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Chapter 41

Desolate scenery--Anar--A word for Persian servants--Sadek's
English--Bayas village--Sand deposits--Robber
villagers--Kushkuhyeh Chappar khana--The post contractor, his
rifle--Cotton cultivation--Fast growing Rafsenju--Trade
tracks--Hindu merchants--Sadek and the Chappar
boy--Kafter-han--Photography and women--A flat, salty stretch of
clay and sand--The Kuh Djupahr peaks--Robat
women--Baghih--Attractive girls--Mirage--Arrival in Kerman.

I left Shemsh two hours later, at 4.30, and we travelled over slightly undulating country on sandy ground with occasional tracts of stones and gravel. If possible, this part was even more desolate than the scenery we had found before reaching here, and not a vestige of vegetation or animal life could be detected anywhere. When night descended upon us we had glorious moonlight to brighten our way, and we marched on gaily--this time without the nuisance of an escort--until we arrived at Anar at 9.30 p.m.--seven farsakhs (about 22 miles) from Shemsh.

From what one could see during our short stay in the night there appeared to be a large village, mostly in ruins, with a few trees and a mud fort. We had gradually descended here to 4,800 feet. The water was quite good. We only allowed ourselves three hours to have our dinner and sleep, and I ordered the horses to be ready shortly after midnight.

And here, whatever other faults they may have, a word of commendation must be put in for the endurance of Persian servants. It is all very well for one's self to do with little sleep, but servants who will go days and days without any at all, and without a word of complaint or sign of collapse, are retainers not easily found and not to be despised. Certainly, one seldom obtains such qualities in European servants. After doing fifty or sixty miles on the saddle we would get off, and I rested awhile, writing up my notes or, if at night, changing plates in my cameras, but Sadek never had any rest at all. No sooner had we jumped off our horses than he had to undo the saddles and unpack the baggage and kill fowls and cook my meals, which all took him some little time; then he had to wash or clean up everything and repack, and run about the villages to purchase provisions, and all this kept him well employed until the hour of departure; so that, even when I could put in a couple of hours' sleep of a night, he never had time to sleep at all. Sleeping on the saddle, of course, was usual when we travelled by caravan, but was impossible when chapparing. So that he had to go several days at a time without a moment's wink.

The remarkable facility with which, under these trying circumstances, he got most excellent meals ready at all hours of the day or night and in the most outlandish places, and the magic way in which he could produce fuel and make a fire out of the most unlikely materials, was really extraordinary. True, he took himself and his work most seriously and his pride lay principally in having no reproach about the cooking.

He had a smattering of English that was very quaint. Everything above ground he called "upstairs"; anything on the ground or below was "downstairs." Thus, to mount and dismount a horse was laconically expressed "horse upstairs," "horse downstairs." Similarly, to lie down was "downstairs," to get up "upstairs." Anything involving violent motion was "shoot," by which single word to fall, to kick, to bite, to drop, to jump, to throw away, were defined. He possessed a good vocabulary of swear words--which he had learnt from sailors at Bushire--and these served him well when anything went wrong; but I forbade him to use them in my presence as I wished to have the monopoly myself, and thus his English vocabulary was very much curtailed. The remainder of his English conversation applied entirely to cooking chickens.

Shortly after midnight we moved out of the Chappar khana, and, barring some slight cultivation in the immediate neighbourhood of the village, we soon entered again upon the flat, sandy desert. We had a lovely full moon over us, which added to the pleasure of travelling, and we rode on to Bayas (five farsakhs), some seventeen or eighteen miles, where we arrived at five in the morning. The altitude of this place was exactly the same as that of Anar, 4,800 feet.

Bayas is a tiny village with a few mulberry trees and a small stream of water. It has a fair caravanserai. We rested the horses for a couple of hours, while I had breakfast, and by 7.30 a.m. we were again in our saddles.

To the south-west and north-east by east we again perceived the familiar high sand deposits, all along the base of the mountain ranges, and they reached up to two-thirds of the height of the mountains, forming a smooth, inclined plane rising very gently from the flat desert on which we were travelling. To the north-east by east the sand-banks rose nearly to the summit of the hill range.

Sadek and the chappar boy pointed out to me a village to the north-east of the track, and informed me that all its inhabitants were robbers and murderers. In fact upon the road, we came across a poor boy crying, and bruised all over. We asked him what was the matter. He pointed to three men in the distance who were running away, and said they had beaten him and stolen his money, two krans, and two pomegranates. Sure enough, when we galloped to the men and stopped them they did not wait to be accused but handed me at once both fruit and money to be returned to their rightful owner.

These folks had very brutal faces, framed in flowing locks of shaggy hair. They were garbed in long thick coats of white felt, made entirely of one piece, and quite stiff, with sleeves sticking out at the sides, into which the arms were never to be inserted. There were two red and blue small circular ornamentations at the bottom of the coat in front, and one in the centre of the back, as on Japanese kimonos.

We began to see more habitations now, and about one mile north-east of the track we perceived the villages of Esmalawat, Aliabad, and Sher-i-fabad,--the latter quite a large place. We still went on over sand and white salt deposits.

Poor Sadek was so tired and sleepy that he fell off his horse a couple of times. The soil got very stony on getting near Kushkuhyeh (altitude 4,900 feet), where we entered the Chappar khana exactly at noon.

The contractor of the postal service lived at this village, and he was extremely civil. As many as eight horses were in his stable, and he ordered that the best should be given me. He entertained me to tea and took the keenest interest in my rifles. He also possessed one of the familiar discarded British Martini military rifles, specially decorated for the Persian market--a rifle worth at its most a pound sterling, or two, but for which he had paid no less than 100 tomans (about £20). The smugglers of firearms must have made huge profits on the sale of these antiquated weapons, for firearms are among the few articles for which large sums of ready money can be obtained in Persia.

This particular man now took a great fancy to my .256 Mannlicher, and jokingly said he would not let me proceed until I had sold it to him. He produced large sums in solid silver to tempt me, about four times the value of the rifle, and was greatly upset when I assured him that I would not part with the rifle at all.

When I left, he accompanied me part of the way, some few hundred yards, and he took with him his Martini and a belt full of cartridges; his servant who followed him was also similarly armed. On inquiring of him why master and servant loaded themselves with arms and ammunition to go such a short distance, he replied that it was not safe for him to go unarmed even one yard out of his house. One of his friends had been murdered only a few days before, and one never knows in Persia when one's turn will come next. In out-of-the-way places in Persia private revenge is extremely common, which generally takes the form of shooting one's adversary in the back.

There seemed to be abundance of water at Kushkuhyeh, and the fields were properly irrigated. Cultivation seemed prosperous, and vast cotton plantations were to be seen all round. When we passed, hundreds of men, women and children were busy taking in the cotton, and scores of camels, donkeys, sheep and goats grazing were dotting the green patch in the landscape. This gay scene of active life and verdure was all the more refreshing after the many miles of sand and gravel and barren hills of which we had grown so weary since leaving Yezd.

Two hours were wasted for lunch, and off we went again. On leaving behind Kushkuhyeh we also left behind vegetation, and again we sank in sand. A few tamarisk shrubs were scattered here and there on the large plain we were traversing, bounded on all sides by distant mountains.

Three and a half farsakhs (about 13 miles) saw us at Hemmatawat, a large walled enclosure.

At 6.30 p.m. we entered the small town of Barawamad (Bahramabad)--altitude 5,150 feet--or Rafsenju as it is called now by its new name. This is a fast-growing place of quite modern origin, and it owes most of its prosperity to the extensive cultivation of cotton, exported from here direct to the Persian Gulf and India.

Besides the route on which we are travelling there are several other tracks leading out of Barawamad. A minor one runs in a north-easterly direction, over the Dehring Mountains to the Seroenan district, where many villages are to be found, and then turns sharply south-east viâ Zerend to Kerman. It is also possible, when once one has crossed into Seroenan, to continue to Lawah (Rawar) and then, across the Salt Desert, to Meshed or to Birjand.

To the Persian Gulf there are three tracks. One south-west by west to Sher-i-balek, from which place the traveller has the option to travel to Bushire (viâ Shiraz) or to Lingah or to Bandar Abbas viâ Forg. Two different tracks, to Reshitabad and Bidu, join at Melekabad (south-west) and these eventually enter the Kerman-Shiraz-Bushire track; while another track, the most in use, goes almost due south, direct to Bidu, skirting the Pariz Mountains on their westerly slopes. This track, too, crosses the Kerman-Shiraz route at Saidabad, and proceeds due south to Bandar Abbas.

The few Hindoo merchants of Kerman come here during the cotton season to make their purchases and send their goods direct to Bandar Abbas for shipment to India. Pottery of an inferior kind is manufactured at Rafsenju.

We left the Chappar khana at midnight in a terrific cold wind, and this time on shockingly bad horses. They were tired and lame, the cold wind probably intensifying the rheumatic pains from which most of them were suffering. The country was undulating and we gradually rose to 5,700 feet. The horses gave us no end of trouble and we had to walk the greater portion of the night.

Sadek, five feet two in height, and the Chappar boy, six feet two, came to words and soon after to most sonorous blows. To add to our comfort, the Chappar boy, who got the worst of the scrimmage, ran away, and it was only at sunrise that we perceived him again a long way off following us, not daring to get too near. Eventually, by dint of sending him peaceful messages by a caravan man who passed us, Sadek induced him to return, and still struggling in the sand of the desolate country all round us, and our horses sinking quite deep into it, we managed to drag men, horses, and loads into Kafter-han (Kebuter-han)--altitude 5,680 feet--at 8.30 in the morning, where we were glad to get relays of fresh steeds. We had gone about twenty-eight miles from the last station.

A few mud huts, an ice store-house, a flour mill, a high building, said to have been an arsenal, the usual caravanserai, and a dingy Chappar khana were all, quite all one could rest one's eye upon at Kafter-han. There was some cultivation, but nothing very luxuriant. The few inhabitants were quite interested in the sudden appearance of a ferenghi (a foreigner). The women, who were not veiled here, were quite good-looking, one girl particularly, whose photograph I snatched before she had time to run away to hide herself--the usual effect of a camera on Persian women, quite the reverse to its effects on the European fair sex.

We left almost directly on better animals, and proceeded south-east having lofty rugged hills to the north-east, east, and south of us, with the usual high sand accumulations upon their sides. To the south-east we could just discern the distant mountains near Kerman. The track itself, on the sandy embankment at the foot of the hillside to the south-west, is rather high up and tortuous, owing to a very long salt marsh which fills the lower portion of the valley during the rainy weather and makes progress in a straight line impossible. But now, owing to the absolute absence of rain for months and months, the marsh was perfectly dry and formed a flat white plastered stretch of clay, sand and salt, as smooth as a billiard-table, and not unlike an immense floor prepared for tennis-courts. The dried salt mud was extremely hard, our horses' hoofs leaving scarcely a mark on it. I reckoned the breadth of this flat, white expanse at one and a half miles, and its length a little over eleven miles. Two high peaks stood in front of us to the south-east, the Kuh Djupahr, forming part of a long range extending in a south-east direction.

At a distance of four farsakhs (about thirteen miles), and directly on the other side of the dried-up salt stretch, we came to another Chappar khana, at the village of Robat. There were a good many women about in front of the huge caravanserai, and they looked very ridiculous in the tiny short skirts like those of ballet girls, and not particularly clean, over tight trousers quite adhering to the legs.

We have the same mountains on both sides, and we continue over undulating ground, the valley getting somewhat narrower as we proceed towards Baghih. Six or seven miles from Kafter-han was Esmaratabad village, a mass of ruins, and ten miles or so a large village, still in fair preservation, Sadi, with some vegetation, principally wheat. The track lay mostly over a stony, barren desert, with here and there, miles and miles apart, a forced patch of green.

Baghih, our last halt before reaching Kerman, was nine farsakhs from Kafter-han. It stood at an elevation of 5,740 feet, and had plenty of excellent water. The village was large, with handsome walled gardens and nicely-kept wheat-fields all round. The inhabitants were most affable and civil, and the women and children particularly simple and attractive. The girls were attired in longer and more graceful skirts than the damsels of Robat, and did not leave the leg exposed even as high as the knee. Over it they had an ample shirt with wide short sleeves, showing their gracefully modelled and well rounded arms, adorned with metal bracelets. On the head was a kerchief neatly bound quite tight over the head by means of a ribbon.

It was not possible to get fresh horses here, and mine were very tired or I would have continued to Kerman the same evening, completing the journey from Yezd (220 miles) in three days. We had arrived early in the afternoon, and had I not been compelled to take on the tired horses for the remaining four farsakhs (13 miles) I could have easily reached Kerman before the gates of the city were closed at sunset. As it was, I had to give it up, and had to sleep the night at Baghih, making an early start on Wednesday, the 30th.

Baghih is actually south-west of Kerman, and the track makes this long detour to avoid the Bademan Mountains to the north. It thus passes over comparatively level land in the valley between that range and the Kuh Djupahr, the track turning here sharply to the north-east, in which direction, when we get to the highest point of the track (5,980 feet) one and a half farsakhs from Baghih, we can almost discern Kerman in the distance. Except to the north-west we have high mountains all round, the highest being the Djupahr to the south-east, and of which we now get a most lovely view, and also of the whole Kerman plain with its innumerable semi-spherical sand-hills.

At the foot of the Djupahr below us we see the two villages of Kheirabad and Akhibarabad, with many trees and some cultivation round them. On descending into the Kerman plain we have deceiving effects of mirage, lovely lakes on both sides and streams of water, but on the rising of a gentle breeze, limpid lakes and streams suddenly disappear, and the whole plain is nothing but a big undulating stretch of yellow sand, until we arrive within almost a stone's-throw of the city gates of Kerman.

At 11 a.m. on Wednesday, October the 30th, I halted at the palatial Chappar khana of Kerman, just outside the city wall, in a handsome garden, having accomplished the journey from Yezd in four days, including halts.