduced to beggary, and possibly starve upon the road. On the other hand the minimum expenditure — for necessaries, not donations and luxuries — of a man who rides in a Takht-rawan from Damascus and back, would be about £1,200.

12 On the line of march the Mahmil, stripped of its embroidered cover, is carried on camel-back, a mere framewood. Even the gilt silver balls and crescent are exchanged for similar articles in brass.

13 Mahattah is a spot where luggage is taken down, i.e., a station. By some Hijazis it is used in the sense of a halting-place, where you spend an hour or two.

14 “Khalik ma al-Badu” is a favourite complimentary saying, among this people, and means that you are no greasy burgher.

15 Even Europeans, in popular parlance, call them “devils.”

16 The Eastern Arabs allay the torments of thirst by a spoonful of clarified butter, carried on journeys in a leathern bottle. Every European traveller has some recipe of his own. One chews a musket-bullet or a small stone. A second smears his legs with butter. Another eats a crust of dry bread, which exacerbates the torments, and afterwards brings relief. A fourth throws water over his face and hands or his legs and feet; a fifth smokes, and a sixth turns his dorsal region (raising his coat-tail) to the fire. I have always found that the only remedy is to be patient and not to talk. The more you drink, the more you require to drink — water or strong waters. But after the first two hours’ abstinence you have mastered the overpowering feeling of thirst, and then to refrain is easy.

17 We carried two small brass guns, which, on the line of march, were dismounted and placed upon camels. At the halt they were restored to their carriages. The Badawin think much of these harmless articles, to which I have seen a gunner apply a match thrice before he could induce a discharge. In a “moral” point of view, therefore, they are far more valuable than our twelve-pounders.

18 Hereabouts the Arabs call these places “Bahr milh” or “Sea of Salt”; in other regions “Bahr bila ma,” or “Waterless Sea.”

19 Being but little read in geology, I submitted, after my return to Bombay, a few specimens collected on the way, to a learned friend, Dr. Carter, Secretary to the Bombay branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. His name is a guarantee of accuracy.

20 The Arabic language has a copious terminology for the mineral as well as the botanical productions of the country: with little alteration it might be made to express all the requirements of our modern geology.

21 NOTE TO THIRD EDITION. — This country may have contained gold; but the superficial formation has long been exhausted. At Cairo I washed some sand brought from the eastern shore of the Red Sea, north of Al-Wijh, and found it worth my while. I had a plan for working the diggings, but H.B.M.’s Consul, Dr. Walne, opined that “gold was becoming too plentiful,” and would not assist me. This wise saying has since then been repeated to me by men who ought to have known better than Dr. Walne.


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