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Chapter 40

Badjirs--Below the sand level--Chappar service between Yezd and
Kerman--The elasticity of a farsakh--Sar-i-Yezd--An escort--Where
three provinces meet--Etiquette--Robbers' impunity--A capital
story--Zen-u-din--The Serde Kuh range--Desert--Sand
accumulations--Kermanshah--The Darestan and Godare Hashimshan
Mountains--Chappar Khana inscriptions and ornamentations by

The most characteristic objects in Yezd are the badjirs, a most ingenious device for catching the wind and conveying it down into the various rooms of dwelling. These badjirs are on the same principle as the ventilating cowls of ships. The ventilating shafts are usually very high and quadrangular, with two, three, or more openings on each side at the summit and corresponding channels to convey the wind down into the room below. The lower apertures of the channels are blocked except on the side where the wind happens to blow, and thus a draught is created from the top downwards, sweeping the whole room and rendering it quite cool and pleasant even in the hottest days of summer. The reason that one finds so many of these high badjirs in Yezd is probably that, owing to constant accumulations of sand, the whole city is now below the level of the surrounding desert, and some device had to be adopted to procure fresh air inside the houses and protect the inhabitants from the suffocating lack of ventilation during the stifling heat of the summer. The badjirs are certainly constructed in a most scientific or, rather, practical manner, and answer the purpose to perfection.

When we leave Yezd the city itself cannot be seen at all, but just above the sand of the desert rise hundreds of these quadrangular towers, some very large indeed, which give the place a quaint appearance.

From Yezd to Kerman there is again a service of post-horses, so I availed myself of it in order to save as much time as possible. The horses were not much used on this road so they were excellent.

I departed from Yezd on October 26th, and soon after leaving the city and riding through the usual plentiful but most unattractive ruins, we were travelling over very uninteresting country, practically a desert. We passed two villages--Najafabat and Rachmatabad--and then wound our way through avenues of dried-up mulberry trees at Mahommedabad or Namadawat, a village where silk-worms are reared in quantities, which accounts for the extensive mulberry plantations to provide food for them. The village is large and is three farsakhs from Yezd, or something like ten miles.

The "farsakh"--the most elastic measure ever invented--decreases here to just above three miles, whereas further north it averaged four miles.

In a strong wind we rode on, first on sand, then on gravelly soil, ever through dreary, desolate country. The villages, Taghiabad, Zehnawat, etc., get smaller and poorer and further apart, and some eight farsakhs from Yezd we eventually reach the small town of Sar-i-Yezd. From Namadawat the country was an absolutely flat gravel plain with no water.

At Sar-i-Yezd (altitude 4,980 feet) we were detained some time. The highest official in the place had received orders from the Governor of Yezd not to let me proceed without a strong guard to accompany me. This was rather a nuisance than otherwise, for, although the country between Sar-i-Yezd and Anar was reported infested by robbers, we really should have been able to hold our own against them even without the rabble that was sent to accompany us.

After a delay of some hours five soldiers--as picturesque as they would have been useless in case of danger--put in an appearance. They had old long muzzle loaders, which must have been more dangerous to the person firing them than to the ones fired at, and they wore elaborate leather belts with two ample pouches for lead bullets, two gunpowder flasks made of desiccated sheep testicles, a leather bag for small shot, and a large iron ring with small clips for caps. Horses could not be procured for these men, so they had to follow my baggage on foot, which caused a further delay.

We left shortly before sunset as I intended marching the whole night. There was a great discussion among these soldiers about crossing over into Kerman territory, four farsakhs beyond Sar-i-Yezd, and just at the point where the robbers are supposed to attack caravans the guard, whether through fear or otherwise, declined to come on. Sadek remonstrated most bitterly, but three of them left us, while two said they had been entrusted with orders to see me and my luggage safely to the place where another guard could be obtained and would continue. I tried to persuade them to go back too, but they would not.

It appears that between Sar-i-Yezd and Zen-u-din there is an expanse of waste land near the boundary of the Yezd, Kerman and Farsistan (Shiraz) provinces, the possession of which is declared by the Governors of all these provinces not to belong to them, the boundary having never been properly defined. So robbers can carry on their evil deeds with comparative immunity, as they do not come under the jurisdiction of any of the three Governors in question. Moreover, if chased by Yezd soldiers, they escape into Shiraz or Kerman territory, and if pursued by Kerman troops they escape into either of the neighbouring provinces, while the Governor of Shiraz, being the furthest and least interested in that distant corner of his province, really never knows and probably does not care to learn what takes place in so remote and barren a spot. In any case he will not be held responsible for anything happening there. It would certainly involve him in too great expense and difficulty to send soldiers to live so far into the desert, and unless in great force they could be of little assistance to caravans; so that, as things stand, robber bands have it all their own way.

Strict etiquette is observed between Governors of provinces and their subordinates, and an encroachment on one's neighbour's territory would be considered a most outrageous breach of good manners and respective rights.

Still travelling quite fast across sand, and with no brigands in sight, we went on, pleasantly entertained by the astounding yarns of the two remaining soldiers. We were told how, twenty years ago, a foreign doctor--nationality unknown--being attacked by a band of thirty robbers, produced a small bottle of foreign medicine--presumably a most highly concentrated essence of chloroform--from his waistcoat pocket and, having removed the cork, the thirty brigands immediately fell on all sides in a deep sleep. The doctor and his party then continued their journey quietly, and returned several days later with a number of soldiers, who had no trouble in despatching the robbers from a temporary into an eternal sleep, without their waking up at all!

On being asked how it was that the doctor himself remained awake when such a powerful narcotic was administered, the narrator did not lose his presence of mind nor his absence of conscience, and said the doctor had, during the operation, held his nose tight with his two fingers. The doctor had since been offered thousands of tomans for the precious bottle, but would not part with it.

The soldiers told us a great many more stories of this type, and they recounted them with such an aplomb and seriousness that they nearly made one fall off one's saddle with laughter. Every now and then they insisted on firing off their rifles, which I requested them to do some distance away from my horses. There were no mishaps.

At Sar-i-Yezd I had not been able to obtain fresh horses, so the Yezd horses had been taken on, with an additional donkey. They had gone splendidly, and we arrived at Zen-u-din shortly after ten o'clock at night.

Solitary, in the middle of the desert, and by the side of a salt water well, stands Zen-u-din (Alt. 5,170 feet). There is a chappar station, and a tumbling-down, circular caravanserai with massively built watch-towers. These appeared much battered as if from the result of repeated attacks.

We left our soldier protectors behind here, and two more military persons, in rags and with obsolete guns, insisted on accompanying us, but as they were on foot and would have delayed us considerably I paid them off, a hundred yards from Zen-u-din, and sent them back.

There are mountains extending from the north-east to the south-east, the Serde Kuh range, and to the south-east they are quite close to the track and show low passes a mile or so apart by which the range could easily be crossed. To the west also we have high hills, some three or four miles apart from the mountains to the north-east, and to the north an open desert as far as Yezd. We notice here again the curious accumulations of sand high up on the south mountain side, and also to the south-west of the mountain range east of us.

At ten in the morning, after a dreary ride through desolate country, we reached the small village of Kermanshah (5,300 feet), where a post station and caravanserai were to be found, a few trees and, above all, some good drinking water. From Zen-u-din to Kermanshah, a distance of sixteen miles (five farsakhs), we had seen only one solitary tree to the south-west of the track.

We had now rugged mountains about a mile to the west and south-west. These were ranges parallel to one another, the Darestan mountains being the nearest to us and the Godare Hashimshan behind them further south-west.

While I was waiting for fresh horses to be got ready I amused myself at every station studying the curious inscriptions and ornamentations by scribbling travellers on the caravanserai and post-house walls. Laboriously engraved quotations from the Koran were the most numerous, then the respective names of travellers, in characters more or less elaborate according to the education of the writer, and generally accompanied by a record of the journey, place of birth, and destination of the scribbler. Occasionally one was startled by a French inscription in sickening terms of humility, the work of Persian minor officials in Government employ, who thus made a public exhibition of their knowledge of a foreign language and expounded in glowing terms their servile admiration for superiors.

More interesting were the records of illiterate travellers who, in default of literature, placed one arm and hand upon the whitewashed wall and traced their silhouette with the point of a knife or a bit of charcoal or a brush held in the other hand.

Then came those still more artistically inclined, who ventured into conventionalised representations of the peacock with widely-expanded tail--the most favourite and frequent of Persian outbursts of Chappar khana art, and probably the most emblematic representation of Persian character. The conventionalised peacock is represented in a few lines, such as one sees on the familiar Persian brass trays.

The Shah's portrait with luxuriant moustache is met in most Chappar khanas scraped somewhere upon the wall, and not infrequently other whole human figures drawn in mere lines, such as children do in our country, but with a greater profusion of anatomical detail. Very frequent indeed are the coarse representations of scenes in daily life, which we generally prefer to leave unrecorded--in fact, the artistic genius of the Persian traveller seems to run very much in that direction, and these drawings are generally the most elaborate of all, often showing signs of multiple collaboration.

Horses fully harnessed are occasionally attempted, but I never saw a camel represented. Only once did I come across a huge representation of a ship or a boat. Small birds drawn with five or six lines only, but quite characteristic of conventionalised Persian art, were extremely common, and were the most ingeniously clever of the lot. Centipedes and occasional scorpions were now and then attempted with much ingenuity and faithfulness of detail but no artistic merit.

All these ornamentations, studied carefully, taught one a good deal of Persian character. That the Persian is very observant and his mind very analytical, is quite out of the question, but his fault lies in the fact that in art as in daily life minor details strike him long before he can grasp the larger and more important general view of what he sees. He prefers to leave that to take care of itself. We find the same characteristics not only in his frivolous Chappar khana art--where he can be studied unawares and is therefore quite natural--but in his more serious art, in his music, in his business transactions, in his political work. The lack of simplicity which we notice in his rude drawings can be detected in everything else he does, and the evident delight which he takes in depicting a peacock with its tail spread in all its glory is nothing more and nothing less than an expression of what the Persian feels within himself in relation to his neighbours.

Nothing has a greater fascination for him than outward show and pomp. He cares for little else, and a further proof of this unhappy vainglory is obtained by the study of the wall scrolls of the travelling public--whether travelling officially or for trading purposes--representing in Persia usually the most go-ahead and intelligent section of the Persian population.

On we go along the dreary track, again on flat, desolate country of sand and stones at the spur of the mountains to the west and south-west. Sand deposits rise at a gentle gradient up to half the height of these mountains, well padding their slopes. The track here leads us due south to a low pass at an altitude of 5,680 feet. One gets so tired of the monotonous scenery that one would give anything to perceive something attractive; nor is the monotony of the journey diminished by two other miserable nagging soldiers who have clung to us as an escort from Kermanshah, and who are running after our horses moaning and groaning and saying they are starved and tired and have not received their pay nor their food from the Government for several months.

On the other side of the pass there is a basin encircled by mountains, except to the south-east, where we find an open outlet. The track goes south-south-east through this yellow plain, and on proceeding across we find several conical black mounds with curious patches of a verdigris colour. To the east rises a low sand dune.

We come in sight of Shemsh, a most forlorn, cheerless place. Sadek gallops ahead with the horjins, in which he has the cooking pans, some dead fowls, and a load of vegetables and pomegranates, and I slow down to give him time to prepare my lunch. I arrived at the place at 2.45 p.m. There was only a desolate caravanserai and a Chappar khana.

On the Yezd-Kerman track there are not more than three horses at each post station--at some there are only two,--and as I required no less than five horses, or, if possible, six, I always had to take on the deficient number of horses from the previous stations. I generally gave these horses two or three hours' rest, but it made their marches very long indeed, as it must be remembered that on my discharging them they must at once return to their point of departure. Fortunately, the traffic was so small by this road that the horses were in good condition, and so I was able to proceed at a good rate all along. Occasionally, one or two horses had to be taken on for three consecutive stages, which, taking as an average six farsakhs for each stage, made the distance they had to travel, including return journey, six stages, or some 120 miles in all.

The altitude of Shemsh was 5,170 feet.