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A Ride to India across Persia and Baluchistan by Harry De Windt

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"Ceci non!"

A spacious apartment, its polished _parquet_ strewn with white
bearskins and the thickest and softest of Persian rugs; its panelled
walls hung with Oriental tapestries, costly daggers, pistols, and
shields of barbaric, but beautiful, workmanship, glistening with gold
and silver. Every detail of the room denotes the artistic taste of the
owner. Inlaid tables and Japanese cabinets are littered with priceless
porcelain and _cloisonne_, old silver, and diamond-set miniatures; the
low divans are heaped with cushions of deep-tinted satin and gold;
heavy violet plush curtains drape the windows; while huge palms,
hothouse plants, and bunches of sweet-smelling Russian violets occupy
every available nook and corner. The pinewood fire flashes fitfully
on a masterpiece of Vereschagin's, which stands on an easel by the
hearth, and the massive gold "ikon," [A] encrusted with diamonds and
precious stones, in the corner. A large oil painting of his Majesty
the Czar of Russia hangs over the marble chimneypiece.

It is growing dark. Already a wintry wilderness of garden without,
upon which snow and sleet are pitilessly beating, is barely
discernible. By the window looms, through the dusk, the shadowy shape
of an enormous stuffed tiger, crouched as if about to spring upon a
spare white-haired man in neat dark green uniform, who, seated at a
writing-table covered with papers and official documents, has just
settled himself more comfortably in a roomy armchair. With a pleasant
smile, and a long pull at a freshly lit "papirosh," he gives vent to
his feelings with the remark that heads this chapter.

There is silence for a while, unbroken save by the crackle of blazing
logs and occasional rattle of driving sleet against the window-panes.
It is the 5th of January (O.S.). I am at Tiflis, in the palace of
Prince Dondoukoff Korsakoff, Governor of the Caucasus, and at the
present moment in that august personage's presence.

"Ceci non!" repeats the prince a second time, in answer to my request;
adding impatiently, "They should know better in London than to send
you to me. The War Minister in St. Petersburg alone has power to grant
foreigners permission to visit Central Asia. You must apply to him,
but let me first warn you that it is a long business. No"--after a
pause--"no; were I in your place I would go to Persia. It is a country
replete with interest."

I know, from bitter experience of Russian officials, that further
parley is useless. Making my bow with as good a grace as possible
under the circumstances, I take leave of the governor and am escorted
by an aide-de-camp, resplendent in white and gold, through innumerable
vestibules, and down the great marble staircase, to where my sleigh
awaits me in the cutting north-easter and whirling snow. Gliding
swiftly homewards along the now brilliantly lit boulevards, I realize
for the first time that mine has been but a wild-goose chase after
all; that, if India is to be reached by land, it is not _via_ Merv and
Cabul, but by way of Persia and Baluchistan.

The original scheme was a bold one, and I derive some consolation in
the thought that the journey would most probably have ended in defeat.
This was the idea. From Tiflis to Baku, and across the Caspian to
Ouzoun Ada, the western terminus of the Trans-Caspian Railway. Thence
by rail to Merv and Bokhara, and from the latter city direct to India,
_via_ Balkh and Cabul, Afghanistan. A more interesting journey can
scarcely be conceived, but Fate and the Russian Government decreed
that it was not to be. Not only was I forbidden to use the railway,
but (notwithstanding the highest recommendation from the Russian
Ambassador in London) even to set foot in Trans-Caspia.

The old adage, "delay is dangerous," is never so true as when applied
to travel. The evening of my interview with the governor, I had
resolved, ere retiring to rest, to make for India _via_ Teheran.
My route beyond that city was, perforce, left to chance, and the
information I hoped to gain in the Shah's capital.

Tiflis, capital of the Caucasus, is about midway between the Black
and Caspian seas, and lies in a valley between two ranges of low but
precipitous hills. The river Kur, a narrow but swift and picturesque
stream spanned by three bridges, bisects the city, which is divided in
three parts: the Russian town, European colony, and Asiatic quarter.
The population of over a hundred thousand is indeed a mixed one.
Although Georgians form its bulk, Persia contributes nearly a quarter,
the rest being composed of Russians, Germans, French, Armenians,
Greeks, Tartars, Circassians, Jews, Turks, and Heaven knows what
besides. [B]

Tiflis is a city of contrasts. The principal boulevard, with its
handsome stone buildings and shops, tramways, gay cafes, and electric
light, would compare favourably with the Nevski Prospect in St.
Petersburg, or almost any first-class European thoroughfare; and yet,
almost within a stone's throw, is the Asiatic quarter, where the
traveller is apparently as far removed from Western civilization as in
the most remote part of Persia or Turkestan. The Armenian and Persian
bazaars are perhaps the most interesting, I doubt whether the streets
of Yezd or Bokhara present so strange and picturesque a sight, such
vivid effects of movement and colour. Every race, every nationality,
is represented, from the stalwart, ruddy-faced Russian soldier in flat
white cap and olive-green tunic, to the grave, stately Arab merchant
with huge turban and white draperies, fresh from Bagdad or
Bussorah. Georgians and Circassians in scarlet tunics and silver
cartridge-belts, Turks in fez and frock-coat, Greeks and Albanians in
snowy petticoats and black gaiters, Khivans in furs and quaint conical
lamb's-wool hats, Tartars from the Steppes, Turkomans from Merv,
Parsees from Bombay, African negroes,--all may be seen in the Tiflis
Bazaar during the busy part of the day.

But woe to the luckless European who, tempted by the beauty of their
wares, has dealings with the wily Persian merchant. There is a proverb
in Tiflis that "It takes two Jews to rob an Armenian, two Armenians
to rob a Persian," and the "accursed Faringi" is mercilessly swindled
whenever he ventures upon a bargain.

With the exception of the aforesaid boulevard, the European quarter of
Tiflis presents the same mixture of squalor and grandeur found in most
Russian towns, St. Petersburg not excepted. There is the same dead,
drab look about the streets and houses, the same absence of colour,
the same indescribable smell of mud, leather, and drainage, familiar
to all who have visited Asiatic Russia. I had intended remaining a
couple of days, at most, in Tiflis, but my stay was now indefinitely
prolonged. Such a severe winter had not been known for years. The
mountain passes into Persia were reported impassable, and the line to
Baku had for some days been blocked with snow.

My Russian Christmas (which falls, O.S., on our 6th of January) was
not a cheerful one. A prisoner in a stuffy bedroom of the Hotel de
Londres, I sat at the window most of the day, consuming innumerable
glasses of tea and cigarettes, watching the steadily falling snow, and
wondering whether the weather would ever clear and allow me to escape
from a place so full of unpleasant associations, and which had brought
me so much disappointment and vexation. The loud laughter and
bursts of song that ascended every now and then from the crowded
_salle-a-manger_ (for the Hotel de Londres is the "Maison Doree" of
Tiflis) only served to increase my depression and melancholy. Had
there been a train available, I verily believe I should have taken a
ticket then and there, and returned to England!

But morning brings consolation in the shape of blue sky and dazzling
sunshine. The snow has ceased, apparently for good. Descending
to breakfast full of plans for the future, I find awaiting me an
individual destined to play an important part in these pages--one
Gerome Realini, a Levantine Russian subject, well acquainted with the
Persian language--who offers to accompany me to India as interpreter.
His terms are moderate, and credentials first-rate. The latter include
one from Baker Pasha, with whom he served on the Turkoman frontier
expedition. More for the sake of a companion than anything else, I
close with Gerome, who, though he does not understand one word of
English, speaks French fluently.

There is a very natural prejudice against the Levantine race, but my
new acquaintance formed an exception to the rule. I never had reason
to regret my bargain; a better servant, pluckier traveller, or
cheerier companion no man could wish for. Gerome had just returned
from a visit to Bokhara, and his accounts of Central Asia were
certainly not inviting. The Trans-Caspian railway was so badly laid
that trains frequently ran off the line. There was no arrangement for
water, travellers being frequently delayed three or four hours,
while blocks of ice were melted for the boiler; while the so-called
first-class carriages were filthy, and crowded with vermin. The
advance of Holy Russia had apparently not improved Merv, which had
become, since its annexation, a kind of inferior Port Said, a refuge
for the scum, male and female, of St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Odessa.
Drunkenness and debauchery reigned paramount. Low gambling-houses,
_cafe chantants_, and less reputable establishments flourished under
the liberal patronage of the Russian officers, who, out of sheer
_ennui_, ruined their pockets and constitutions with drunken
orgies, night and day. There was no order of any kind, no organized
police-force, and robberies and assassinations took place almost
nightly. Small-pox was raging in the place when Gerome left it; also a
loathsome disease called the "Bouton d'alep "--a painful boil which,
oddly enough, always makes its appearance upon the body in odd
numbers, never in even. It is caused by drinking or washing in
unboiled water. Though seldom fatal, there is no cure for the
complaint but complete change of climate.

We now set about making preparations for the journey. Provisions,
saddlery, both had to be thought of; and, having laid in a small stock
of Liebig, tea, biscuits, chocolate, and cigarettes (for space was
limited), I proceeded, under Gerome's guidance, to purchase a saddle.
Seventy-five roubles bought a capital one, including bridle. Here let
me advise those visiting Persia to follow my example, and buy their
saddlery in Tiflis. There is a heavy duty payable on foreign saddles
in Russia, and they are not one whit better, or indeed so well suited
to the purpose, as those made in the Caucasus.

One hears a deal, in Europe, of the beauty of the Circassian and
Georgian women. Although I remained in Tiflis over a week, I did not
see a single pretty woman among the natives. As in every Russian town,
however, the "Moushtaid," or "Bois de Boulogne" of Tiflis, was daily,
the theatre nightly, crowded with pretty faces of the dark-eyed,
oval-faced Russian type. The new opera-house, a handsome building near
the governor's palace, is not yet completed.

The Hotel de Londres was the favourite _rendezvous_ after the play.
Here till the small hours assembled nightly the _elite_ of European
Tiflis. Russian and Georgian officers in gorgeous uniforms of dark
green, gold lace, and astrachan; French and German merchants with
their wives and daughters; with a sprinkling _demi-mondaines_ from
Odessa or Kharkoff, sipping tea or drinking kummel and "kaketi" at the
little marble tables, and discussing the latest scandals. Kaketi, a
wine not unlike Carlowitz, is grown in considerable quantities in
the Caucasus. There are two kinds, red and white, but the former is
considered the best. Though sound and good, it is cheap enough--one
rouble the quart. Tobacco is also grown in small quantities in parts
of Georgia and made into cigarettes, which are sold in Tiflis at three
kopeks per hundred. But it is poor, rank stuff, and only smoked by the
peasantry and droshki-drivers.

[Illustration: TIFLIS]

Tiflis has a large and important garrison, but is not fortified. Its
topographical depot is one of the best in Russia, and I managed, not
without some difficulty, to obtain from it maps of Afghanistan and
Baluchistan. The latter I subsequently found better and far more
accurate than any obtainable in England. The most insignificant
hamlets and unimportant camel-tracks and wells were set down with
extraordinary precision, especially those in the districts around

There is plenty of sport to be had round Tiflis. The shooting is
free excepting over certain tracts of country leased by the Tiflis
shooting-club. Partridge, snipe, and woodcock abound, and there are
plenty of deer and wild boar within easy distance of the capital. Ibex
is also found in the higher mountain ranges. For this (if for no other
reason) Tiflis seems to be increasing in popularity every year for
European tourists. It is now an easy journey of little over a week
from England, with the advantage that one may travel by land the whole
way from Calais. This route is _via_ Berlin, Cracow, Kharkoff, and
Vladikavkas, and from the latter place by coach (through the Dariel
Gorge) to Tiflis.

The purchase of a warm astrachan bonnet, a bourka, [C] and bashlik, [D]
completed my outfit. It now consisted of two small portmanteaus (to be
changed at Teheran for saddle-bags), a common canvas sack for sleeping
purposes, and a brace of revolvers. Gerome was similarly accoutred,
with the exception of the portmanteaus. My interpreter was evidently
not luxuriously inclined, for his _impedimenta_ were all contained in
a small black leather hand-bag! All being ready, eleven o'clock on the
night of the 12th of January found us standing on the platform of the
Tiflis railway station, awaiting the arrival of the Baku train, which
had been delayed by a violent storm down the line.

I received a letter from the governor a few hours before my departure,
wishing me _bon voyage_, and enclosing a document to ensure help and
civility from the officials throughout his dominions. It may seem
ungrateful, but I felt that I could well have dispensed with this,
especially as I was leaving his Excellency's government at Baku, a
distance of only ten hours by rail.

It was again snowing hard, and the east wind cut through my bourka as
if it had been a thin linen jacket. Seeking shelter in the crowded,
stuffy waiting-room, we solaced ourselves with cigarettes and vodka
till past 2 a.m., when the train arrived. Another delay of two hours
now occurred, the engine having broken down; but the carriages, like
those of most Russian railways, were beautifully warmed, and we slept
soundly, undisturbed by the howling of the wind and shouting of
railway officials. When I awoke, we were swiftly rattling through
the dreary monotonous steppe country that separates Tiflis from the
Caspian Sea.

The Russians may, according to English ideas, be uncivilized in many
ways, but they are undoubtedly far ahead of other European nations,
with the exception perhaps of France, as regards railway travelling.
Although the speed is slow, nothing is left undone, on the most
isolated lines, to ensure comfort, not to say luxury. Even in this
remote district the refreshment-rooms were far above the average in
England. At Akstafa, for instance, a station surrounded by a howling
wilderness of steppe and marsh; well-cooked viands, game, pastry, and
other delicacies, gladdened the eye, instead of the fly-blown buns
and petrified sandwiches only too familiar to the English railway
traveller. The best railway buffet I have ever seen is at Tiumen, the
terminus of the Oural railway, and actually in Siberia.

Railway travelling has, however, one drawback in this part of
Russia, which, though it does not upset the arrangements of a casual
traveller, must seriously inconvenience the natives--the distance of
stations from towns. We drank tea, a couple of hours or so before
arriving at Baku, at a station situated more than one hundred
versts [E] from the town of its name. The inhabitants of the latter
seldom availed themselves of the railway, but found it easier, except
in very bad weather, to drive or ride to the Caspian port.

The dull wintry day wears slowly away, as we crawl along past
league upon league of wild steppe land. The _coup d'oeil_ from our
carriage-window is not inspiriting. It rests upon a bare, bleak
landscape, rolling away to the horizon, of waves of drab and
dirty-green land, unbroken save for here and there a pool of stagnant
water, rotting in a fringe of sedge and rush, or an occasional flock
of wild-fowl. At rare intervals we pass, close to the line, a Tartar
encampment. Half a dozen dirty brown tents surrounded by horses,
camels, and thin shivering cattle, the latter covered with coarse
sack-clothing tied round their bellies to protect them from the
cutting blast that sweeps from the coast across this land of
desolation. None of the human population are visible, and no wonder.
It must be cold enough outside. Even in this well-warmed compartment
one can barely keep feet and fingers from getting numbed.

It is almost dark when, towards six o'clock, there appears, far ahead,
a thin streak of silver, separating the dreary brown landscape from
the cold grey sky.

"We have nearly arrived, monsieur," says Gerome. "There is the Caspian

[Footnote A: The sacred image of the Saviour or Holy Virgin.]

[Footnote B: The name Tiflis is derived from _Tbilis Kalaki_, or "Hot
Town," so called from the hot mineral springs near which it stands.]

[Footnote C: _Bourka_, a long sleeveless coat made of goatskin.]

[Footnote D: _Bashlik_, the soft camel-hair hood and neckerchief in
one, worn by Russian soldiers.]

[Footnote E: A _verst_ is about three-quarters of a mile.]



I arrived in Baku on (the Russian) New Year's Eve, and found railway
officials, porters, and droshki-drivers all more or less fuddled with
drink in consequence. With some difficulty we persuaded one of the
latter to drive us to the hotel, a clean and well-appointed house, a
stone's throw from the quay. Our Isvostchik [A] was very drunk. His
horses, luckily for us, were quiet; for he fell off his box on the
way, and smilingly, but firmly, declined to remount. Gerome then
piloted the troika safely to our destination, leaving Jehu prone in
the mud.

Baku, a clean, well laid-out city of sixty thousand inhabitants, is
the most important town on the shores of the Caspian. Its name is said
to be derived from the Persian words _bad_, "the wind," and _kubeda_,
"beaten," signifying "Wind-beaten;" and this seems credible, for
violent storms are prevalent along the coast. The town is essentially
European in character. One can scarcely realize that only fifty years
ago a tumble-down Persian settlement stood on the spot now occupied
by broad, well-paved, gas-lit streets, handsome stone buildings,
warehouses, and shops. Baku has, like Tiflis, a mixed population.
Although Russians and Tartars form its bulk, France, Germany, Italy,
Greece, Turkey, and Persia are all represented, most of the Europeans
being employed in the manufacture of petroleum. The naphtha springs
are said to yield over 170,000 tons of oil yearly.

A French engineer, Mr. B----, whose acquaintance I made at the hotel,
described Baku as terribly monotonous and depressing to live in after
a time. There is not a tree or sign of vegetation for miles round the
town--nothing but bleak, desolate steppe and marsh, unproductive of
sport and cultivation, or, indeed, of anything save miasma and fever.
In summer the heat, dust, and flies are intolerable; in winter the sun
is seldom seen. There is no amusement of any kind--no _cafe_, no band,
no theatre, to go to after the day's work. This seemed to distress the
poor Parisian exile more than anything, more even than the smell of
oil, which, from the moment you enter until you leave Baku, there is
no getting away from. Although the wells are fully three miles away,
the table-cloths and napkins were saturated with it, and the very
food one ate had a faint sickly flavour of naphtha. "I bathed in the
Caspian once last summer," said Mr. B------, despairingly, "and did
not get the smell out of my skin for a week, during which time my
friends forbade me their houses! Mon Dieu! Quel pays!"

The steamer for Enzelli was to leave at eleven. Having wished my
French friend farewell, and a speedy return to his native country, we
set out for the quay. The night was fine, but away to our left dense
clouds of thick black smoke obscured the lights of the town and
starlit sky, while the furnaces of the "Tchornigorod" [B] blazed out
of the darkness, their flames reflected in the dark waters of the
Caspian, turning the little harbour into a lake of fire.

The landing stage is crowded with passengers--a motley crowd of
Russian officials, soldiers, peasants, and Tartars. With difficulty we
struggle through the noisy, drunken rabble, for the most part engaged
in singing, cursing, fighting, and embracing by turns, and succeed at
last in finding our ship, the _Kaspia_, a small steamer of about a
hundred and fifty tons burthen. The captain is, fortunately for us,
sober, which is more than can be said of the crew. Alongside us lies
the _Bariatinsky_, a large paddle-steamer bound for Ouzounada, the
terminus of the Trans-Caspian Railway. She also is on the point of
departure, and I notice, with relief, that most of the crowd are
making their way on board her.

The passenger-steamers on the Caspian are the property of the
Caucase-Mercure Company, a Russian firm. They are, with few
exceptions, as unseaworthy as they are comfortless, which says a great
deal. All are of iron, and were built in England and Sweden, sent to
St. Petersburg by sea, there taken to pieces and despatched overland
to Nijni-Novgorod, on the Volga. At Nijni they were repieced and taken
down the Volga to the Caspian.

The _Bariatinsky_ was first away, her decks crammed with soldiers
bound for Central Asia. They treated us to a vocal concert as the ship
left port, and I paced the moonlit deck for some time, listening to
the sweet sad airs sung with the pathos and harmony that seems born
in every Russian, high or low. I retired to rest with the "Matoushka
Volga," a boat-song popular the length and breadth of Russia, ringing
in my ears.

There are no private cabins on board the _Kaspia_. I share the stuffy
saloon with a greasy German Jew (who insists on shutting all the
portholes), an Armenian gentleman, his wife, and two squalling
children, a Persian merchant, and Gerome.

The captain's cabin, a box-like retreat about eight feet square,
leads out of our sleeping-place, which is also used as a drawing and
dining-room. As the latter it is hardly desirable, for the German and
Persian are both suffering violently from _mal-de-mer_ before we
have been two hours out, and no wonder. Though there is hardly a
perceptible swell on, the tiny cock-boat rolls like a log. To make
matters worse, the _Kaspia's_ engines are worked by petroleum, and the
smell pursues one everywhere.

The passage from Baku to Enzelli (the port of Resht) is usually made
in a little over two days in _fine weather_. All depends upon the
latter, for no vessel can enter if it is blowing hard. There is a
dangerous bar with a depth of barely five feet of water across the
mouth of the harbour, and several Europeans, impatient of waiting,
have been drowned when attempting to land in small boats. "I
frequently have to take my passengers back to Baku," said Captain
Z---- at the meal he was pleased to call breakfast; "but I think we
shall have fine weather to-morrow." I devoutly hoped so.

Little did I know what was in store for us; for the glass at midday
was falling-fast, and at 2 p.m., when we anchored off Lenkoran, it
was snowing hard and blowing half a gale.

The western coasts of the Caspian are flat and monotonous. There are
two ports of call between Baku and Enzelli--Lenkoran, a dismal-looking
fishing-village of mud huts, backed by stunted poplars and a range of
low hills; and Astara, the Russo-Persian frontier. Trade did not seem
very brisk at either port. We neither landed nor took in cargo at
either. A few small boats came out to the ship with fish to sell. The
latter is bad and tasteless in the Caspian, with the exception of
the sturgeon, which abounds during certain seasons of the year. The
fisheries are nearly all leased by Russians, who extract and export
the caviar. There is good shooting in the forests around Lenkoran, and
tigers are occasionally met with. The large one in the possession of
Prince Dondoukoff Korsakoff, mentioned in the first chapter, was shot
within a few miles of the place.

We arrived off Astara about 6.30 that evening. It was too dark to see
anything of the place, but I had, unfortunately for myself, plenty
of opportunities of examining it minutely a couple of days later. We
weighed anchor again at nine o'clock, hoping, all being well, to reach
Enzelli at daybreak. The sea had now gone down, and things looked more

My spirits rose at the thought of being able to land on the morrow. I
was even able to do justice to the abominable food set before us at
dinner--greasy sausages and a leathery beefsteak, served on dirty
plates and a ragged table-cloth that looked as if it had been used to
clean the boiler. But the German Jew had recovered from his temporary
indisposition, the cadaverous Persian had disappeared on deck, and
the Armenian children had squalled themselves to sleep, so there
was something, at least, to be thankful for. Captain Z----, a tall,
fair-haired Swede, who spoke English fluently, had been on this line
for many years, and told us that for dangerous navigation, violent
squalls, and thick fogs the Caspian has no equal. Many vessels are
lost yearly and never heard of again. He also told us of a submarine
city some miles out of Baku, called by the natives "Tchortorgorod," or
"City of the Devil." "In calm, sunny weather," said Z----, "one can
distinctly make out the streets and houses." The German Jew, of a
facetious disposition, asked him whether he had not also seen people
walking about; but Z---- treated the question with contemptuous

Man is doomed to disappointment. I woke at daylight next morning; to
find the _Kaspia_ at anchor, pitching, rolling, and tugging at her
moorings as if at any moment the cable might part. Every now and again
a sea would crash upon the deck, and the wind, howling through the
rigging, sounded like the yelling of a thousand fiends. Hurrying on
deck, I learn the worst. A terrific sea is running, and the glass
falling every hour. One could scarcely discern, through the driving
mist, the long low shore and white line of breakers that marked the
entrance to Enzelli. To land was out of the question. No boat would
live in such a sea. "I will lay-to till this evening," said Captain
Z---- "If it does not then abate, I fear you must make up your mind
to return to Baku, and try again another day." A pleasant prospect


I have seldom passed a more miserable twenty-four hours. The weather
got worse as the day wore on. Towards midday it commenced snowing; but
this, instead of diminishing the violence of the gale, seemed only to
increase it. Even the captain's cheery, ruddy face clouded over, as he
owned that he did not like the look of things. "Had I another anchor,
I should not mind," he said; calmly adding, "If this one parts, we
are lost!" I thought, at the time, he might have kept this piece
of information to himself. Meanwhile nothing was visible from the
cabin-windows but great rollers topped with crests of foam, which
looked as if, every moment, they would engulf the little vessel. But
she behaved splendidly. Although green seas were coming in over the
bows, flooding her decks from stem to stern, and pouring down the
gangway into the saloon, the _Kaspia_ rode through the gale like a
duck. To venture on deck was impossible. One could barely sit, much
less stand, and the atmosphere of the saloon may be better imagined
than described. Every aperture tightly closed; every one, with the
exception of the captain, Gerome, and myself, sea-sick; no food, no
fire, though we certainly did not miss the former much.

About ten o'clock Z---- weighed anchor and stood out to sea. It would
not be safe, he said, to trust to our slender cable another night.
About midnight I struggled on deck, to get a breath of fresh air
before turning in. The night was fine and clear, but the sea around
black as ink, with great foaming white rollers. The decks, a foot
deep in snow, were deserted save by Z---- and the steersman, whose
silhouettes stood out black and distinct against the starlit sky as
they paced the rickety-looking little bridge flanked by red and green
lights. The Enzelli lighthouse was no longer visible. The latter is
under the care of Persians, who light it, or not, as the humour takes
them. This is, on dark nights, a source of considerable danger to
shipping; but, though frequently remonstrated with by the Russian
Government, the Shah does not trouble his head about the matter.

Three routes to Teheran were now open to us: back to Baku, thence to
Tiflis, and over the mountains to Talriz,--very dubious on account of
the snow; the second, from Baku to Astrabad, and thence _via_ Mount
Demavend,--still more dubious on account of bad landing as well as
blocked passes; there remained to us Astara, and along the sea-beach
(no road) to Enzelli, with swollen rivers and no post-horses. All
things considered, we resolved to land at Astara, even at the risk of
a ducking. Daylight found us there, anchored a mile from the shore,
and a heavy swell running. But there is no bar here; only a shelving
sandy beach, on which, even in rough weather, there is little
danger. Some good-sized boats came out to the _Kaspia_ with fish and
vegetables, and we at once resolved to land. Anything sooner than
return to Baku!

"There is no road from Astara," said Z----, "and deep rivers to cross.
You will be robbed and murdered like the Italian who travelled this
way three years ago! He was the last European to do so."

Gerome remembers the incident. In fact, he says, the murdered man was
a friend of his, travelling to Teheran with a large sum of money.
Unable to land at Resht, and impatient to reach his destination, he
took the unfrequented route, was waylaid, robbed, tied to a tree, and
left to starve. "He was alone and unarmed, though," says my companion;
adding with a wink, "Let them try it on with us!"

Seeing remonstrance is useless, Z---- wishes us God-speed. The
good-natured Swede presses a box of Russian cigarettes into my hand
as I descend the ladder--a gift he can ill afford--and twenty minutes
later our boat glides safely and smoothly on Persian soil.

It was a lovely day, and the blue sky and sunshine, singing of birds,
and green of plain and forest, a pleasant relief to the eye and senses
after the cold and misery of the past two days. Astara (though the
port of Tabriz) is an insignificant place, its sole importance lying
in the fact that it is a frontier town. On one side of the narrow
river a collection of ramshackle mud huts, neglected gardens, foul
smells, beggars, and dogs--Persia; on the other, a score of neat stone
houses, well-kept roads and paths, flower-gardens, orchards, a pretty
church, and white fort surrounded by the inevitable black-and-white
sentry-boxes, guarded by a company of white-capped Cossacks--Russia. I
could not help realizing, on landing at Astara, the huge area of this
vast empire. How many thousand miles now separated me from the last
border town of the Great White Czar that I visited--Kiakhta, on the
Russo-Chinese frontier?

Surrounded by a ragged mob, we walked to the village to see about
horses and a lodging for the night. The latter was soon found--a
flat-roofed mud hut about thirty feet square, devoid of chimney or
furniture of any kind. The floor, cracked in several places, was
crawling with vermin, and the walls undermined with rat-holes; but in
Persia one must not be particular. Leaving our baggage in the care of
one "Hassan," a bright-eyed, intelligent-looking lad, and instructing
him to prepare a meal, we made for the bazaar, a hundred yards away,
through a morass, knee deep in mud and abomination of all kinds, to
procure food.

A row of thirty or forty mud huts composed the "bazaar," where, having
succeeded in purchasing tea, bread, eggs, and caviar, we turned our
attention to horseflesh.

An old Jew having previously agreed to convert, at exorbitant
interest, our rouble notes into "sheis" and kerans, negotiations for
horses were then opened by Gerome, and, as the _patois_ spoken in
Astara is a mixture of Turkish and Persian, with a little Tartar
thrown in, his task was no easy one, especially as every one spoke at
once and at the top of their voices. We discovered at last that but
few of the villagers owned a horse, and those who did were very
unwilling to let the animal for such an uncertain journey. "Who is
going to guarantee that the 'Farangis' will not steal it?" asked one
ragged, wild-looking fellow in sheepskins and a huge lamb's-wool cap.
"Or get it stolen from them?" added another, with a grin. "They can
have my old grey mare for two hundred kerans, but you won't catch me
letting her for hire," added a third.

With the aid of our friend, the Jew, however, we finally persuaded
the sheepskin gentleman (a native of Khiva) to change his mind. After
considerable haggling as to price, he disappeared, to return with two of
the sorriest steeds I ever set eyes on. "We ought to reach Enzelli in
about three days, if we do not get our throats cut," said the Khivan, who
was to accompany us, encouragingly.

Hassan had been busy in our absence; he had prepared an excellent
pilaff, and sent to Russian Astara for some kaketi wine, which was
brought over in a goatskin. This, with our own provisions bought in
the morning, furnished a substantial and much-needed meal. Persian
native bread is somewhat trying at first to a weak digestion. It is
unleavened, baked in long thin strips, and is of suet-like consistency.
The hut, like most native houses in Persia, had no chimney, the only
outlet for the smoke being through the narrow doorway. This necessitates
lying flat on one's back in the clear narrow space between smoke and
flooring, or being suffocated--a minor inconvenience as compared with
others in Persian travel.

The Khivan arrived with the horses at six next morning. By seven
o'clock we were well on the road, which for the first ten miles or so
led by the sea-shore, through dense thickets of brushwood, alternating
with patches of loose drifting sand. I was agreeably disappointed in
the ponies; for though it was deep, heavy going, they stepped out well
and freely. The clear sunshine, keen air, and lovely scenery seemed to
have the same inspiriting effect on them as on ourselves.

The _coup d'oeil_ was indeed a lovely one. To our right a glorious
panorama of palm, forest, and river stretched away for miles, bounded
on the horizon by a chain of lofty precipitous mountains, their snowy
peaks white and dazzling against the deep cloudless blue, their
grassy slopes and rocky ravines hidden, here and there, by grey mists
floating lazily over depths of dark green forest at their feet. To our
left broad yellow sands, streaked with seaweed and dark driftwood, and
cold grey waters of the Caspian Sea--colourless and dead even under
this Mediterranean sky, and bringing one back, so to speak, from a
beautiful dream to stern reality.

About midday we came to a broad but fordable river, which the Khivan
called the Chulamak. We all crossed in safety, notwithstanding the
deep holes our guide warned us against, and which, as the water was
thick and muddy, gave Gerome and myself some anxiety. The stream was
about fifty yards across and much swollen by the snow. Landing on the
other side ahead of my companions, I rode on alone, and presently
found myself floundering about girth-deep in a quicksand. It was only
with great difficulty that we extricated the pony. These quicksands
are common on the shores of the Caspian, and natives, when travelling
alone, have perished from this cause.

Nothing occurred worthy of notice till about 3 p.m., when we reached
the river Djemnil. An arm of the sea more accurately describes this
stream, which is (or was at the time of which I write) over three
hundred yards across. Here we had some difficulty with the Khivan,
who was for encamping till morning. I, however, strongly objected to
sleeping _a la belle etoile_, especially as the sky had now clouded
over, and it was beginning to snow. Partly by conciliation, partly
by threats, we at last persuaded him to make the attempt, following
closely in his wake. It was nasty work. Twice our horses were carried
off their feet by the strong current running out to sea (we were
only a quarter of a mile from the mouth); and once we, or rather the
horses, had to swim for it; but we reached the opposite shore in under
half an hour, wet and numbed to the waist, but safe. At seven we were
snugly housed for the night at Katvesera, a so-called village of three
or four mud hovels, selecting the best (outwardly) for our night's
lodging. We were badly received by the natives. Neither money nor
threats would induce them to produce provisions of any kind, so we
fell back on sticks of chocolate and Valentine's meat-juice. The
latter I never travel without--it is invaluable in uncivilized and
desert countries.

The inhabitants of Katvesera are under a score in number, and live
chiefly on fish, though I noticed in the morning that a considerable
quantity of land was under cultivation--apparently rice and barley.
They were a sullen, sulky lot, and we had almost to take the hut
by force. The Khivan, Gerome, and myself took it in turns to watch
through the night. It was near here that the Italian was assassinated.

A start was made at daybreak. The weather had now changed. A cutting
north-easter was blowing, accompanied with snow and sleet. We forded,
about 11 a.m., the Kokajeri river, a mountain stream about thirty
yards wide, unfordable except upon the sea-beach. At midday we halted
at Tchergari, a fishing-village on the shores of the Caspian.

Tchergari contains about two hundred inhabitants, mostly fishermen
employed by a Russian firm. The houses, built of tree-trunks plastered
with mud, had roofs of thatched reed, and were far more substantial
and better built than any I had yet seen in Persia. Fearing a
reception like that of the previous evening, we had intended riding
straight through the place to our destination for the night, when a
European advanced to meet us through the snow. Mr. V----, a Russian,
and overseer of the fishery, had made his hut as comfortable as
circumstances would admit, and we were soon seated before a blazing
fire (with a chimney!), discussing a plate of steaming shtchi, [C]
washed down by a bottle of kaketi. Roast mutton and pastry followed,
succeeded by coffee and vodka (for we had the good luck to arrive at
our host's dinner-hour). By the time cigarettes were under way we felt
fully equal to the long cold ride of fifteen miles that separated us
from our night's halting-place, Alala Resht itself seemed at least
thirty miles nearer than it had before dinner.

"You are bold," said Mr. V----, in French, "to attempt this journey
at this time of year. I do not mean as regards footpads and
robbers reports concerning them are always greatly exaggerated; but
the rivers are in a terrible state. There is one just beyond Alala,
that I know you cannot cross on horseback. I will send a man on at
once to try and get a boat for you, and you can pull the horses after
you. There is an Armenian at Alala, who will give you a lodging
to-night" Mr. V---- 's good fare and several glasses of vodka
considerably shortened our ride, and we arrived at Alala before dark,
where a hearty welcome awaited us. Turning in after a pipe and two
or three glasses of tea, we slept soundly till time to start in the
morning. The outlook from our snug resting-place was not inviting--the
sky of a dirty grey, blowing hard, and snowing harder than ever.

Alala contains about eight hundred inhabitants. The land surrounding
it is thickly cultivated with rice and tobacco. Neither are, however,
exported in any quantity, the difficulties of transport to Astara or
Enzelli being so great.

It is somewhat puzzling to a stranger to get at the names of places on
the southern shores of the Caspian. Most of the villages are known
by more than one, but Alala rejoices in as many _aliases_ as an old
gaol-bird, viz. Alala, Asalim, and Navarim.

Thanks to our Russian friend, a boat and a couple of men were awaiting
us at the big river (I could not ascertain its name). Entering it
ourselves, we swam the horses over one by one. It took us the best
part of two hours. Though only two hundred yards wide, they were off
their legs nearly the whole way. What we should have done without Mr.
V---- 's aid I know not.

Towards sundown the high tower of the Shah's palace at Enzelli came
in sight. At last the neck of this weary journey was broken, and
to-morrow, all being well, we should be at Resht. The road is winding,
and it was not till past ten o'clock that we rode through the silent,
deserted streets to the caravanserai, a filthier lodging than any we
had yet occupied. But, though devoured by vermin, I slept soundly,
tired out with cold and fatigue. We dismissed the Khivan with a
substantial _pour-boire_. He had certainly behaved extremely well for
one of his race.

Enzelli is an uninteresting place. It has but two objects of interest
(in Persian eyes)--the lighthouse (occasionally lit) and a palace of
the Shah, built a few years since as a _pied-a-terre_ for his Majesty
on the occasion of his visits to Europe. It is a tawdry gimcrack
edifice, painted bright blue, red, and green, in the worst possible
taste. The Shah, on returning from Europe last time, is said to have
remarked to his ministers on landing at Enzelli, "I have not seen
a single building in all Europe to compare with this!" Probably
not--from one point of view.

The Caspian may indeed be called a Russian lake, for although the
whole of its southern coast is Persian, the only Persian vessel
tolerated upon it by Russia is the yacht of the Shah, a small steamer,
the gift of the Caucase-Mercure Company, which lies off Enzelli. Even
this vessel is only permitted to navigate in and about the waters of
the Mourdab ("dead water"), a large lake, a kind of encroachment of
the sea, eighteen to twenty miles broad, which separates Enzelli from
Peri-Bazar, the landing-place for Resht, four miles distant. The
imperial yacht did once get as far as Astara (presumably by mistake),
but was immediately escorted back to Enzelli by a Russian cruiser.
There is, however, a so-called Persian fleet--the steamship
_Persepolis_, anchored off Bushire, in the Persian Gulf, and the
_Susa_, which lies off Mohammerah. The former is about six hundred
tons, and carries four Krupp guns; but the latter is little better
than a steam-launch. Both have been at anchor for about four years,
and are practically unseaworthy and useless.

We embarked at nine o'clock, in a boat pulled by eight men. The
crossing of the Mourdab is at times impossible, owing to the heavy
sea; but this time luck was with us, and midday saw us at Peri-Bazar,
where there is no difficulty in procuring riding-horses to take one
into Resht. The country between the two places was formerly morass and
jungle, but on the occasion of the Shah's visit to Europe about twenty
years ago, a carriage-road was made--not a good one, for such a
thing does not exist in Persia--but a very fair riding-track (in dry
weather). We reached Resht wet to the skin, the snow having ceased and
given way to a steady downpour of rain.

Resht bears the unpleasant reputation of being the most unhealthy city
in Persia. Its very name, say the natives, is derived from the word
_rishta_, "death." "If you wish to die," says a proverb of Irak, "go
to Resht!" The city, which had, at the beginning of the century, a
population of over sixty thousand inhabitants, now has barely thirty
thousand. This certainly looks as if there were some truth in the
foregoing remarks; and there is no doubt that, on the visitation of
the plague about ten years ago, the mortality was something frightful.
A great percentage of deaths are ascribed to Resht fever--a terrible
disease, due to the water and the exhalations from the marshes
surrounding the city. It is certainly the dampest place in the world.
The sun is seldom seen, and one's clothes, even on a dry, rainless
day, become saturated with moisture.

The town is, nevertheless, prettily situated in a well-wooded country.
It would almost be imposing were it not for the heavy rains and dews,
which cause a rapid decay of the buildings. The latter are mostly of
red brick and glazed tiles.

Resht is the depot for goods to and from Persia--chiefly silks.
Tobacco is also grown in yearly increasing quantities. Several Russian
firms have opened here for the manufacture of cigarettes, which,
though they may find favour among the natives, are too hot and coarse
for European tastes. They are well made and cheap enough--sevenpence a

In addition to the native population, Resht contains about five
hundred Armenians, and a score or so of Europeans. Among the latter
are a Russian and a British vice-consul. To the residence of the
latter we repaired. Colonel Stewart's kindness and hospitality are a
byword in Persia, and the Sunday of our arrival at Resht was truly a
day of rest after the discomfort and privations we had undergone since
leaving Baku.

[Footnote A: _Isvostchik_, a cab-driver.]

[Footnote B: "Tchornigorod," or "Black Town," so called from the smoke
that hangs night and day over the oil-factories.]

[Footnote C: Russian cabbage-soup.]



Day broke gloomily enough the morning following the day of our arrival
at Resht. The snow, still falling fast, lay over two feet deep in
the garden beneath my window, while great white drifts barred the
entrance-gates of the Consulate. About eight o'clock our host made his
appearance, and, waking me from pleasant dreams of sunnier climes,
tried to dissuade me from making a start under such unfavourable
circumstances. An imperial courier had just arrived from Teheran, and
his report was anything but reassuring. The roads were in a terrible
state; the Kharzan, a long and difficult pass, was blocked with snow,
and the villages on either side of it crowded with weather-bound

The prospect, viewed from a warm and comfortable bed, was not
inviting. Anxiety, however, to reach Teheran and definitely map out
my route to India overcame everything, even the temptation to defer a
journey fraught with cold, hunger, and privation, and take it easy for
a few days, with plenty of food and drink, to say nothing of cigars,
books, and newspapers, in the snug cosy rooms of the Consulate. "You
will be sorry for it to-morrow," said the colonel, as he left the room
to give the necessary orders for our departure; adding with a smile,
"I suppose a wilful man must have his way."

There are two modes of travelling in Persia: marching with a caravan,
a slow and tedious process; and riding post, or "chapar." The latter,
being the quickest, is usually adopted by Europeans, but can only
be done on the Government post-roads, of which there are five: from
Teheran to Resht, Tabriz, Meshed, Kerman, and the Persian Gulf
port, Bushire. These so-called roads are, however, often mere
caravan-tracks, sometimes totally hidden by drifting sand or snow.
In the interior of the country the hard sun-baked soil is usually
trackless, so that the aid of a "Shagird Chapar," or post-boy, becomes

The distance between the "Chapar khanehs," as the tumble-down sheds
doing duty for post-houses are called, is generally five farsakhs, or
about twenty English miles; but the Persian farsakh is elastic, and
we often rode more, at other times less, than we paid for. Travel is
cheap: one keran per farsakh (2-1/2_d_. a mile) per horse, with a
_pour-boire_ of a couple of kerans to the "Shagird" at the end of the

Given a good horse and fine weather, Persian travel would be
delightful; but the former is, unfortunately, very rarely met with.
Most of the post-horses have been sold for some vice which nothing but
constant hard work will keep under. Kickers, rearers, jibbers, shyers,
and stumblers are but too common, and falls of almost daily occurrence
on a long journey. Goodness knows how many Gerome and I had between
Resht and the Persian Gulf.

Notwithstanding these drawbacks, the speed attained by the wretched
half-starved animals is little short of marvellous. Nothing seems
to tire them. We averaged fifty miles a day after leaving Teheran,
covering, on one occasion, over a hundred miles in a little over
eleven hours. This is good work, considering the ponies seldom exceed
fourteen hands two inches, and have to carry a couple of heavy
saddle-bags in addition to their rider. Gerome must have ridden quite
fourteen stone.

About ten o'clock the horses arrived, in charge of a miserable-looking
Shagird, in rags and a huge lamb's-wool cap, the only warm thing about
him. It was pitiful to see the poor wretch, with bare legs and feet,
shivering and shaking in the cutting wind and snow. The ponies, too,
looked tucked up and leg-weary, as if they had just come off a long
stage (which, indeed, they probably had) instead of going on one.

"Don't be alarmed; they are the proverbial rum 'uns to look at," said
our host, who would not hear of our setting out without saddle-bags
crammed with good things: cold meat, sardines, cigarettes, a couple of
bottles of brandy, and a flask of Russian vodka. But for these we must
literally have starved _en route_.

"Good-bye. Good luck to you!" from the colonel.

"En avant!" cries Gerome, with a deafening crack of his heavy chapar
whip. We are both provided with this instrument of torture--a thick
plaited thong about five feet long, attached to a short thick wooden
handle, and terminating in a flat leathern cracker of eight or ten
inches. A cut from this would make an English horse jump out of his
skin, but had little or no effect on the tough hides of our "chapar"
ponies. The snow is almost up to the knees of the latter as we labour
through the gateway and into the narrow street. Where will it be on
the Kharzan Pass?

Resht is picturesquely situated. It must be a lovely place in
summer-time, when fertile plains of maize, barley, and tobacco stretch
away on every side, bounded by belts of dark green forest and chains
of low well-wooded hills, while the post-road leads for miles through
groves of mulberry trees, apple orchards, and garden-girt villas, half
hidden by roses and jasmine. But this was hardly a day for admiring
the beauties of nature. Once out of the suburbs and in the open
country, nothing met the eye but a dreary wilderness of white earth
and sullen grey sky, that boded ill for the future. The cold was
intense. Although dressed in the thickest of tweeds and sheepskin
jacket, sable pelisse, enormous "bourka," and high felt boots, it was
all I could do to keep warm even when going at a hand gallop, varied
every hundred yards or so by a desperate "peck" on the part of my

The first stage, Koudoum, five farsakhs from Resht, was reached about
three o'clock in the afternoon. This was my first experience of a Chapar
khaneh. The Shagird informed us that it was considered a very good one,
and was much frequented by Europeans in summer-time--presumably,
judging from the holes in the roof, for the sake of coolness. Let me
here give the reader a brief description of the accommodation provided
for travellers by his Imperial Majesty the Shah. The Koudoum Chapar
khaneh is a very fair example of the average Persian post-house.

Imagine a small one-storied building, whitewashed, save where wind
and rain have disclosed the brown mud beneath. A wooden ladder (with
half the rungs missing) leads to the guest-chamber, a large bare
room, devoid of furniture of any kind, with smoke-blackened walls
and rotten, insecure flooring. A number of rats scamper away at our
approach. I wonder what on earth they can find to eat, until Gerome
points out a large hole in the centre of the apartment. This affords
an excellent view of the stables, ten or twelve feet below, admitting,
at the same time, a pungent and overpowering odour of manure and
ammonia. A smaller room, a kind of ante-chamber, leads out of this. As
it is partly roofless, I seek, but in vain, for a door to shut out the
icy cold blast. Further search in the guest-room reveals six large
windows, or rather holes, for there are no shutters, much less
window-panes. It is colder here, if anything, than outside, for the
draughts are always at once; but we must in Persia be thankful
for small mercies. There is a chimney, in which a good log fire,
kindled by Gerome, is soon blazing.

Lunch and a nip of the colonel's vodka work wonders, and we are
beginning to think, over a "papirosh," that Persia is not such a bad
place after all, when the Shagird's head appears at the window. There
are only two horses available for the next stage, but a third has been
sent for from a neighbouring village, and will shortly arrive. As
night is falling fast, I set out with the Shagird for the next
station, Rustemabad, leaving Gerome, who has already travelled the
road and knows it well, to follow alone.

It is still snowing fast, but my mount is a great improvement on that
of the morning, luckily, for the stage is a long one, and we have a
stiff mountain to climb before reaching our destination for the night.

We ride for three hours, slowly and silently, over a plain knee-deep
in snow. About half-way across a tinkle of bells is heard, clear and
musical, in the distance. Presently a large caravan looms out of the
dusk--fifty or sixty camels and half a dozen men. The latter exchange
a cheery "Good night" with my guide. Slowly the ungainly, heavily
laden beasts file past us, gaunt and spectral in the twilight, the
bells die away on the still wintry air, and we are again alone on the
desolate plain--not a sign of life, not a sound to be heard, but
the crunching of snow under our horses' feet, and the occasional
pistol-like crack of my guide's heavy whip.

It is almost dark when we commence the ascent of the mountain on the
far side of which lies Rustemabad. The path is rough and narrow, and
in places hewn out of the solid rock. Towards the summit, where a
slip or false step would be fatal, a dark shapeless mass appears,
completely barring the pathway, on the white snow. Closer inspection
reveals a dead camel, abandoned, doubtless, by the caravan we
have just passed, for the carcase is yet warm. With considerable
difficulty, but aided by the hard slippery ground, we drag it to the
brink of the precipice, and send it crashing down through bush and
briar, to fall with a loud splash into a foaming torrent far below.
During this performance one of the ponies gets loose, and half an hour
is lost in catching him again.

So the journey wore on. Half-way down on the other side of the
mountain, my pony stumbled and shot me head first into a pool of
liquid mud, from which I was, with some difficulty, extricated wet
through and chilled to the bone. The discomfort was bad enough, but,
worse still, my sable pelisse, the valuable gift of a Russian friend,
was, I feared, utterly ruined.

It was nearly nine o'clock when we reached Rustemabad, to find rather
worse quarters than we had left at Koudoum. To make matters worse,
I had no change of clothes, and the black, ill-smelling mud had
penetrated to the innermost recesses of my saddle-bags, which did
not tend to improve the flavour of the biscuits and chocolate that
constituted my evening meal. No food of any kind was procurable at
the post-house, and all our own provisions were behind with Gerome.
Luckily, I had stuck to the flask of vodka!

With the help of the postmaster, a decrepit, half-witted old man, and
the sole inmate of the place, I managed to kindle a good fire, and set
to work to dry my clothes, a somewhat uncomfortable process, as it
entailed my remaining three-parts naked for half the night in an
atmosphere very little above zero. The sables were in a terrible
state. It was midnight before the mud on them was sufficiently dry to
brush off, as I fondly hoped, in the morning.

Gerome did not turn up till one o'clock a.m., his horse not having
arrived at Koudoum till past seven. He had lost his way twice, and had
almost given up all hopes of reaching Rustemabad till daylight, when
my fire, the only light in the place, shone out of the darkness. The
poor fellow was so stiff and numbed with fatigue and cold that I had
to lift him off his horse and carry him into the post-house. He was
a sorry object, but I could not refrain from smiling. My companion's
usually comical, ruddy face wore a woebegone look, while long
icicles hung from his hair, eyebrows, and moustaches, giving him the
appearance of a very melancholy old Father Christmas.

Morning brought a cloudless blue sky and brilliant sunshine. My first
thought on awaking was for the pelisse. Summoning the old postmaster,
I confided the precious garment to him, with strict injunctions to
take it outside, beat it well with a stick, and bring it back to me to
brush. In the mean time, we busied ourselves with breakfast and a
cup of steaming cocoa, for a long ride was before us. It was still
bitterly cold, with a strong north-easter blowing. The thermometer
marked (in the sun) only one degree above zero.

Rustemabad, a collection of straggling, tumble-down hovels, contains
about four or five hundred inhabitants. The post-house, perched on
the summit of a steep hill, is situated some little distance from
the village, which stands in the centre of a plateau, bounded on the
south-west by a chain of precipitous mountains. The country around is
fertile and productive, being well watered by the Sefid Roud (White
River). Rice is largely grown, but to-day not a trace of vegetation is
visible; nothing but the vast white plain, smooth and unbroken, save
where, here and there, a brown village blurrs its smooth surface, an
oasis of mud huts in this desert of dazzling snow.

An exclamation from Gerome suddenly drew my attention to the
postmaster, who stood at the open doorway, my pelisse in hand. I was
then unused to the ways and customs of the Persian peasantry, or
should have known that it was but labour lost to make one spring at
the old idiot, and, twining my fingers in his throat, shake him till
he yelled for mercy. Nothing but a thick stick has the slightest
effect upon the Shah's subjects; and I was, for a moment, sorely
tempted to use mine. The reader must own that I should have been
justified. It was surely enough to try the patience of a saint, for
the old imbecile had deliberately walked down to the river, made
a hole in the ice, and soaked the garment in water to the waist,
reducing it to its former condition of liquid slime. This was _his_
method of getting the mud off. I may add that this intelligent
official had _assisted me in the drying process up till midnight_.

There was no help for it; nothing to be done but cut off the damaged
portion from the waist to the heels--no easy matter, for it was frozen
as stiff as a board. "It will make a better riding-jacket now," said
Gerome, consolingly; "but this son of a pig shall not gain by it," he
added, stamping the ruined remains into the now expiring fire.

The village of Patchinar, at the foot of the dreaded Kharzan Pass, was
to be our halting-place for the night. The post-road, after leaving
Rustemabad, leads through the valley of the Sefid Roud river, in
which, by the way, there is excellent salmon-fishing. About six miles
from Rustemabad is a spot called by the natives the "Castle of the
Winds," on account of the high winds that, even in the calmest
weather, prevail there. Although, out on the plain, there was a
scarcely perceptible breeze, we had to literally fight our way against
the terrific gusts that swept through this narrow gorge. Fortunately,
it was a fine day, but the fine powdery snow whirled up and cut into
our eyes and faces, and made travelling very unpleasant.

These violent wind-storms have never been satisfactorily accounted
for. They continue for a certain number of hours every day, summer
and winter, increasing in force till sunset, when they abate, to rise
again the following dawn. On some occasions horses, and even camels,
have been blown over, and caravans are sometimes compelled to halt
until the fury of the storm has diminished.

Crossing a ridge of low hills, we descended into the valley of
Roudbar, a quiet and peaceful contrast to the one we had just left.
The wind now ceased as if by magic. Much of the snow had here
disappeared under the warm sunshine, while before us, nestling in
a grove of olive trees, lay the pretty village, with its white
picturesque houses and narrow streets shaded by gaily striped awnings.
It was like a transformation-scene, this sudden change from winter,
with its grey sky and cold icy blast, to the sunny stillness and
repose of an English summer's day. We rode through the bazaar, a busy
and crowded one for so small a place. A large trade is done here in
olives. Most of it is in the hands of two enterprising Frenchmen, who
started business some years ago, and are doing well.

We managed to get a mouthful of food at Menjil while the horses were
being changed.

Colonel S---- had especially warned us against sleeping here, the
Chapar khaneh being infested with the Meana bug, a species of camel
tick, which inflicts a poisonous and sometimes dangerous wound. It is
only found in certain districts, and rarely met with south of Teheran.
The virus has been known, in some cases, to bring on typhoid fever,
and one European is said to have died from its effects. For the truth
of this I cannot vouch; but there is no doubt that the bite is always
followed by three or four days' more or less serious indisposition.



Our troubles commenced in real earnest at Patchinar, a
desolate-looking place and filthy post-house, which was reached at
sunset. The post from Teheran had just arrived, in charge of a
tall strapping fellow armed to the teeth, in dark blue uniform and
astrachan cap, bearing the Imperial badge, the lion and sun, in brass.
The mail was ten days late, and had met with terrible weather on the
Kharzan. They had passed, only that morning, two men lying by the
roadway, frozen to death. The poor fellows were on their way to
Teheran from Menjil, and had lain where they fell for two or three
days. "You had far better have remained at Resht," added our
informant, unpleasantly recalling to my mind the colonel's prophecy,
"You will be sorry for this to-morrow!"

Notwithstanding hunger and vermin, we managed to enjoy a tolerable
night's rest. The post-house was warm at any rate, being windowless.
Patchinar was evidently a favourite halting-place, for the dingy walls
of the guest-room were covered with writing and pencil sketches, the
work of travellers trying to kill time, from the Frenchman who
warned one (in rhyme) to beware of the thieving propensities of the
postmaster, to the more practical Englishman, who, in a bold hand,
had scrawled across the wall, "_Big bugs here!_" I may add that my
countryman was not exaggerating.

There was no difficulty in getting horses the next morning. The post,
which left for Resht before we were stirring, had left us seven
sorry-looking steeds, worn out with their previous day's journey
through the deep snow-drifts of the Kharzan. By nine o'clock we were
ready to start, notwithstanding the entreaties of the postmaster,
whose anxiety, however, was not on our account, but on that of the

"I don't believe I shall ever see them again!" he mumbled mournfully,
as we rode out of the yard. "And who is to repay me for their loss?
You will be dead, too, before sundown, if the snow catches you in the

But there seemed no probability of such a contingency. The sky was
blue and cloudless, the sun so bright that the glare off the snow soon
became unbearable without smoked goggles. The promise of an extra
keran or two if we reached the end of the stage by daylight had a
wonderful effect on the Shagird. Though it was terribly heavy going,
and the snow in places up to our girths, we covered the five miles
lying between Patchinar and the foot of the Kharzan in a little over
three hours--good going considering the state of the road. We were as
often off the former as on it, for there was nothing to guide one;
nothing but telegraph poles and wires were visible, and these are
occasionally laid straight across country away from the track.

Our destination for the night was the village of Kharzan, which is
situated near the summit of the mountain, about six thousand feet
high. The ascent is continuous and precipitous. An idea may be gained
of the steepness by the fact that we now left the valley of the Shah
Roud, barely one thousand feet above sea-level, to ascend, in a
distance of about twelve miles, over six thousand feet.

The Kharzan Pass is at all times dreaded by travellers, native and
European, even in summer, when there are no avalanches to fear,
snow-drifts to bar the way, or ice to render the narrow, tortuous
pathway even more insecure. A serious inconvenience, not to say
danger, is the meeting of two camel caravans travelling in opposite
directions on the narrow track, which, in many places, is barely ten
feet broad, and barely sufficient to allow two horses to pass each
other, to say nothing of heavily laden camels. But to-day we were safe
so far as this was concerned. Not a soul was to be seen in the clefts
and ravines around, or on the great white expanse stretched out
beneath our feet, as we crept cautiously up the side of the mountain,
our guide halting every ten or fifteen yards to probe the snow with a
long pole and make sure that we had not got off the path.

A stiff and tedious climb of nearly seven hours brought us to within a
mile of the summit. Halting for a short time, we refreshed ourselves
with a couple of biscuits and a nip of brandy, and proceeded on our
journey. We had now arrived at the most dangerous part of the pass.
The pathway, hewn out of the solid rock, and about ten feet wide, was
covered with a solid layer of ice eight or ten inches thick, over
which our horses skated about in a most uncomfortable manner. There
was no guard-rail or protection of any sort on the precipice side. All
went well for a time, and I was beginning to congratulate myself on
having reached the summit without-accident, when Gerdme's horse, just
in front of me, blundered and nearly lit on his head. "Ah, son of a
pig's mother!" yelled the little Russian in true Cossack vernacular,
as the poor old screw, thoroughly done up, made a desperate peck,
ending in a slither that brought him to within a foot of the brink.
"That was a close shave, monsieur!" he continued, as his pony
struggled back into safety, "I shall get off and walk. Wet feet are
better than a broken neck any day!"

The words were scarcely out of his mouth, when a loud cry from
the Shagird, and a snort and struggle from the pack-horse behind,
attracted my attention. This time the beast had slipped with a
vengeance, and was half-way over the edge, making, with his fore
feet, frantic efforts to regain _terra firma_ while his hind legs and
quarters dangled in mid-air. There was no time to dismount and render
assistance. The whole thing was over in less than ten seconds. The
Shagird might, indeed, have saved the fall had he kept his head
instead of losing it. All he could do was, with a loud voice and
outstretched arms, to invoke the assistance of "Allah!" We were not
long in suspense. Slowly, inch by inch, the poor brute lost his hold
of the slippery ground, and disappeared, with a shrill neigh of
terror, from sight. For two or three seconds we heard him striking
here and there against a jutting rock or shrub, till, with a final
thud, he landed on a small plateau of deep snow-drifts at least
three hundred feet below. Here he lay motionless and apparently
dead, while we could see through our glasses a thin stream of
crimson flow from under him, gradually staining the white snow


A cat is popularly supposed to have nine lives. After my experience
of the Persian post-horse, I shall never believe that that rough and
ill-shaped but useful animal has less than a dozen. The fall I
have described would assuredly have killed a horse of any other
nationality, if I may use the word. It seemed, on the contrary, to
have a tonic and exhilarating effect on this Patchinar pony. Before we
could reach him (a work of considerable difficulty and some risk) he
had risen to his feet, given himself a good shake, and was nibbling
away at a bit of gorse that peeped through the snow on which he had
fallen. A deep cut on the shoulder was his only injury, and, curiously
enough, our portmanteaus, with the exception of a broken strap, were
unharmed. There was, luckily, nothing breakable in either.

Kharzan, a miserable village under snow for six months of the year,
was reached without further mishap. There is no post-house, and the
caravanserai was crowded with caravans. Before sundown, however, we
were comfortably installed in the house of the head-man of the place,
who spread carpets of soft texture and quaint design in our honour,
regaled us with an excellent "pilaff," and produced a flask of Persian
wine. The latter would hardly have passed muster in Europe. The cork
consisted of a plug of cotton-wool plastered with clay; the contents
were of a muddy-brown colour. "It is pure Hamadan," said our host with
pride, as he placed the bottle before us. "Perhaps the sahib did not
know that our country is famous for its wines." It was not altogether
unpalatable, something like light but rather sweet hock; very
different, however, in its effects to that innocent beverage, and one
could not drink much with impunity. Its cheapness surprised me:
one shilling a quart bottle. That, at least, is the price our host
charged--probably more than half again its real value.

The winegrowers of Hamadan have many difficulties to contend with;
among others, the severe cold. In winter the wine is kept in huge
jars, containing six or seven hundred bottles. These are buried in
the ground, their necks being surrounded by hot beds of fermenting
horse-dung, to keep the wine from freezing. But even this plan
sometimes fails, and it has to be chopped out in solid blocks and
melted for drinking.

Kharzan has a population of about a thousand inhabitants. It was here
that Baker Pasha was brought some years ago in a dying condition,
after being caught in a wind-storm on the Kharzan Pass, and lay for
three days in the house we were lodging at. Our old friend showed us a
clasp-knife presented him by the colonel, who on that occasion nearly
lost both his feet from frost-bite. Captains Gill and Clayton, [A] of
the Royal Engineers and Ninth Lancers, were with him, but escaped

Stiff and worn out with the events of the day, we soon stretched
ourselves in front of the blazing fire in anticipation of a good
night's rest; but sleep was not for us. In the next room were a party
of Persian merchants from Astrakhan on their way to Bagdad _via_
Teheran, who had been prisoners here for five days, and were now
carousing on the strength of getting away on the morrow. A woman was
with them--a brazen-faced, shrill-voiced Armenian, who made more noise
than all the rest put together. Singing, dancing, quarrelling, and
drinking went on without intermission till long past midnight, our
neighbours raising such a din that the good people of Kharzan, a
quarter of a mile away, must have turned uneasily in their slumbers,
and wondered whether an army of fiends had not broken loose. Towards 1
a.m. the noise ceased, and we were just dropping to sleep, when, at
about half-past two in the morning, our drunken friends, headed by the
lady, burst into our apartment, with the information, in bad Russian,
that a gang of fifty men sent that morning to clear a path through
the deep snow had just returned, and the road to Mazreh was now
practicable. The caravans would be starting in an hour, they
added. "And you'd better travel with them," joined in the lady,
contemptuously, "or you will be sure to get into trouble by
yourselves." A reply more forcible than polite from Gerome then
cleared the apartment; and, rekindling the now expiring embers, we
prepared for the road.

We set out at dawn for the gate of the village, where the caravans
were to assemble. It was still freezing hard, and the narrow streets
like sheets of solid ice, so that our horses kept their legs with
difficulty. We must have numbered fifty or sixty camels, and as many
mules and horses, all heavily laden.

Daybreak disclosed a weird, beautiful scene: a sea of snow, over which
the rising sun threw countless effects of light and colour, from the
cold slate grey immediately around us, gradually lightening to the
faintest tints of rose and gold on the eastern horizon, where stars
were paling in a cloudless sky. Portrayed on canvas, the picture would
have looked unnatural, so brilliant were the hues thrown by the rising
sun over the land-, or rather snow-scape. The cold, though intense,
was not unbearable, for there was fortunately no wind, and the spirits
rose with the crisp, bracing air, brilliant sunshine, and jangle of
caravan bells, as one realized that Teheran was now well within reach,
and the dreaded Kharzan a thing of the past. Gerome gave vent to his
feelings with a succession of roulades and operatic airs; for my
little friend had a very good opinion of his vocal powers, which I,
unfortunately, did not share. But he was a cheery, indefatigable
creature, and of indomitable pluck, and one gladly forgave him this,
his only failing.

It was terribly hard work all that morning, and Gerome had four, I
three, falls, on one occasion wrenching my right ankle badly. Some
of the drifts through which we rode must have been at least ten or
fifteen feet deep. Some tough faggots thrown over these afforded a
footing, or we should never have got over. Towards midday Mazreh
was sighted; and we pushed on ahead, leaving the caravan to its own
devices. The going was now better, and it was soon far behind us, the
only object visible from the low hills which we now ascended, the
camels and mules looking, from this distance, like flies crawling over
a huge white sheet.

Lunch at Mazreh consisted of damp, mouldy bread, and some sweet,
sickly liquid the postmaster called tea. Procuring fresh horses
without difficulty, we set out about 3 p.m. for Kazvin. It was not
till 10 p.m. that we were riding through the great gate of that city,
which the soldier on guard consented, with some demur, to open.

Kazvin boasts a hotel and a boulevard! The latter is lit by a dozen
oil-lamps; the former, though a palatial building of brick, with
verandahs and good rooms, is left to darkness and the rats in the
absence of travellers. Having groped our way for half an hour or so
about a labyrinth of dark, narrow streets, we presently emerged on the
dimly lit boulevard (three of the oil-lamps had gone out), and rode
up to the melancholy looking hostelry at the end. Failing to obtain
admission, we burst open the door, and made ourselves as comfortable
as circumstances would allow. Food was out of the question; drink,
saving some villainous raki of Gerome's, also; but there was plenty
of firewood, and we soon had a good fire in the grate. This hotel
was originally built by the Shah for the convenience of himself
and ministers when on his way to Europe. It is only on these rare
occasions that the barn-like building is put in order. Visions of
former luxury were still visible in our bedroom in the shape of a
bedstead, toilet-table, and looking-glass. "But we can't eat _them_!"
said Gerome, mournfully.

Kazvin, which now has a population of 30,000, has seen better days. It
was once capital of Persia, with 120,000 inhabitants. Strolling out in
the morning before breakfast, I found it well and regularly built, and
surrounded by a mud wall, with several gates of beautiful mosaic, now
much chipped and defaced.

Being the junction of the roads from Tabriz on the west, and Resht on
the north to the capital, is now Kazvin's sole importance. The road to
Teheran was made some years ago at enormous expense by the Shah; but
it has now, in true Persian style, been left to fall into decay. It is
only in the finest and driest weather that the journey can be made on
wheels, and this was naturally out of the question for us. A
railway was mooted some time since along this, the only respectable
carriage-road in Persia--but the project was soon abandoned.

The post-houses, however, are a great improvement on any in other
parts of the country. At Kishlak, for instance, we found a substantial
brick building with a large guest-room, down the centre of which ran
a long table with spotless table-cloth, spread out with plates
of biscuits, apples, nuts, pears, dried fruits, and sweetmeats,
beautifully decorated with gold and silver paper, and at intervals
decanters of water--rather cold fare with the thermometer at a few
degrees above zero. The fruits and biscuits were shrivelled and
tasteless, having evidently been there some months. It reminded me of
a children's doll dinner-party. With the exception of these Barmecide
feasts and some straw-flavoured eggs, there was nothing substantial to
be got in any of the post-houses till we reached our destination.

About four o'clock on the 27th we first sighted the white peak of
Mount Demavend, and by three o'clock next day were within sight of the
dingy brown walls, mud houses, and white minarets of the city of the

[Footnote A: Both have since met violent deaths. Captain Gill was
murdered by natives with Professor Palmer near Suez, and Captain
Clayton killed while playing polo in India.]



A brilliant ball-room, pretty faces, smart gowns, good music, and
an excellent supper;--thus surrounded, I pass my first evening in
Teheran, a pleasant contrast indeed to the preceding night of dirt,
cold, and hunger.

But it was not without serious misgivings that I accepted the
courteous invitation of the German Embassy. The crossing of the
Kharzan had not improved the appearance of dress-clothes and shirts,
to say nothing of my eyes being in the condition described by
pugilists as "bunged up," my face of the hue of a boiled lobster, the
effects of sun and snow.

One is struck, on entering Teheran, with the apparent cleanliness of
the place as compared with other Oriental towns. The absence of heaps
of refuse, cess-pools, open drains, and bad smells is remarkable to
one accustomed to Eastern cities; but this was perhaps, at the time of
my visit, due to the pure rarified atmosphere, the keen frosty air, of
winter. Teheran in January, with its cold bracing climate, and Teheran
in June, with the thermometer above ninety in the shade, are two very
different things; and the town is so unhealthy in summer, that all
Europeans who can afford to do so live on the hills around the

The environs are not picturesque. They have been likened to those of
Madrid, having the same brown calcined soil, the same absence of trees
and vegetation. The city, viewed from outside the walls, is ugly and
insignificant, and, on a dull day, indistinguishable at no great
distance. In clear weather, however, the beehive-like dwellings and
rumbling ramparts stand out in bold relief against a background of
blue sky and dazzling snow-mountains, over which towers, in solitary
grandeur, the peak of Mount Demavend, [A] an extinct volcano, over
20,000 feet high, the summit of which is reported by natives to be
haunted. The ascent is gradual and easy, and has frequently been made
by Europeans.

Teheran is divided into two parts--the old city and the new. In the
former, inhabited only by natives, the streets are narrow, dark, and
tortuous, leading at intervals into large squares with deep tanks of
running water in the centre. The latter are characteristic of Persia,
and have in summer a deliciously cool appearance, the coping of the
fountain being only an inch or so in height, and the water almost
flush with the ground. The new, or European quarter, is bisected by
a broad tree-lined thoroughfare, aptly named the "Boulevard des
Ambassadeurs," for here are the legations of England, France, and
Germany. The Russian Embassy, a poor building in comparison with
the others, stands in another part of the town. Hard by the English
Embassy is the Hotel Prevot, kept by a Frenchman of that name, once
confectioner-in-chief to his Majesty the Shah. Here we took up our
quarters during our stay in the capital.

At the extremity of the Boulevard des Ambassadeurs is the "Place des
Canons," so called from the old and useless cannon of various ages
that surround it. The square is formed by low barn-like barracks,
their whitewashed walls decorated with gaudy and rudely drawn pictures
of Persian soldiers and horses. Beyond this again, and approached by
an avenue of poplar trees, lit by electric light, is the palace of the
Shah, with nothing to indicate the presence in town of the sovereign
but a guard of ragged-looking, unkempt Persians in Russian uniform
lounging about the principal gateway.

The Persian soldier is not a credit to his country. Although drilled
and commanded by European officers, he is a slouching, awkward fellow,
badly paid, ill fed, and not renowned for bravery. The ordinary
infantry uniform consists of a dark-blue tunic and trousers with red
facings, and a high astrachan busby with the brass badge of the lion
and sun. To a stranger, however, the varied and grotesque costumes
in which these clowns are put by their imperial master is somewhat
confusing. One may see, for instance, Russian cossacks, French
chasseurs, German uhlans, and Austrian cuirassiers incongruously mixed
up together in the ranks on parade. His army is the Shah's favourite
toy, and nothing affords the eccentric monarch so much amusement as
constant change of uniform. As the latter are manufactured in and sent
out from the countries they represent, the expense to the state is

The first Europeans to instruct this rabble were Frenchmen, but
England, Russia, Germany, and Austria have all supplied officers and
instructors within the past fifty years, without, however, any
good result. Although the arsenal at Teheran is full of the latest
improvements in guns and magazine rifles, these are kept locked up,
and only for show, the old Brown Bess alone being used. The Cossack
regiment always stationed at Teheran, ostensibly for the protection of
the Shah, and officered by Russians, is the only one with any attempt
at discipline or order, and is armed with the Berdan rifle.

The Teheran bazaar is, at first sight, commonplace and uninteresting.
Though of enormous extent (it contains in the daytime over thirty
thousand souls), it lacks the picturesque Oriental appearance of those
of Cairo or Constantinople, where costly and beautiful wares are set
out in tempting array before the eyes of the unwary stranger. Here
they are kept in the background, and a European must remain in
the place for a couple of months or so, and make friends with the
merchants, before he be even permitted to see them. The position is
reversed. At Stamboul the stranger is pestered and worried to buy;
at Teheran one must sometimes entreat before being allowed even to
inspect the contents of a silk or jewel stall. Even then, the owner
will probably remain supremely indifferent as to whether the "Farangi"
purchase or not. This fact is curious. It will probably disappear with
the advance of civilization and Mr. Cook.

[Illustration: TEHERAN]

Debouching from the principal streets or alleys of the bazaar, which
is of brick, are large covered caravanserais, or open spaces for the
storage of goods, where the wholesale merchants have their
warehouses. The architecture of some of these caravanserais is very
fine. The cool, quiet halls, their domed roofs, embellished with
delicate stone carving, and blue, white, and yellow tiles, dimly
reflected in the inevitable marble tank of clear water below, are
a pleasant retreat from the stifling alleys and sun-baked streets.
Talking of tanks, there seems to be no lack of water in Teheran. I was
surprised at this, for there are few countries so deficient in this
essential commodity as Persia. It is, I found, artificially supplied
by "connaughts," or subterranean aqueducts flowing from mountain
streams, which are practically inexhaustible. In order to keep a
straight line, shafts are dug every fifty yards or so, and the earth
thrown out of the shaft forms a mound, which is not removed. Thus
a Persian landscape, dotted with hundreds of these hillocks, often
resembles a field full of huge ant-hills. The mouths of these shafts,
left open and unprotected, are a source of great danger to travellers
by night. Teheran is provided with thirty or forty of these aqueducts,
which were constructed by the Government some years ago at enormous
expense and labour.

As in most Eastern cities, each trade has its separate alley or
thoroughfare in the Teheran bazaar. Thus of jewellers, silk mercers,
tailors, gunsmiths, saddlers, coppersmiths, and the rest, each
have their separate arcade. The shops or stalls are much alike in
appearance, though they vary considerably in size. Behind a brick
platform, about three feet wide and two feet in height, is the shop,
a vaulted archway, in the middle of which, surrounded by his wares,
kalyan [B] or cigarette in mouth, squats the shopkeeper. There are no
windows. At night a few rough boards and a rough Russian padlock are
the sole protection, saving a smaller apartment at the back of each
stall, a kind of strong-room, guarded by massive iron-bound doors,
in which the most valuable goods are kept. There is no attempt at
decoration; a few only of the jewellers' shops are whitewashed inside,
the best being hung with the cheapest and gaudiest of French or German
coloured prints. The stalls are usually opened about 6.30 a.m., and
closed at sunset. An hour later the bazaar is untenanted, save for
the watchmen and pariah dogs. The latter are seen throughout the day,
sleeping in holes and corners, many of them almost torn to pieces from
nightly encounters, and kicked about, even by children, with impunity.
It is only at night that the brutes become really dangerous, and when,
in packs of from twenty to thirty, they have been known to attack and
kill men. Occasionally the dogs of one quarter of the bazaar attack
those of another, and desperate fights ensue, the killed and wounded
being afterwards eaten by the victors. It is, therefore, unsafe to
venture out in the streets of Teheran after dark without a lantern and
good stout cudgel.

From 11 to 12 a.m. is perhaps the busiest part of the day in the
bazaar. Then is one most struck with the varied and picturesque types
of Oriental humanity, the continuously changing kaleidoscope of
native races from Archangel to the Persian Gulf, the Baltic Sea to

Nor are contrasts wanting. Here is Ivanoff from Odessa or Tiflis, in
the white peaked cap and high boots dear to every Russian, haggling
over the price of a carpet with Ali Mahomet of Bokhara; there
Chung-Yang, who has drifted here from Pekin through Siberia, with a
cargo of worthless tea, vainly endeavouring to palm it off on that
grave-looking Parsee, who, unfortunately for the Celestial, is not
quite such a fool as he looks. Such a hubbub never was heard.
Every one is talking or shouting at the top of their voices, women
screaming, beggars whining, fruit and water sellers jingling their
cymbals, while from the coppersmiths' quarter hard by comes a
deafening accompaniment in the shape of beaten metal. Occasionally a
caravan of laden camels stalk gravely through the alleys, scattering
the yelling crowd right and left, only to reassemble the moment it has
passed, like water in the wake of a ship. Again it separates, and a
sedan, preceded by a couple of gholams with long wands, is carried
by, and one gets a momentary glimpse of a pair of dark eyes and
henna-stained finger-tips, as a fair one from the "anderoon" [C]
of some great man is carried to her jeweller's or perfumer's. The
"yashmak" is getting very thin in these countries, and one can form a
very fair estimate of the lady's features (singularly plain ones) as
the sedan swings by. Towards midday business is suspended for a while,
and the alleys of the bazaar empty as if by magic. For nearly a whole
hour silence, unbroken save by the snarling of some pariah dog, the
hiss of the samovar, and gurgle of the kalyan, falls over the place,
till 2 p.m., when the noise recommences as suddenly as it ceased, and
continues unbroken till sunset.

On the whole, the bazaar is disappointing. The stalls for the sale of
Persian and Central Asian carpets, old brocades and tapestries, and
other wares dear to the lover of Eastern art, are in the minority,
and must be hunted out. Manchester goods, cheap calicoes and prints,
German cutlery, and Birmingham ware are found readily enough, and form
the stock of two-thirds of the shops in the carpet and silk-mercers'

It is by no means easy to find one's way about. No one understands
a word of English, French, or German, and had it not been for my
knowledge of Russian--which, by the way, is the one known European
language among the lower orders--I should more than once have been
hopelessly lost.

Europeans in Teheran lead a pleasant though somewhat monotonous life.
Summer is, as I have said, intolerable, and all who can seek refuge in
the hills, where there are two settlements, or villages, presented by
the Shah to England and Russia. Winter is undoubtedly the pleasantest
season. Scarcely an evening passes without a dance, private
theatricals, or other festivity given by one or other of the
Embassies, entertainments which his Imperial Majesty himself
frequently graces with his presence.

There is probably no living sovereign of whom so little is really
known in Europe as Nasr-oo-din, "Shah of Persia," "Asylum of the
Universe," and "King of Kings," to quote three of his more modest
titles. Although he has visited Europe twice, and been made much of in
our own country, most English people know absolutely nothing of the
Persian monarch's character or private life. That he ate _entrees_
with his fingers at Buckingham Palace, expressed a desire to have the
Lord Chamberlain bowstrung, and conceived a violent and unholy passion
for an amiable society lady somewhat inclined to _embonpoint_, we are
most of us aware; but beyond this, the Shah's _vie intime_ remains, to
the majority of us at least, a sealed book. This is perhaps a pity,
for, like many others, Nasr-oo-din is not so black as he is painted,
and, notwithstanding all reports to the contrary, is said, by those
who should know, to be one of the kindest-hearted creatures breathing.

The government of Persia is that of an absolute monarchy. The Shah
alone has power of life and death, and, even in the most remote
districts, the assent of the sovereign is necessary before an
execution can take place. The Shah appoints his own ministers.
These are the "Sadr-Azam," or Prime Minister; the "Sapar-Sala,"
Commander-in-chief; "Mustof-al-Mamalak," Secretary of State, and
Minister of Foreign Affairs. These are supposed to represent the Privy
Council, but they very seldom meet, the Shah preferring to manage
affairs independently. The total revenue of the latter has been
estimated at seven million pounds sterling.

Nasr-oo-din, who is now sixty-five years of age, ascended the throne
in 1848. His reign commenced inauspiciously with a determined attempt
to assassinate him, made by a gang of fanatics of the Babi sect. The
plot, though nearly successful, was frustrated, and the conspirators
executed; but it is said that the Shah has lived in constant dread of
assassination ever since. He is hypochondriacal, and, though in very
fair health, is constantly on the _qui vive_ for some imaginary
ailment. The post of Court physician, filled for many years past by
Dr. Tholozan, a Frenchman, is no sinecure.

The habits of the Shah are simple. He is, unlike most Persians of high
class, abstemious as regards both food and drink. Two meals a day,
served at midday and 9 p.m., and those of the plainest diet, washed
down by a glass or two of claret or other light wine, are all he
allows himself. When on a hunting-excursion, his favourite occupation,
the Shah is even more abstemious, going sometimes a whole day without
food of any kind. He is a crack shot, and is out nearly daily, when
the weather permits, shooting over his splendid preserves around
Teheran. There is no lack of sport. Tiger and bear abound; also
partridge, woodcock, snipe, and many kinds of water-fowl; but the
Shah is better with the rifle than the fowling-piece. The Shah is
passionately fond of music, and has two or three string and brass
bands trained and conducted by a Frenchman. When away on a long
sporting-excursion, he is invariably accompanied by one of these

Were it not for the running attendants in scarlet and gold, and the
crimson-dyed [D] tail of his horse, no one would take the slim, swarthy
old gentleman in black frock-coat, riding slowly through the streets,
and beaming benignly through a huge pair of spectacles, for the
great Shah-in-Shah himself. Yet he is stern and pitiless enough when
necessary, as many of the Court officials can vouch for. But few have
escaped the bastinado at one time or another; but in Persia this is
not considered an indignity, even by the highest in the land. The
stick is painful, certainly, but not a disgrace in this strange

Nasr-oo-din has three legal wives, and an unlimited number of
concubines. Of the former, the head wife, Shuku-Es-Sultana, is his own
cousin and the great-granddaughter of the celebrated Fatti-Ali-Shah,
whose family was so large that, at the time of his death, one hundred
and twenty of his descendants were still living. Shuku-Es-Sultana is
the mother of the "Valliad," or Crown Prince, now Governor of Tabriz.
The second wife is a granddaughter of Fatti-Ali-Shah; and the third
(the Shah's favourite) is one Anys-u-Dowlet. The latter is the best
looking of the three, and certainly possesses the greatest influence
in state affairs. Of the concubines, the mother of the "Zil-i-Sultan"
("Shadow of the King") ranks the first in seniority. The Zil-i-Sultan
is, though illegitimate, the Shah's eldest son, and is, with the
exception of his father, the most influential man in Persia, the
heir-apparent (Valliad) being a weak, foolish individual, easily led,
and addicted to drink and the lowest forms of sensuality.

With the exception of eunuchs, no male person over the age of ten is
permitted in the seraglio, or anderoon, which is constantly receiving
fresh importations from the provinces. Persians deny that there are
any European women, but this is doubtful. The harems of Constantinople
and Cairo are recruited from Paris and Vienna; why not those of
Teheran? The indoor costume of the Persian lady must be somewhat
trying at first to those accustomed to European toilettes. The
skirt, reaching only to the knee, is full and _bouffe_, like an
opera-dancer's, the feet and legs generally bare. The only becoming
part of the whole costume is the tightly fitting zouave jacket of
light blue or scarlet satin, thickly braided with gold, and the gauze
head-dress embroidered with the same material, and fastened under the
chin with a large turquoise, ruby, or other precious stone.

Some of the women (even among the concubines) are highly educated; can
play on the "tar", [E] or harmonica, sing, and read and write poetry;
but their recreations are necessarily somewhat limited. Picnics,
music, story-telling, kalyan and cigarette smoking, sweetmeat-making,
and the bath, together with somewhat less innocent pastimes, form the
sum total of a Persian concubine's amusements. Outside the walls of
the anderoon they are closely watched and guarded, for Persians
are jealous of their women, and, even in the most formal social
gatherings, there is a strict separation of the sexes. Its imperial
master occasionally joins in the outdoor amusements of his harem;
indeed, he himself invented a game a few years since, which sounds
more original than amusing. A slide of smooth alabaster about twenty
feet long, on an inclined plane, was constructed in one of his
bath-houses. Down this the Shah would gravely slide into the water,
followed by his seraglio. The sight must have been a strange one,
the costumes on these occasions being, to say the least of it, scanty!


The Shah's greatest failing is, perhaps, vacillation. He is constantly
changing his mind, on trifling matters chiefly, for his northern
neighbours take care that he is more consistent in affairs of state.
Two or three times, between his visits to Europe in 1871 and 1889, he
has started with great pomp and a large retinue for the land of the
"Farangi," but, on arrival at Resht, has returned to Teheran, without
a word of warning to his ministers, or apparent reason for his sudden
change of plans. These "false starts" became a recognized thing after
a time, and when, in 1888, his Majesty embarked on his yacht and set
sail for Baku, it came as a surprise, pleasant or otherwise, to his
subjects at Teheran. The final undertaking of the journey may
have been advised by his astrologers, for the Shah is intensely
superstitious, and never travels without them. Nor will he, on any
account, start on a journey on a Friday, or the thirteenth day of the

The palace of Teheran is, seen from the outside, a shapeless,
ramshackle structure. The outside walls are whitewashed, and covered
with gaudy red and blue pictures of men and horses, the former in
modern military tunics and shakos, the latter painted a bright red.
The figures, rudely drawn, remind one of a charity schoolboy's
artistic efforts on a slate, but are somewhat out of place on the
walls of a royal residence. The interior of the "Ark," as it is
called, is a pleasant contrast to the outside, although even here, in
the museum, which contains some of the finest gems and _objets d'art_
in the world, the various objects are placed with singular disregard
of order, not to say good taste. One sees, for instance, a tawdrily
dressed mechanical doll from Paris standing next to a case containing
the "Darai Nor," or "Sea of Light," a magnificent diamond obtained
in India, and said to be the largest yet discovered, though somewhat
inferior in quality to the "Koh-i-noor." A cheap and somewhat
dilapidated cuckoo-clock and toy velocipede flank the famous globe of
the world in diamonds and precious stones. This, the most costly and
beautiful piece of workmanship in the place, is about eighteen inches
in diameter, and is said to have cost eight millions of francs. The
different countries are marked out with surprising accuracy and
detail,--Persia being represented by turquoises, England by diamonds,
Africa by rubies, and so on, the sea being of emeralds.

The museum itself is about sixty feet in length by twenty-five feet
broad, its ceiling composed entirely of looking-glasses, its parquet
flooring strewn with priceless Persian rugs and carpets. Large
oil-paintings of Queen Victoria, the Czar of Russia, and other
sovereigns, surround the walls, including two portraits of her Majesty
the Ex-Empress Eugenie. It would weary the reader to wade through a
description of the Jade work and _cloisonne_, the porcelain of all
countries, the Japanese works of art in bronze and gold, and last, but
not least, the cut and uncut diamonds and precious stones, temptingly
laid out in open saucers, like _bonbons_ in a confectioner's shop. The
diamonds are perhaps the finest as regards quality, but there is
a roughly cut ruby surmounting the imperial crown, said to be the
largest in the world.

Though it was very cold, and the snow lay deep upon the ground, my
stay at Teheran was not unpleasant. The keen bracing air, brilliant
sunshine, and cloudless blue sky somewhat made amends for the sorry
lodging and execrable fare provided by mine host at the Hotel Prevot.
I have seldom, in my travels, come across a French inn where, be the
materials ever so poor, the landlord is not able to turn out a decent
meal. I have fared well and sumptuously at New Caledonia, Saigon, and
even Pekin, under the auspices of a French innkeeper; but at Teheran
(nearest of any to civilized Europe) was compelled to swallow food
that would have disgraced a fifth-rate _gargotte_ in the slums of
Paris. Perhaps Monsieur Prevot had become "Persianized"; perhaps
the dulcet tones of Madame P., whose voice, incessantly rating her
servants, reminded one of unoiled machinery, and commenced at sunrise
only to be silenced (by exhaustion) at sunset, disturbed him at his
culinary labours. The fact remains that the _cuisine_ was, to any but
a starving man, uneatable, the bedroom which madame was kind enough to
assign to me, pitch dark and stuffy as a dog-kennel.

A long conference with General S--, an Austrian in the Persian
service, decided my future movements. The general, one of the highest
geographical authorities on Persia, strongly dissuaded my attempting
to reach India _via_ Meshed and Afghanistan. "You will only be stopped
and sent back," said he; "what is the use of losing time?" I resolved,
therefore, after mature deliberation, to proceed direct to Ispahan,
Shiraz, and Bushire, and from thence by steamer to Sonmiani, on the
coast of Baluchistan. From the latter port I was to strike due north
to Kelat and Quetta, and "that," added the general, "will bring you
across eighty or a hundred miles of totally unexplored country. You
will have had quite enough of it when you get to Kelat--if you ever
_do_ get there," he added encouragingly.

The route now finally decided upon, preparations were made for a start
as soon as possible. Portmanteaus were exchanged for a pair of light
leather saddle-bags, artistically embellished with squares of bright
Persian carpet let in at the side, and purchased in the bazaar for
twenty-two kerans, or about seventeen shillings English money. In
these I was able to carry, with ease, a couple of tweed suits, half a
dozen flannel shirts, three pairs of boots, and toilet necessaries, to
say nothing of a box of cigars and a small medicine-chest. Gerome
also carried a pair of bags, containing, in addition to his modest
wardrobe, our stores for the voyage--biscuits, Valentine's meat juice,
sardines, tea, and a bottle of brandy; for, with the exception of eggs
and Persian bread, one can reckon upon nothing eatable at the Chapar
khanehs. There is an excellent European store shop at Teheran, and had
it not been for limited space, we might have regaled on turtle soup,
aspic jellies, quails, and _pate de foie gras_ galore throughout
Persia. Mr. R. N----, an _attache_ to the British Legation at Teheran,
is justly celebrated for his repasts _en voyage_, and assured me that
he invariably sat down to a _recherche_ dinner of soup, three courses,
and iced champagne, even when journeying to such remote cities as
Hamadan or Meshed, thereby proving that, if you only take your time
about it, you may travel comfortably almost anywhere--even in Persia.

[Footnote A: The word _Demavend_ signifies literally "abundance of
mist," so called from the summit of this mountain being continually
wreathed in clouds.]

[Footnote B: A pipe similar to the Turkish "hubble-bubble," wherein
the tobacco is inhaled through plain or rose water.]

[Footnote C: Harem.]

[Footnote D: A badge of royalty in Persia.]

[Footnote E: A stringed instrument played in the same way as the
European guitar.]



We are already some farsakhs [A] from Teheran when day breaks on the
4th of February, 1889. The start is not a propitious one. Hardly have
we cleared the Ispahan gate than down comes the Shagird's horse as
if he were shot, breaking his girths and rider's thumb at the same
moment. Luckily, we are provided with rope, and Persian saddles are
not complicated. In ten minutes we are off again; but it is terribly
hard going, and all one can do to keep the horses on their legs.
Towards midday the sun slightly thaws the surface of the frozen snow,
and makes matters still worse. Up till now the pace has not been
exhilarating. Two or three miles an hour at most. It will take some
time to reach India at this rate!

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