Kahva Rukh, Chahar Mahals, May 4.
I left Julfa on the afternoon of April 30, with Miss Bruce as my guest and Mr. Douglas as our escort for the first three or four days. The caravan was sent forward early, that my inexperienced servants might have time to pitch the tents before our arrival.
Green and pleasant looked the narrow streets and walled gardens of Julfa under a blue sky, on which black clouds were heavily massed here and there; but greenery was soon exchanged for long lines of mud ruins, and the great gravelly slopes in which the mountains descend upon the vast expanse of plain which surrounds Isfahan, on which the villages of low mud houses are marked by dark belts of poplars, willows, fruit-trees, and great patches of irrigated and cultivated land, shortly to take on the yellow hue of the surrounding waste, but now beautifully green.
Passing through Pul-i-Wargun, a large and much wooded village on the Zainderud, there a very powerful stream, affording abundant water power, scarcely used, we crossed a bridge 450 feet long by twelve feet broad, of eighteen brick arches resting on stone piers, and found the camps pitched on some ploughed land by a stream, and afternoon tea ready for the friends who had come to give us what Persians call “a throw on the road.” I examined my equipments, found that nothing essential was lacking, initiated my servants into their evening duties, especially that of tightening tent ropes and driving tent pegs well in, and enjoyed a social evening in the adjacent camp.
The next day’s journey, made under an unclouded sky, was mainly along the Zainderud, from which all the channels and rills which nourish the vegetation far and near are taken. A fine, strong, full river it is there and at Isfahan in spring, so prolific in good works that one regrets that it should be lost sixty miles east of Isfahan in the Gas–Khana, an unwholesome marsh, the whole of its waters disappearing in the Kavir. Many large villages with imposing pigeon-towers lie along this part of its course, surrounded with apricot and walnut orchards, wheat and poppy fields, every village an oasis, and every oasis a paradise, as seen in the first flush of spring. On a slope of gravel is the Bagh-i-Washi, with the remains of an immense enclosure, where the renowned Shah Abbas is said to have had a menagerie. Were it not for the beautiful fringe of fertility on both margins of the Zainderud the country would be a complete waste. The opium poppy is in bloom now. The use of opium in Persia and its exportation are always increasing, and as it is a very profitable crop, both to the cultivators and to the Government, it is to some extent superseding wheat.
Leaving the greenery we turned into a desert of gravel, crossed some low hills, and in the late afternoon came down upon the irrigated lands which surround the large and prosperous village of Riz, the handsome and lofty pigeon-towers of which give it quite a fine appearance from a distance.
These pigeon-towers are numerous, both near Isfahan and in the villages along the Zainderud, and are everywhere far more imposing than the houses of the people. Since the great famine, which made a complete end of pigeon-keeping for the time, the industry has never assumed its former proportions, and near Julfa many of the towers are falling into ruin.
The Riz towers, however, are in good repair. They are all built in the same way, varying only in size and height, from twenty to fifty feet in diameter, and from twenty-five to eighty feet from base to summit. They are “round towers,” narrowing towards the top. They are built of sun-dried bricks of local origin, costing about two krans or 16d. a thousand, and are decorated with rings of yellowish plaster, with coarse arabesques in red ochre upon them. For a door there is an opening half-way up, plastered over like the rest of the wall.
Two walls, cutting each other across at right angles, divide the interior. I am describing from a ruined tower which was easy of ingress. The sides of these walls, and the whole of the inner surface of the tower, are occupied by pigeon cells, the open ends of which are about twelve inches square. According to its size a pigeon-tower may contain from 2000 to 7000, or even 8000, pairs of pigeons. These birds are gray-blue in colour.
A pigeon-tower is a nuisance to the neighbourhood, for its occupants, being totally unprovided for by their proprietor, live upon their neighbours’ fields. In former days it must have been a grand sight when they returned to their tower after the day’s depredations. “Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?” probably referred to a similar arrangement in Palestine.
The object of the towers is the preservation and collection of “pigeon guano,” which is highly prized for the raising of early melons. The door is opened once a year for the collection of this valuable manure. A large pigeon-tower used to bring its owner from £60 to £75 per annum, but a cessation of the great demand for early melons in the neighbourhood of Isfahan has prevented the restocking of the towers since the famine.
Our experiences of Riz were not pleasant. One of the party during a short absence from his tent was robbed of a very valuable scientific instrument. After that there was the shuffling sound of a multitude outside the tent in which Miss Bruce and I were resting, and women concealed from head to foot in blue and white checked sheets, revealing but one eye, kept lifting the tent curtain, and when that was laced, applying the one eye to the spaces between the lace-holes, whispering and tittering all the time. Hot though it was, their persevering curiosity prevented any ventilation, and the steady gaze of single eyes here, there, and everywhere was most exasperating. It was impossible to use the dressing tent, for crowds of boys assembled, and rows of open mouths and staring eyes appeared between the fly and the ground. Vainly Miss Bruce, who speaks Persian well and courteously, told the women that this intrusion on our privacy when we were very tired was both rude and unkind. “We’re only women,” they said, “we shouldn’t mind it, we’ve never seen so many Europeans before.” Sunset ended the nuisance, for then the whole crowd, having fasted since sunrise, hurried home for food.
The great fast of the month of Ramazan began before we left Julfa. Moslems are not at their best while it lasts. They are apt to be crabbed and irritable; and everything that can be postponed is put off “till after Ramazan.”
Much ostentation comes out in the keeping of it; very pious people begin to fast before the month sets in. A really ascetic Moslem does not even swallow his saliva during the fast, and none but very old or sick people, children, and travellers, are exempt from the obligation to taste neither food nor water, and not even to smoke during daylight, for a whole month. The penance is a fearful one, and as the night is the only time for feasting, the Persians get through as much of the day as possible in sleep.
Welcome indeed is the sunset. With joy men fill their pipes and drink tea as a prelude to the meal eaten an hour afterwards. Hateful is the dawn and the cry an hour before it, “Water! oh, water and opium!”— the warning to the faithful to drink largely and swallow an opium pill before sunrise. The thirst even in weather like this, and the abstention from smoking, are severer trials than the fasting from food. The Persian either lives to smoke, or smokes to live.
Although travellers are nominally exempt from the fast from water at least, pious Moslems do not avail themselves of the liberty. Hadji Hussein, for instance, is keeping it as rigidly as any one, and, like some others, marches with the end of his pagri tucked over his mouth and nose, a religious affectation, supposed to prevent the breaking of the fast by swallowing the animalculæ which are believed to infest the air!
Beyond Riz, everywhere there are arid yellow mountains and yellow gravelly plains, except along the Zainderud, where fruit-trees, wheat, and the opium poppy relieve the eyes from the glare. We took leave of the Zainderud at Pul-i-Kala, where it is crossed by a dilapidated but passable and very picturesque stone bridge of eight arches, and the view from the high right bank of wood, bridge, and the vigorous green river is very pretty.
Little enough of trees or greenery have we seen since. This country, like much of the great Iranian plateau, consists of high mountains with broad valleys or large or small plateaux between them, absolutely treeless, and even now nearly verdureless, with scattered oases wherever a possibility of procuring water by means of laboriously-constructed irrigation canals renders cultivation possible.
Water is scarce and precious; its value may be gathered from the allusions made by the Persian poets to fountains, cascades, shady pools, running streams, and bubbling springs. Such expressions as those in Scripture, “rivers of waters,” “a spring of water whose waters fail not,” convey a fulness of meaning to Persian ears of which we are quite ignorant. The first inquiry of a Persian about any part of his own country is, “Is there water?” the second, “Is the water good?” and if he wishes to extol any particular region he says “the water is abundant all the year, and is sweet, there is no such water anywhere.”
The position of a village is always determined by the water supply, for the people have not only to think of water for domestic purposes, but for irrigating their crops, and this accounts for the packing of hamlets on steep mountain sides where land for cultivation can only be obtained by laborious terracing, but where some perennial stream can be relied on for filling the small canals. The fight for water is one of the hardest necessities of the Persian peasant. A water famine of greater or less degree is a constant peril.
Land in Persia is of three grades, the wholly irrigated, the partially irrigated, and the “rain-lands,” usually uplands, chiefly suited for pasturage. The wholly irrigated land is the most productive. The assessments for taxes appear to leave altogether out of account the relative fertility of the land, and to be calculated solely on the supply of water. A winter like the last, of heavy snow, means a plenteous harvest, i.e. “twelve or fourteen grains for one,” as the peasants put it; a scanty snowfall means famine, for the little rain which falls is practically of scarcely any use.
The plan for the distribution of water seems to be far less provocative of quarrels than that of some other regions dependent on irrigation, such as Ladak and Nubra. Where it is at all abundant, as it is in this Zainderud valley, it is only in the great heats of summer that it is necessary to apportion it with any rigidity. It is then placed in the hands of a mirab or water officer, who allows it to each village in turn for so many days, during which time the villages above get none, or the ketchudas manage it among themselves without the aid of a mirab, for the sad truth, which is applicable to all Persian officialism, applies in the mirab’s case, that if a village be rich enough to bribe him it can get water out of its turn.
The blessedness of the Zainderud valley is exceptional, and the general rule in the majority of districts is that the water must be carefully divided and be measured by “tashts,” each tasht being equivalent to the use of the water supply for eleven minutes.
“This space of time is estimated in a very ancient fashion by floating a copper bowl with a needle hole in the bottom in a large vessel of water. The tasht comes to an end as the bowl sinks. The distribution is regulated by the number of tashts that each man has a right to. If he has a right to twenty he will receive water for three and three-quarter hours of the day or night every tenth day.” Land without water in Persia is about as valuable as the “south lands” were which were given to Caleb’s daughter.
So far as I can learn, the Persian peasant enjoys a tolerable security of tenure so long as he pays his rent. A common rate of rent is two-thirds of the produce, but on lands where the snow lies for many months, even when they are “wet lands,” it is only one-third; but this system is subject to many modifications specially arising out of the finding or non-finding of the seed by the owner, and there is no uniformity in the manner of holding land or in assessing the taxes or in anything else, though the system established 1400 years ago is still the basis of the whole.48
The line between the oasis and the desert is always strongly marked and definite. There is no shading away between the deep green of the growing wheat and the yellow or red gravel beyond. The general impression is one of complete nakedness. The flowers which in this month bloom on the slopes are mostly stiff, leathery, and thorny. The mountains themselves viewed from below are without any indication of green. The usual colouring is grayish-yellow or a feeble red, intensifying at sunset, but rarely glorified owing to the absence of “atmosphere.”
It is a very solitary route from Pul-i-Kala, without villages, and we met neither caravans nor foot passengers. The others rode on, and I followed with two of the Bakhtiari escort, who with Rustem Khan, a minor chief, had accompanied us from Julfa. These men were most inconsequent in their proceedings, wheeling round me at a gallop, singing, or rather howling, firing their long guns, throwing themselves into one stirrup and nearly off their horses, and one who rides without a bridle came up behind me with his horse bolting and nearly knocked me out of the saddle with the long barrel of his gun. When the village of Charmi came in sight I signed to them to go on, and we all rode at a gallop, the horsemen uttering wild cries and going through the pantomime of firing over the left shoulders and right flanks of their horses.
The camps were pitched on what might be called the village green. Charmi, like many Persian villages, is walled, the wall, which is much jagged by rain and frost, having round towers at intervals, and a large gateway. Such walls are no real protection, but serve to keep the flocks and herds from nocturnal depredators. Within the gate is a house called the Fort, with a very fine room fully thirty feet long by fifteen high, decorated with a mingled splendour and simplicity surprising in a rural district. The wall next the courtyard is entirely of very beautiful fretwork, filled in with amber and pale blue glass. The six doors are the same, and the walls and the elaborate roof and cornices are pure white, the projections being “picked out” in a pale shade of brown, hardly darker than amber.
The following morning Miss Bruce left on her return home, and Mr. Douglas and I rode fourteen miles to the large village of Kahva Rukh, where we parted company. It is an uninteresting march over formless gravelly hills and small plains thinly grassed, until the Gardan-i-Rukh, one of the high passes on the Isfahan and Shuster route, is reached, with its extensive view of brown mountains and yellow wastes. This pass, 7960 feet in altitude, crossing the unshapely Kuh-i-Rukh, is the watershed of the country, all the streams on its southern side falling into the Karun. It is also the entrance to the Chahar Mahals or four districts, Lar, Khya, Mizak, and Gandaman, which consist chiefly of great plains surrounded by mountains, and somewhat broken up by their gravelly spurs.
Beyond, and usually in sight, is the snow-slashed Kuh-i-Sukhta range, which runs south-east, and throws out a spur to Chigakhor, the summer resort of the Bakhtiari chiefs. The Chahar Mahals, for Persia, are populous, and in some parts large villages, many of which are Armenian and Georgian, occur at frequent intervals, most of them treeless, but all surrounded by cultivated lands. The Armenian villages possess so-called relics and ancient copies of the Gospels, which are credited with the power of working miracles.49
The Chahar Mahals have been farmed to the Ilkhani of the Bakhtiaris for about 20,000 tumans (£6000) a year, and his brother, Reza Kuli Khan, has been appointed their governor. Thus on crossing the Kahva Rukh pass we entered upon the sway of the feudal head of the great Bakhtiari tribes.
We camped outside the village, my tents being pitched in a ruinous enclosure. The servants are in the habit of calling me the Hakīm, and the report of a Frank Hakīm having arrived soon brought a crowd of sick people, who were introduced and their ailments described by a blue horseman, one of the escort.
His own child was so dangerously ill of pneumonia that I went with him to his house, put on a mustard poultice, and administered some Dover’s powder. The house was crammed and the little suffering creature had hardly air to breathe. The courtyard was also crowded, so that one could scarcely move, all the people being quite pleasant and friendly. I saw several sick people, and was surprised to find the village houses so roomy and comfortable, and so full of “plenishings.” It was in vain that I explained to them that I am not a doctor, scarcely even a nurse. The fame of Burroughes and Wellcome’s medicine chest has spread far and wide, and they think its possessor must be a Hakīm. The horseman said that medicine out of that chest would certainly cure his child.50 I was unable to go back to the tea which had been prepared in the horseman’s house, on which he expressed great dismay, and said I must be “enraged with him.”
Persians always use round numbers, and the ketchuda says that the village has 300 Persian houses, and 100 more, inhabited during the winter by Ilyats. It has mud walls with towers at intervals, two mosques, a clear stream of water in the principal street, some very good houses with balakhanas, and narrow alleys between high mud walls, in which are entrances into courtyards occupied by animals, and surrounded by living-rooms. The only trees are a few spindly willows, but wheat comes up to the walls, and at sunset great herds of cattle and myriads of brown sheep converge to what seems quite a prosperous village.
May 5.— Yesterday, Sunday, was intended to be a day of rest, but turned out very far from it. After the last relay of “patients” left on Saturday evening, and the last medicines had been “dispensed,” my tent was neatly arranged with one yekdan for a table, and the other for a washstand and medicine stand. The latter trunk contained some English gold in a case along with some valuable letters, and some bags, in which were 1000 krans, for four months’ travelling. This yekdan was padlocked. It was a full moon, the other camps were quite near, all looked very safe, and I slept until awakened by the sharpness of the morning air.
Then I saw but one yekdan where there had been two! Opening the tent curtain I found my washing apparatus and medicine bottles neatly arranged on the ground outside, and the trunk without its padlock among some ruins a short distance off. The money bags were all gone, leaving me literally penniless. Most of my store of tea was taken, but nothing else. Two men must have entered my tent and have carried the trunk out. Of what use are any precautions when one sleeps so disgracefully soundly? When the robbery was made known horsemen were sent off to the Ilkhani, whose guest I have been since I entered his territory, and at night a Khan arrived with a message that “the money would be repaid, and that the village would be levelled with the ground!” Kahva Rukh will, I hope, stand for many years to come, but the stolen sum will be levied upon it, according to custom.
The people are extremely vexed at this occurrence, and I would rather have lost half the sum than that it should have happened to a guest. In addition to an escort of a Khan and four men, the Ilkhani has given orders that we are not to be allowed to pay for anything while in the country. This order, after several battles, I successfully disobey. This morning, before any steps were taken to find the thief, and after all the loads were ready, officials came to the camps, and, by our wish, every man’s baggage was unrolled and searched. Our servants and charvadars are all Moslems, and each of them took an oath on the Koran, administered by a mollah, that he was innocent of the theft.
Ardal, May 9.— I left rather late, and with the blue horseman, to whom suspicion generally pointed, rode to Shamsabad, partly over gravelly wastes, passing two mixed Moslem and Armenian villages on a plain, on which ninety ploughs were at work on a stiff whitish soil.
Shamsabad is a most wretched mud village without supplies, standing bare on a gravelly slope, above a clear quiet stream, an affluent of the Karun. This country has not reached that stage of civilisation in which a river bears the same name from mouth to source, and as these streams usually take as many names as there are villages on their course, I do not burden my memory with them. There is a charming camping-ground of level velvety green sward on the right bank of the river, with the towering mass of Jehanbin (sight of the world), 12,000 feet high, not far off. This lawn is 6735 feet above the sea, and the air keen and pleasant. The near mountain views are grand, and that evening the rare glory of a fine sunset lingered till it was merged in the beauty of a perfect moonlight.
After leaving Shamsabad the road passes through a rather fine defile, crosses the Shamsabad stream by a ten-arched bridge between the Kuh-i-Zangun and the Kuh-i-Jehanbin, and proceeds down a narrow valley now full of wild flowers and young wheat to Khariji, a village of fifty houses, famous for the excellent quality of its opium. From Khariji we proceeded through low grassy hills, much like the South Downs, and over the low but very rough Pasbandi Pass into an irrigated valley in which is the village of Shalamzar. I rode through it alone quite unmolested, but two days later the Sahib, passing through it with his servants, was insulted and pelted, and the people said, “Here’s another of the dog party.” These villagers are afflicted with “divers diseases and torments,” and the crowd round my tent was unusually large and importunate. In this village of less than fifty houses nearly all the people had one or both eyes more or less affected, and fourteen had only one eye.
Between Shalamzar and Ardal lies the lofty Gardan-i-Zirreh, by which the Kuh-i-Sukhta is crossed at a height of 8300 feet. The ascent begins soon after leaving the village, and is long and steep — a nasty climb. The upper part at this date is encumbered with snow, below which primulas are blooming in great profusion, and lower down leathery flowers devoid of beauty cover without adorning the hillside. Two peasants went up with me, and from time to time kindly handed me clusters of small raisins taken from the breasts of dirty felt clothing. On reaching the snow I found Rustem Khan’s horse half-buried in a drift, so I made the rest of the ascent on foot. The snow was three feet deep, but for the most part presented no difficulties, even to the baggage animals.
At the summit there were no green things except some plants of artemisia, not even a blade of grass, but among the crevices appeared small fragile snow-white tulips with yellow centres, mixed with scarlet and mauve blossoms of a more vigorous make. At that great height the air was keen and bracing, and to eyes for months accustomed to regions buried in dazzling snow and to glaring gravelly wastes, there was something perfectly entrancing about the view on the Bakhtiari side. Though treeless, it looked like Paradise. Lying at the foot of the pass is the deep valley of Seligun, 8000 feet high, with the range of the Kuh-i-Nassar to the south, and of the Kuh–Shah-Purnar to the north — green, full of springs and streams, with two lakes bringing down the blue of heaven to earth, with slopes aflame with the crimson and terra-cotta Fritillaria imperialis, and levels one golden glory with a yellow ranunculus. Rich and dark was the green of the grass, tall and deep on the plain, but when creeping up the ravines to meet the snows, short green sward enamelled with tulips. Great masses of naked rock, snow-slashed, and ranges of snow-topped masses behind and above, walled in that picture of cool serenity, its loneliness only broken by three black tents of Ilyats far away. So I saw Seligun, but those who see it a month hence will find only a brown and dusty plain!
The range we crossed divides the Chahar Mahals from the true Bakhtiari country, a land of mountains which rumour crests with eternal snow, of unexplored valleys and streams, of feudal chiefs, of blood feuds, and of nomad tribes moving with vast flocks and herds.
Mehemet Ali, a new and undesirable acquisition, was loaded with my shuldari, and we clambered down the hillside, leading our horses amidst tamarisk scrub and a glory of tulips, till we reached the level, when a gallop brought us to the camps, pitched near a vigorous spring in the green flower-enamelled grass.
That halt was luxury for man and beast. Later the air was cool and moist. The sun-lit white fleeces which had been rolling among the higher hills darkened and thickened into rain-clouds, drifting stormily, and only revealing here and there through their rifts glimpses of blue. A few flocks of sheep on the mountains, and the mules and horses revelling knee-deep in the juicy grass, were the sole representatives of animated life. It was a real refreshment to be away from the dust of mud villages, and to escape from the pressure of noisy and curious crowds, and the sight of sore eyes.
Towards evening, a gallop on the Arabs with the Bakhtiari escort took us to the camp of the lately-arrived Ilyats. Orientals spend much of their time in the quiet contemplation of cooking pots, and these nomads were not an exception, for they were all sitting round a brushwood fire, on which the evening meal of meat broth with herbs was being prepared. The women were unveiled. Both men and women are of quite a different type from the Persians. They are completely clothed and in appearance are certainly only semi-savages. These tents consisted of stones rudely laid to a height of two feet at the back, over which there is a canopy with an open front and sides, of woven goat’s-hair supported on poles. Such tents are barely a shelter from wind and rain, but in them generations of Ilyats are born and die, despising those of their race who settle in villages.
There were great neutral-tint masses of rolling clouds, great banks of glistering white clouds, a cold roystering wind, a lurid glow, and then a cloudy twilight. Hakīm threw up his heels and galloped over the moist grass, the Bakhtiaris, two on one horse, laughed and yelled — there was the desert freedom without the desert. It was the most inspiriting evening I have spent in Persia. Truth compels me to add that there were legions of black flies.
In the early morning, after riding round the south-east end of the valley, we passed by the lake Seligun or Albolaki, banked up by a revetment of rude masonry. The wind was strong, and drove the foam-flecked water in a long line of foam on the shore. Red-legged storks were standing in a row fishing. Cool scuds of rain made the morning homelike. Then there was a hill ascent, from which the view of snowy mountains, gashed by deep ravines and backed by neutral-tint clouds, was magnificent, and then a steep and rocky defile, which involved walking, its sides gaudy with the Fritillaria imperialis, which here attains a size and a depth of colouring of which we have no conception.
In this pass we met a large number of Ilyat families going up to their summer quarters, with their brown flocks of sheep and their black flocks of goats. Their tents with all their other goods were packed in convenient parcels on small cows, and the women with babies and big wooden cradles were on asses. The women without babies, the elder children, and the men walked.
Whatever beauty these women possessed was in the Meg Merrilees style, with a certain weirdness about it. They had large, dark, long eyes, with well-marked eyebrows, artificially prolonged, straight prominent noses, wide mouths with thin lips, long straight chins, and masses of black hair falling on each side of the face. Their dress consisted of enormously full dark blue cotton trousers, drawn in at the ankles, and suspended over the hips, not from the waist (the invariable custom in Persia), and loose sleeved vests, open in front. The adult women all wear a piece of cotton pinned on the head, and falling over the back and shoulders. The men had their hair in many long plaits, hanging from under felt skull-caps, and wore wide blue cotton trousers, white or printed cotton shirts over these, and girdles in which they carried knives, pipes, and other indispensables. All wore shoes or sandals of some kind. These men were very swarthy, but the younger women had rich brunette complexions, and were unveiled.
Some bad horse-fights worried the remainder of the march, which included the ascent of an anemone-covered hill, 7700 feet high, from which we got the first view of the Ardal valley, much cultivated, till it narrows and is lost among mountains, now partly covered with snow. In the centre is a large building with a tower, the spring residence of the Ilkhani, whose goodwill it is necessary to secure. Through a magnificent gorge in the mountains passes the now famous Karun. A clatter of rain and a strong wind greeted our entrance into the valley, where we were met by some horsemen from the Ilkhani.
The great Ardal plateau is itself treeless, though the lower spurs of the Kuh-i-Sabz on the south side are well wooded with the belut, a species of oak. There is much cultivation, and at this season the uncultivated ground is covered with the great green leaves of a fodder plant, the Centaurea alata, which a little later are cut, dried, and stacked. The rivers of the plateau are the Karun and Sabzu on the south side, and the river of Shamsabad, which brings to the Karun the drainage of the Chahar Mahals, and enters the valley through a magnificent tang or chasm on its north side, called Darkash Warkash. The village of Ardal is eighty-five miles from Isfahan, on the Shuster caravan route, and is about 200 from Shuster. Its altitude is 5970 feet, its Long. 50° 50´ E. and its Lat. 32° N.
On arriving here the grandeur of the Ilkhani’s house faded away. Except for the fortified tower it looks like a second-rate caravanserai. The village, such as there is of it, is crowded on a steep slope outside the “Palace.” It is a miserable hamlet of low windowless mud hovels, with uneven mud floors, one or two feet lower than the ground outside, built in yards with ruinous walls, and full of heaps and holes. It is an olla podrida of dark, poor, smoky mud huts; narrow dirt-heaped alleys, with bones and offal lying about; gaunt yelping dogs; bottle-green slimy pools, and ruins. The people are as dirty as the houses, but they are fine in physique and face, as if only the fittest survive. There is an imamzada, much visited on Fridays, on an adjacent slope. The snow lies here five feet deep in winter, it is said.
When we arrived the roofs and balconies of the Ilkhani’s house were crowded with people looking out for us. The Agha called at once, and I sent my letter of introduction from the Amin-es-Sultan. Presents arrived, formal visits were paid, the Ilkhani’s principal wife appointed an hour at which to receive me, and a number of dismounted horsemen came and escorted me to the palace. The chief feature of the house is a large audience-chamber over the entrance, in which the chief holds a daily durbar, the deep balcony outside being usually thronged by crowds of tribesmen, all having free access to him. The coming and going are incessant.
The palace or castle is like a two-storied caravanserai, enclosing a large untidy courtyard, round which are stables and cow-houses, and dens for soldiers and servants. In the outer front of the building are deep recessed arches, with rooms opening upon them, in which the Isfahan traders, who come here for a month, expose their wares. Passing under the Ilkhani’s audience-chamber by a broad arched passage with deep recesses on both sides, and through the forlorn uneven courtyard, a long, dark arched passage leads into a second courtyard, where there is an attempt at ornament by means of tanks and willows. Round this are a number of living-rooms for the Ilkhani’s sons and their families, and here is the andarun, or house of the women. On the far side is the Fort, a tall square tower with loopholes and embrasures.
A Cerberus guards the entrance to the andarun, but he allowed Mirza to accompany me. A few steps lead up from the courtyard into a lofty oblong room, with a deep cushioned recess containing a fireplace. The roof rests on wooden pillars. The front of the room facing the courtyard is entirely of fretwork filled in with pale blue and amber glass. The recess and part of the floor were covered with very beautiful blue and white grounded carpets, made by the women. The principal wife, a comely wide-mouthed woman of forty, advanced to meet me, kissed my hand, raised it to her brow, and sat down on a large carpet squab, while the other wives led me into the recess, and seated me on a pile of cushions, taking their places in a row on the floor opposite, but scarcely raising their eyes, and never speaking one word. The rest of the room was full of women and children standing, and many more blocked up the doorways, all crowding forward in spite of objurgations and smart slaps frequently administered by the principal wife.
The three young wives are Bakhtiaris, and their style of beauty is novel to me — straight noses, wide mouths, thin lips, and long chins. Each has three stars tattooed on her chin, one in the centre of the forehead, and several on the back of the hands. The eyebrows are not only elongated with indigo, but are made to meet across the nose. The finger-nails, and inside of the hands, are stained with henna. The hair hangs round their wild, handsome faces, down to their collar-bones, in loose, heavy, but not uncleanly masses.
Among the “well-to-do” Bakhtiari women, as among the Persians, the hair receives very great attention, although it is seldom exhibited. It is naturally jet black, and very abundant. It is washed at least once a week with a thin paste of a yellowish clay found among the Zard–Kuh mountains, which has a very cleansing effect.
But the women are not content with their hair as it is, and alter its tinge by elaborate arts. They make a thick paste of henna, leave it on for two hours, and then wash it off. The result is a rich auburn tint. A similar paste, made of powdered indigo leaves, is then plastered over the hair for two hours. On its removal the locks are dark green, but in twenty-four hours more they become a rich blue-black. The process needs repeating about every twenty days, but it helps to fill up the infinite leisure of life. It is performed by the bath attendants.
In justice to my sex I must add that the men dye their hair to an equal extent with the women, from the shining blue-black of the Shah’s moustache to the brilliant orange of the beard of Hadji Hussein, by which he forfeits, though not in Persian estimation, the respect due to age.
Some of the Ilkhani’s children and grand-children have the hair dyed with henna alone to a rich auburn tint, which is very becoming to the auburn eyes and delicate paleness of some of them.
The wives wore enormously full black silk trousers, drawn tight at the ankles, with an interregnum between them and short black vests, loose and open in front; and black silk sheets attached to a band fixed on the head enveloped their persons. They have, as is usual among these people, small and beautiful hands, with taper fingers and nails carefully kept. The chief wife, who rules the others, rumour says, was also dressed in black. She has a certain degree of comely dignity about her, and having seen something of the outer world in a pilgrimage to Mecca viâ Baghdad, returning by Egypt and Persia, and having also lived in Tihran, her intelligence has been somewhat awakened. The Bakhtiari women generally are neither veiled nor secluded, but the higher chiefs who have been at the capital think it chic to adopt the Persian customs regarding women, and the inferior chiefs, when they have houses, follow their example.
My conversation with the “queen” consisted chiefly of question and answer, varied by an occasional divergence on her part into an animated talk with Mirza Yusuf. Among the many questions asked were these: at what age our women marry? how many wives the Agha has? how long our women are allowed to keep their boys with them? why I do not dye my hair? if I know of anything to take away wrinkles? to whiten teeth? etc., if our men divorce their wives when they are forty? why Mr. —— had refused a Bakhtiari wife? if I am travelling to collect herbs? if I am looking for the plant which if found would turn the base metals into gold? etc.
She said they had very dull lives, and knew nothing of any customs but their own; that they would like to see the Agha, who, they heard, was a head taller than their tallest men; that they hoped I should be at Chigakhor when they were there, as it would be less dull, and she apologised for not offering tea or sweetmeats, as it is the fast of the Ramazan, which they observe very strictly. I told them that the Agha wished to take their photographs, and the Hadji Ilkhani along with them. They were quite delighted, but it occurred to them that they must first get the Ilkhani’s consent. This was refused, and one of his sons, whose wife is very handsome, said, “We cannot allow pictures to be made of our women. It is not our custom. We cannot allow pictures of our women to be in strange hands. No good women have their pictures taken. Among the tribes you may find women base enough to be photographed.” The chief wife offered to make me a present of her grandson, to whom I am giving a tonic, if I can make him strong and cure his deafness. He is a pale precocious child of ten, with hazel eyes and hair made artificially auburn.
When the remarkably frivolous conversation flagged, they brought children afflicted with such maladies as ophthalmia, scabies, and sore eyes to be cured, but rejected my dictum that a copious use of soap and water must precede all remedies. Among the adults headaches, loss of appetite, and dyspepsia seem the prevailing ailments. Love potions were asked for, and charms to bring back lost love, with special earnestness, and the woful looks assumed when I told the applicants that I could do nothing for them were sadly suggestive. There could not have been fewer than sixty women and children in the room, many, indeed most of them, fearfully dirty in dress and person. Among them were several negro and mulatto slaves. When I came away the balconies and arches of the Ilkhani’s house were full of men, anxious to have a good view of the Feringhi woman, but there was no rudeness there, or in the village, which I walked through afterwards with a courtesy escort of several dismounted horsemen.
After this the Ilkhani asked me to go to see a man who is very ill, and sent two of his retainers with me. It must be understood that Mirza Yusuf goes with me everywhere as attendant and interpreter. The house was a dark room, with a shed outside, in a filthy yard, in which children, goats, and dogs were rolling over each other in a foot of powdered mud. Crowds of men were standing in and about the shed. I made my way through them, moving them to right and left with my hands, with the recognised supremacy of a Hakīm! There were some wadded quilts on the ground, and another covered a form of which nothing was visible but two feet, deadly cold. The only account that the bystanders could give of the illness was, that four days ago the man fainted, and that since he had not been able to eat, speak, or move. The face was covered with several folds of a very dirty chadar. On removing it I was startled by seeing, not a sick man, but the open mouth, gasping respiration, and glassy eyes of a dying man. His nostrils had been stuffed with moist mud and a chopped aromatic herb. The feet were uncovered, and the limbs were quite cold. There was no cruelty in this. The men about him were most kind, but absolutely ignorant.
I told them that he could hardly survive the night, and that all I could do was to help him to die comfortably. They said with one clamorous voice that they would do whatever I told them, and in the remaining hours they kept their word. I bade them cleanse the mud from his nostrils, wrap the feet and legs in warm cloths, give him air, and not crowd round him. Under less solemn circumstances I should have been amused with the absolute docility with which these big savage-looking men obeyed me. I cut up a blanket, and when they had heated some water in their poor fashion, showed them how to prepare fomentations, put on the first myself, and bathed his face and hands.
He was clothed in rags of felt and cotton, evidently never changed since the day they were put on, though he was what they call “rich,”— a great owner of mares, flocks, and herds — and the skin was scaly with decades of dirt. I ventured to pour a little sal-volatile and water down his throat, and the glassy eyeballs moved a little. I asked the bystanders if, as Moslems, they would object to his taking some spirits medicinally? They were willing, but said there was no arak in the Bakhtiari country, a happy exemption! The Agha’s kindness supplied some whisky, of which from that time the dying man took a teaspoonful, much diluted, every two hours, tossed down his throat with a spoon, Allah being always invoked. There was no woman’s gentleness to soothe his last hours. A wife in the dark den inside was weaving, and once came out and looked carelessly at him, but men did for him all that he required with a tenderness and kindness which were very pleasing. Before I left they asked for directions over again, and one of the Ilkhani’s retainers wrote them down.
At night the Ilkhani sent to say that the man was much better and he hoped I would go and see him. The scene was yet more weird than in the daytime. A crowd of men were sitting and standing round a fire outside the shed, and four were watching the dying man. The whisky had revived him, his pulse was better, the fomentation had relieved the pain, and when it was reapplied he had uttered the word “good.” I tried to make them understand it was only a last flicker of life, but they thought he would recover, and the Ilkhani sent to know what food he should have.
At dawn “death music,” wild and sweet, rang out on the still air; he died painlessly at midnight, and was carried to the grave twelve hours later.
When people are very ill their friends give them food and medicine (if a Hakīm be attainable), till, in their judgment, the case is hopeless. Then they send for a mollah; who reads the Koran in a very loud sing-song tone till death ensues, the last thirst being alleviated meantime by sharbat dropped into the mouth. Camphor and other sweet spices are burned at the grave. If they burn well and all is pure afterwards, they say that the deceased person has gone to heaven; if they burn feebly and smokily, and there is any unpleasantness from the grave, they say that the spirit is in perdition. A Bakhtiari grave is a very shallow trench.
The watchers were kind, and carried out my directions faithfully. I give these minute details to show how much even simple nursing can do to mitigate suffering among a people so extremely ignorant as the Bakhtiaris are not only of the way to tend the sick, but of the virtues of the medicinal plants which grow in abundance around them. A medical man itinerating among their camps with a light hospital tent and some simple instruments and medicines could do a great deal of healing, and much also to break down the strong prejudice which exists against Christianity. Here, as elsewhere, the Hakīm is respected. Going in that capacity I found the people docile, respectful, and even grateful. Had I gone among them in any other, a Christian Feringhi woman would certainly have encountered rudeness and worse.
The Ilkhani, who has not been in a hurry to call, made a formal visit today with his brother, Reza Kuli Khan, his eldest son Lutf, another son, Ghulam, with bad eyes, and a crowd of retainers. The Hadji Ilkhani — Imam Kuli Khan, the great feudal chief of the Bakhtiari tribes, is a quiet-looking middle-aged man with a short black beard, a parchment-coloured complexion, and a face somewhat lined, with a slightly sinister expression at times. He wore a white felt cap, a blue full-skirted coat lined with green, another of fine buff kerseymere under it, with a girdle, and very wide black silk trousers.
He is a man of some dignity of deportment, and his usual expression is somewhat kindly and courteous. He is a devout Moslem, and has a finely-illuminated copy of the Koran, which he spends much time in reading. He is not generally regarded as a very capable or powerful man, and is at variance with the Ilbegi, who, though nominally second chief, practically shares his power. In fact, at this time serious intrigues are going on, and some say that the adherents of the two chiefs would not be unwilling to come to open war.
The greatest men who in this century have filled the office of Ilkhani both perished miserably. The fate of Sir H. Layard’s friend, Mehemet Taki Khan, is well known to all readers of the Early Recollections, but it was possibly less unexpected than that of Hussein Kuli Khan, brother of the present Ilkhani, and father of the Ilbegi Isfandyar Khan. This man was evidently an enlightened and able ruler; he suppressed brigandage with a firm hand, and desired to see the Mohammerah–Shuster-Isfahan route fairly opened to trade. He went so far as to promise Mr. Mackenzie, of one of the leading Persian Gulf firms, in writing, that he would hold himself personally responsible for the safety of caravans in their passage through his territory, and would repay any losses by robbery. He agreed to take a third share of the cost of the necessary steamers on the Karun, and to furnish 100 mules for land transport between Shuster and Isfahan.51
It appears that Persian jealousy was excited by his enterprising spirit; he fell under the displeasure of the Zil-es-Sultan, and in 1882 was put to death by poison while on his annual visit of homage. The present Ilkhani, who succeeded him, warned possibly by his brother’s fate, is said to show little, if any, interest in commercial enterprise, and to have made the somewhat shrewd remark that the English “under the dress of the merchant often conceal the uniform of the soldier.”
In 1888 the Shah relented towards Hussein Kuli Khan’s sons, the eldest of whom, Isfandyar Khan, had been in prison for seven years, and they with their uncle, Reza Kuli Khan, descended with their followers and a small Persian army upon the plain of Chigakhor, where they surprised and defeated the Hadji Ilkhani. His brother, Reza, was thereupon recognised by the Shah as Ilkhani, and Isfandyar as Ilbegi, with the substance of power. Another turn of the wheel of fortune, and the brothers became respectively Ilkhani and Governor of the Chahar Mahals, and their nephew is reinstated as Ilbegi.52
The Ilkhani’s word is law, within broad limits, among the numerous tribes of Bakhtiari Lurs who have consented to recognise him as their feudal head, and it has been estimated that in a popular quarrel he could bring from 8000 to 10,000 armed horsemen into the field. He is judge as well as ruler, but in certain cases there is a possible appeal to Tihran from his decisions. He is appointed by the Shah, with a salary of 1000 tumans a year, but a strong man in his position could be practically independent.
It can scarcely be supposed that the present Ilkhani will long retain his uneasy seat against the intrigues at the Persian court, and with a powerful and popular rival close at hand. It is manifestly the interest of the Shah’s government to weaken the tribal power, and extinguish the authority and independence of the principal chiefs, and the Oriental method of attaining this end is by plots and intrigues at the capital, by creating and fomenting local quarrels, and by oppressive taxation. It is not wonderful, therefore, that many of the principal Khans, whose immemorial freedom has been encroached upon in many recent years by the Tihran Government, should look forward to a day when one of the Western powers will occupy south-west Persia, and give them security.
The Hadji Ilkhani, for the people always prefix the religious title, discussed the proposed journey, promised me an escort of a horseman and a tufangchi, or foot-soldier, begged us to consider ourselves here and everywhere as his guests, and to ask for all we want, here and elsewhere. His brother, Reza Kuli Khan, who has played an important part in tribal affairs, resembles him, but the sinister look is more persistent on his face. He was much depressed by the fear that he was going blind, but on trying my glasses he found he could see. The surprise of the old-sighted people when they find that spectacles renew their youth is most interesting.
Another visitor has been the Ilbegi, Isfandyar Khan. Though not tall, he is very good-looking, and has beautiful hands and feet. He is able, powerful, and ambitious, inspires his adherents with great personal devotion, and is regarded by many as the “coming man.” He was in Tihran when I was in Julfa, and hearing from one of the Ministers that I was about to visit the Bakhtiari country, he wrote to a general of cavalry in Isfahan, asking him to provide me with an escort if I needed it. I was glad to thank him for his courtesy in this matter, and for more substantial help. Before his visit, his retainer, Mansur, brought me the money of which I had been robbed in Kahva Rukh! This man absolutely refused a present, saying that his liege lord would nearly kill him if he took one. Isfandyar Khan welcomed me kindly, regretting much that my first night under Bakhtiari rule should have been marked by a robbery. He said that before his day the tribesmen not only robbed, but killed, and that he had reduced them to such order that he was surprised as well as shocked at this occurrence. I replied that it occurred in a Persian village, and that in many countries one might be robbed, but in none that I knew of would such quick restitution be made.
In cases of robbery, the Ilkhani sends round to the ketchudas or headmen of the camps or villages of the offending district, to replace the money, as in my case, or the value of the thing taken, after which the thief must be caught if possible. When caught, the headmen consult as to his punishment, which may be the cutting off of a hand or nose, or to be severely branded. In any case he must be for the future a marked man. I gather that the most severe penalties are rarely inflicted. I hope the fine of 800 krans levied on Kahva Rukh may stimulate the people to surrender the thief. I agreed to forego 200 krans, as Isfandyar Khan says that his men raised all they could, and the remaining sum would have to be paid by himself.
After a good deal of earnest conversation he became frivolous! He asked the Agha his age, and guessed it at thirty-five. On being enlightened he asked if he dyed his hair, and if his teeth were his own. Then he said that he dyed his own hair, and wore artificial teeth. He also asked my age. He and Lutf and Ghulam, the Ilkhani’s sons, who accompanied him, possess superb watches, with two dials, and an arrangement for showing the phases of the moon.
Having accepted an invitation from the Ilbegi to visit him at Naghun, a village ten miles from Ardal, accompanied by Lutf and Ghulam, we were ready at seven, the hour appointed, as the day promised to be very hot. Eight o’clock came, nine o’clock, half-past nine, and on sending to see if the young Khans were coming, the servants replied that they had “no orders to wake them.” So we Europeans broiled three hours in the sun at the pleasure of “barbarians”!
During the Ramazan these people revel from sunset to sunrise, with feasting, music, singing, and merriment, and then they lie in bed till noon or later, to abridge the long hours of the fast. “Is it such a fast that I have chosen?” may well be asked.
The noise during the night in the Ilkhani’s palace is tremendous. The festivities begin soon after sunset and go on till an hour before dawn. Odours agreeable to Bakhtiari noses are wafted down to my tent, but I do not find them appetising. An eatable called zalabi is in great request during the Ramazan. It is made by mixing sugar and starch with oil of sesamum, and is poured on ready heated copper trays, and frizzled into fritters. Masses of eggs mixed with rice, clarified butter, and jams, concealing balls of highly-spiced mincemeat, kabobs, and mutton stewed with preserved lemon juice and onions are favourite dishes at the Ilkhani’s.
Besides the music and singing, the “Court” entertains itself nightly with performing monkeys and dancing men, besides story-tellers, and reciters of the poetry of Hafiz. It is satisfactory to know that the uproarious merriment which drifts down to my tent along with odours of perpetual frying, owes none of its inspiration to alcohol, coffee and sharbat being the drinks consumed.
We rode without a guide down the Ardal valley, took the worst road through some deep and blazing gulches, found the sun fierce, and the treelessness irksome, saw much ploughing, made a long ascent, and stopped short of the village of Naghun at a large walled garden on the arid hillside, which irrigation has turned into a shady paradise of pear, apricot, and walnut trees, with a luxurious undergrowth of roses and pomegranates. The young Khans galloped up just as we did, laughing heartily at having slept so late. All the village men were gathered to see the Feringhis, and the Ilbegi and his brothers received us at the garden gate, all shaking hands. Certainly this Khan has much power in his face, and his dignified and easy manner is that of a leader of men. His dress was becoming, a handsome dark blue cloak lined with scarlet, and with a deep fur collar, over his ordinary costume.
So much has been said and written about the Bakhtiaris being “savages” or “semi-savages,” that the entertainment which followed was quite a surprise to me. Two fine canopy tents were pitched in the shade, and handsome carpets were laid in them, and under a spreading walnut tree a karsi, or fire cover, covered with a rug, served as a table, and cigarettes, a bowl of ice, a glass jug of sharbat, and some tumblers were neatly arranged upon it. Iron chairs were provided for the European guests, and the Ilbegi, his brothers, the Ilkhani’s sons, and others sat round the border of the carpet on which they were placed. There were fully fifty attendants. Into the midst of this masculine crowd, a male nurse brought the Ilbegi’s youngest child, a dark, quiet, pale, wistful little girl of four years old, a daintily-dressed little creature, with a crimson velvet cap, and a green and crimson velvet frock. She was gentle and confiding, and liked to remain with me.
After a long conversation on subjects more or less worth speaking upon, our hosts retired, to sleep under the trees, leaving us to eat, and a number of servants brought in a large karsi covered with food. Several yards of blanket bread, or “flapjacks,” served as a table-cloth, and another for the dish-cover of a huge pillau in the centre. Cruets, plates, knives and forks, iced water, Russian lemonade, and tumblers were all provided. The dinner consisted of pillau, lamb cutlets, a curried fowl, celery with sour sauce, clotted cream, and sour milk. The food was well cooked and clean, and the servants, rough as they looked, were dexterous and attentive.
After dinner, by the Ilbegi’s wish, I paid a visit to the ladies of his haram. Naghun rivals the other villages of the tribes in containing the meanest and worst permanent habitations I have ever seen. Isfandyar Khan’s house is a mud building surrounding a courtyard, through which the visitor passes into another, round which are the women’s apartments. Both yards were forlorn, uneven, and malodorous, from the heaps of offal and rubbish lying under the hot sun. I was received by fifteen ladies in a pleasant, clean, whitewashed apartment, with bright rugs and silk-covered pillows on the floor, and glass bottles and other ornaments in the takchahs.
At the top of the room I was welcomed, not by the principal wife, but by a portly middle-aged woman, the Khan’s sister, and evidently the duenna of the haram, as not one of the other women ventured to speak, or to offer any courtesies. A chair was provided for me with a karsi in front of it, covered with trays of gaz and other sweetmeats. Mirza and a male attendant stood in the doorway, and outside shoals of women and children on tip-toe were struggling for a glance into the room. Several slaves were present, coal-black, woolly-headed, huge-mouthed negresses. The fifteen ladies held their gay chadars to their faces so as to show only one eye, so I sent Mirza behind a curtain and asked for the pleasure of seeing their faces, when they all unveiled with shrieks of laughter.
The result was disappointing. The women were all young, or youngish, but only one was really handsome. The wives are brunettes with long chins. They wore gay chadars of muslin, short gold-embroidered jackets, gauze chemises, and bright-coloured balloon trousers. Three of the others wore black satin balloon trousers, black silk jackets, yellow gauze vests, and black chadars spotted with white. These three were literally moon-faced, like the representations of the moon on old clocks, a type I have not yet seen. All wear the hair brought to the front, where it hangs in wavy masses on each side of the face. They wore black silk gold-embroidered skull-caps, set back on their heads, and long chains of gold coins from the back to the ear, with two, three, or four long necklaces of the same in which the coins were very large and handsome. One wife, a young creature, was poorly dressed, very dejected-looking, and destitute of ornaments. Her mother has since pleaded for something “to bring back her husband’s love.” The eyebrows were painted with indigo and were made to meet in a point on the bridge of the nose. Each had one stained or tattooed star on her forehead, three on her chin, and a galaxy on the back of each hand.
Before Mirza reappeared they huddled themselves up in their chadars and sat motionless against the wall as before. After tea I had quite a lively conversation with the Khan’s sister, who has been to Basrah, Baghdad, and Mecca.
Besides the usual questions as to my age, dyeing my hair, painting my face, etc., with suggestions on the improvement which their methods would make on my eyes and eyebrows, she asked a little about my journeys, about the marriage customs of England, about divorce, the position of women with us, their freedom, horsemanship, and amusements. She said, “We don’t ride, we sit on horses.” Dancing for amusement she could not understand. “Our servants dance for us,” she said. The dancing of men and women together, and the evening dress of Englishwomen, she thought contrary to the elementary principles of morality. I wanted them to have their photographs taken, but they said, “It is not the custom of our country; no good women have their pictures taken, we should have many things said against us if we were made into pictures.”
They wanted to give me presents, but I made my usual excuse, that I have made a rule not to receive presents in travelling; then they said that they would go and see me in my tent at Chigakhor, their summer quarters, and that I could not refuse what they took in their own hands. They greatly desired to see the Agha, of whose imposing physique they had heard, but they said that the Khan would not like them to go to the garden, and that their wish must remain ungratified. “We lead such dull lives,” the Khan’s sister exclaimed; “we never see any one or go anywhere.” It seems that the slightest development of intellect awakens them to the consciousness of this deplorable dulness, of which, fortunately, the unawakened intelligence is unaware. As a fact, two of the ladies have not been out of the Ardal valley, and are looking forward to the migration to the Chigakhor valley as to a great gaiety.
They asked me if I could read, and if I made carpets? They invariably ask if I have a husband and children, and when I tell them that I am a widow and childless, they simulate weeping for one or two minutes, a hypocrisy which, though it proceeds from a kindly feeling, has a very painful effect. Their occupation in the winter is a little carpet-weaving, which takes the place of our “fancy-work.” They also make a species of nougat, from the manna found on the oaks on some of their mountains, mixed with chopped almonds and rose-water. When I concluded my visit they sent a servant with me with a tray of this and other sweetmeats of their own making.
The party in the garden was a very merry one. The Bakhtiaris love fun, and shrieked with laughter at many things. This jollity, however, did not exclude topics of interesting talk. During this time Karun, a handsome chestnut Arab, and my horse Screw had a fierce fight, and Karim, a Beloochi, in separating them had his arm severely crunched and torn, the large muscles being exposed and lacerated. He was brought in faint and bleeding and in great pain, and will not be of any use for some time. The Agha asked the Ilbegi for two lads to go with him to help his servants. The answer was, “We are a wandering people, Bakhtiaris cannot be servants, but some of our young men will go with you,”— and three brothers joined us there, absolute savages in their ways. A cow was offered for the march, and on the Agha jocularly saying that he should have all the milk, the Ilbegi said that I should have one to myself, and sent two. He complained that I did not ask for anything, and said that I was their guest so long as I was in their country, and must treat them as brothers and ask for all I need. “Don’t feel as if you were in a foreign land” he said; “we love the English.”
I. L. B.
48 The readers interested in such matters will find much carefully-acquired information on water distribution, assessments, and tenure of land in the second volume of the late Mr. Stack’s Six Months in Persia.
49 Some of the legends connected with these objects are grossly superstitious. At Shurishghan there is a “Holy Testament,” regarding which the story runs that it was once stolen by the Lurs, who buried it under a tree by the bank of a stream. Long afterwards a man began to cut down the tree, but when the axe was laid to its root blood gushed forth. On searching for the cause of this miracle the Gospels were found uninjured beneath. It is believed that if any one were to take the Testament away it would return of its own accord. It has the reputation of working miracles of healing, and many resort to it either for themselves or for their sick friends, from Northern Persia and even from Shiraz, as well as from the vicinity, and vows are made before it. The gifts presented to it become the property of its owners.
50 And so it did, though it was then so ill that it seemed unlikely that it would live through the night, and I told them so before I gave the medicine, lest they should think that I had killed it.
51 Proceedings of R.G.S., vol. v. No. 3, New Series.
52 I am indebted for the information given above to a valuable paper by Mr. H. Blosse Lynch, given in the Proceedings of the R.G.S. for September 1890.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06