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Chapter 25

Kashan--Silk manufactories--Indo-European Telegraph--The
Zein-ed-din tower--The Meh-rab shrine--The Madrassah Shah--The
Panja Shah--The hand of Nazareth Abbas--The Fin Palace--Hot
springs--The tragic end of an honest Prime Minister--Ice
store-houses--Cultivation--In the bazaar--Brass work--Silk--The
Mullahs and places of worship--Wretched post-horses--The
Gyabrabad caravanserai--An imposing dam--Fruit-tree
groves--Picturesque Kohrut village.

Kashan, 3,260 feet above sea level, is famous for its gigantic and poisonous scorpions, for its unbearable heat, its capital silk works, and its copper utensils, which, if not always ornamental, are proclaimed everlasting. The silk manufactories are said to number over three hundred, including some that make silk carpets, of world-wide renown. The population is 75,000 souls or thereabouts. Nothing is ever certain in Persia. There are no hotels in the city, and it is considered undignified for Europeans to go to a caravanserai--of which there are some three dozen in Kashan--or to the Chappar Khana.

The Indo-European Telegraphs have a large two-storied building outside the north gate of the city, in charge of an Armenian clerk, where, through the courtesy of the Director of Telegraphs, travellers are allowed to put up, and where the guests' room is nice and clean, with a useful bedstead, washstand, and a chair or two.

A capital view of Kashan is obtained from the roof of the Telegraph building. A wide road, the one by which I had arrived, continues to the north-east entrance of the bazaar. The town itself is divided into two sections--the city proper, surrounded by a high wall, and the suburbs outside. To the south-west, in the town proper, rises the slender tower of Zein-ed-din, slightly over 100 feet high, and not unlike a factory chimney. Further away in the distance--outside the city--the mosque of Taj-ed-din with its blue pointed roof, adjoins the famous Meh-rab shrine, from which all the most ancient and beautiful tiles have been stolen or sold by avid Mullahs for export to Europe.

Then we see the two domes of the mosque and theological college, the Madrassah Shah, where young future Mullahs are educated. To the west of the observer from our high point of vantage, and north-west of the town, lies another mosque, the Panja Shah, in which the hand of one of the prophets, Nazareth Abbas, is buried. A life-size hand and portion of the forearm, most beautifully carved in marble, is shown to devotees in a receptacle in the east wall of the mosque. The actual grave in which the real hand lies is covered with magnificent ancient tiles.

It is with a certain amount of sadness that one gazes on the old Fin Palace, up on the hills some six miles to the west, and listens to the pathetic and repellent tragedy which took place within its garden walls.

The square garden is surrounded by a high wall, and has buildings on three sides. Marble canals, fed by large marble tanks, in which run streams of limpid water, intersect the garden in the middle of a wide avenue of dark cypresses. The garden was commenced by Shah Abbas. The Palace, however, was built by Fath-Ali-Shah, who also much improved the gardens and made this a favourite residence during the hot summer months.

There is here a very hot natural spring of sulphur water, and copper, which is said to possess remarkable curative qualities, especially for rheumatism and diseases of the blood. One bath is provided for men and another for women.

The Palace, with its quaint pictures and decorations is now in a state of abandonment and semi-collapse. The tragic end (in 1863 or 1864, I could not clearly ascertain which) at this place of Mirza-Taki Khan, then Prime Minister of Persia--as honest and straightforward a politician as Persia has ever possessed--adds a peculiar gloom to the place.

A man of humble birth, but of great genius, Mirza-Taki Khan, rose to occupy, next to the Shah, the highest political position in his country, and attempted to place the Government of Persia on a firm basis, and to eradicate intrigue and corruption. To this day his popularity is proverbial among the lower classes, by whom he is still revered and respected for his uprightness. The Shah gave him his only sister in marriage, but unhappily one fine day his enemies gained the upper hand at Court. He fell into disgrace, and was banished to Kashan to the Fin Palace. Executioners were immediately sent to murder him by order of the Shah. Mirza-Taki Khan, when their arrival was announced, understood that his end had come. He asked leave to commit suicide instead, which he did by having the arteries of his arms cut open. He bled to death while in his bath.

Royal regret at the irreparable loss was expressed, but it was too late. The body of the cleverest statesman Persia had produced was conveyed for burial to the Sanctuary of Karbala.

One cannot help being struck, in a stifling hot place like Kashan, to find large ice store-houses. Yet plenty of ice is to be got here during the winter, especially from the mountains close at hand. These ice-houses have a pit dug in the ground to a considerable depth, and are covered over with a high conical roof of mud. To the north-east, outside the city, in the suburbs a great many of these ice store-houses are to be seen, as well as a small, blue-tiled roof of a mosque, the pilgrimage of Habbib-Mussah.

There is some cultivation round about Kashan, principally of cotton, tobacco, melons and water-melons, which one sees in large patches wherever there is water obtainable.

Kashan is protected by mountains to the south and west, and by low hills to the north-west, but to the north and north-east the eye roams uninterrupted over an open, flat, dusty, dreary plain of a light brown colour until it meets the sky line on the horizon, softly dimmed by a thick veil of disturbed sand. Due east lie the Siah Kuh (mountains), then comes another gap in the horizon to the south-east.

In the dark and gloomy bazaar the din of hundreds of wooden hammers on as many pieces of copper being made into jugs, trays, pots or pans, is simply deafening, echoed as it is under the vaulted roofs, the sound waves clashing in such an unmusical and confused way as to be absolutely diabolical. A few of these copper vessels are gracefully ornamented and inlaid, but the majority are coarse in their manufacture. They are exported all over the country. The manufactured silk, the other important product of Kashan, finds its way principally to Russia.

The inhabitants are most industrious and, like all industrious people, are extremely docile, amenable to reason, and easy to manage. The Mullahs are said to have much power over the population, and, in fact, we find in Kashan no less than 18 mosques with five times that number of shrines, counting large and small.

I experienced some difficulty in obtaining relays of fresh post horses, the mail having been despatched both north and south the previous night, and therefore no horses were in the station. At seven in the evening I was informed that five horses had returned and were at my disposal. Twenty minutes later the loads were on their saddles, and I was on the road again.

After travelling under the pitch-dark vaulted bazaars (where, as it was impossible to see where one was going, the horses had to be led), and threading our way out of the suburbs, we travelled on the flat for some time before coming to the hilly portion of the road where it winds its way up at quite a perceptible gradient. We had no end of small accidents and trouble. The horses were half-dead with fatigue. They had gone 48 miles already with the post, and without rest or food had been sent on with me for 28 more miles! The poor wretches collapsed time after time on the road under their loads, although these were very light, and my servant and I and the chappar boy had to walk the whole way and drag the animals behind us, for they had not sufficient strength to carry us. Even then their knees gave way every now and then, and it was no easy job to get them to stand up again. One of them never did. He died, and, naturally, we had to abandon him.

It came on to blow very hard, and with the horses collapsing on all sides and the loads getting constantly undone owing to the repeated falls of the animals, we could not cover more than one mile, or two, an hour. Caravans generally take the road over these mountains during the day, so that now the road was quite deserted and we could get no assistance from any one. The loss of one horse increased our difficulty, as it involved putting more weight on the other horses.

At 3.30 a.m. we managed to reach the caravanserai in the mountains at Gyabrabat (Gabarabat), the sight of which was enough to settle all the horses. They one and all threw themselves down on reaching the door, and it was not possible to make them stand again. To continue the journey to Kohrut (Kohrud) through the night, as I had intended, was absolutely out of the question, so we roused the keeper of the hostelry and demanded admission.

The man was extremely uncivil, as he said he had some grievance against a previous English traveller, but on being assured that I would pay with my own hands for all I got and not through servants--a rule which I always follow, and which saves much unpleasantness and unfair criticism from the natives--he provided me with all I required. First of all I fed the horses. Then Sadek cooked me a capital supper. Then I gave the horses and myself some four hours rest--that refreshed us all very much.

The caravanserai was filthy. All the small rooms and alcoves were occupied, and I preferred to sleep out in the yard, sheltered from the wind behind the huge doorway. I had with me some boxes of my own invention and manufacture, which had accompanied me on several previous journeys, and which, besides a number of other purposes, can serve as a bedstead. They came in very usefully on that particular occasion.

From Gyabrabad to Kohrut the region is supposed to be a famous haunt of robbers. Undoubtedly the country lends itself to that kind of enterprise, being mountainous and much broken up, so that the occupation can be carried on with practical impunity. The road is among rocks and boulders. Although there are no very great elevations in the mountains on either side, the scenery is picturesque, with black-looking rocky slopes, at the bottom of which a tiny and beautifully limpid stream descends towards Kashan. The track is mostly along this stream.

After a steep, stony incline of some length, half-way between Gyabrabad and the Kohrut pass, one comes across a high and well-made dam, the work of a speculator. In winter and during the rains the water of the stream is shut up here into a large reservoir, a high wall being built across the two mountain slopes, and forming a large lake. The water is then sold to the city of Kashan. If in due course of time the purchase-money is not forthcoming, the supply is cut off altogether by blocking up the small aperture in the dam--which lets out the tiny stream the course of which we have been following upwards.

The Persian post-horse is a most wonderful animal. His endurance and powers of recovery are simply extraordinary. Having been properly fed, and enjoyed the few hours' rest, the animals, notwithstanding their wretched condition and the bad road, went fairly well.

On nearing Kohrut one is agreeably surprised to find among these barren mountains healthy patches of agriculture and beautiful groves of fruit-trees. The fruit is excellent here,--apples, plums, apricots, walnuts, and the Kohrut potatoes are said (by the people of Kohrut) to be the best in the world. The most remarkable thing about these patches of cultivation is that the soil in which they occur has been brought there--the mountain itself being rocky--and the imported earth is supported by means of strong stone walls forming long terraces. This speaks very highly for the industry of the natives, who are extremely hardworking. We go through these delightful groves for nearly one mile, when suddenly we find ourselves in front of Kohrut village, most picturesquely perched on the steep slope of the mountain.

The houses are of an absolutely different type from the characteristically domed Persian hovels one has so far come across. They have several storeys, two or even three--an extremely rare occurrence in Persian habitations. The lower windows are very small, like slits in the wall, but the top windows are large and square, usually with some lattice woodwork in front of them. The domed roofs have been discarded, owing to the quantity of wood obtainable here, and the roofs are flat and thatched, supported on long projecting beams and rafters. Just before entering the village a great number of ancient graves can be seen dotted on the mountain-side, and along the road. The view of the place, with its beautiful background of weird mountains, and the positions of the houses, the door of one on the level with the roof of the underlying one, against the face of the rock, are most striking.

The inhabitants of this village are quite polite and friendly, and lack the usual aggressiveness so common at all the halting places in Persia.

Fresh horses were obtained at the Chappar Khana, and I proceeded on my journey at once. We still wound our way among mountains going higher and higher, until we got over the Kuh-i-buhlan (the pass). From the highest point a lovely view of the valley over which we had come from the north-west displayed itself in dark brown tints, and to the east we had a mass of barren mountains.