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Chapter 44

The deserted city of Farmidan--More speculation--The Afghan
invasion--Kerman surrenders to Agha Muhammed Khan--A cruel
oppressor--Luft-Ali-Khan to the rescue--The Zoroastrians--Mahala
Giabr--Second Afghan invasion--Luft-Ali-Khan's escape--Seventy
thousand human eyes--Women in slavery--Passes--An outpost--Fire
temples--Gigantic inscriptions--A stiff rock climb--A pilgrimage
for sterile women--A Russian picnic--A Persian
dinner--Fatabad--The trials of abundance--A Persian
menu--Rustamabad--Lovely fruit garden.

The very large deserted city of Farmidan lies directly south of the mountainous crescent on which are found the fortifications described in the previous chapter. The houses of the city do not appear very ancient, their walls being in excellent preservation, but not so the domed roofs which have nearly all fallen in. The houses are entirely constructed of sun-dried mud bricks, now quite soldered together by age and reduced into a compact mass. A few of the more important dwellings have two storeys, and all the buildings evidently had formerly domed roofs. In order that the conformation of each house may be better understood, a plan of one typical building is given. On a larger or smaller scale they all resembled one another very closely, and were not unlike the Persian houses of to-day.

There was a broad main road at the foot of the mountains along the southern side of which the city had been built, with narrow and tortuous streets leading out of the principal thoroughfare. Curiously enough, however, this city appeared not to have had a wall round it like most other cities one sees in Persia. It is possible that the inhabitants relied on taking refuge in the strength and safety of the forts above, but more probable seems the theory that Farmidan was a mere settlement, a place of refuge of the Zoroastrians who had survived the terrible slaughter by Agha Muhammed Khan.

It may be remembered that when the Afghan determined to regain his throne or die, he came over the Persian frontier from Kandahar. He crossed the Salt Desert from Sistan, losing thousands of men, horses and camels on the way, and with a large army still under his command, eventually occupied Kerman.

Kerman was in those days a most flourishing commercial centre, with bazaars renowned for their beauty and wealth, and its forts were well manned and considered impregnable. So unexpected, however, was the appearance of such a large army that the inhabitants made no resistance and readily bowed to the sovereignty of Agha Muhammed. They were brutally treated by the oppressors. Luft-Ali-Khan hastened from the coast to the relief of the city, and fiercely attacked and defeated the Afghan invader, who was compelled to retreat to Kandahar; but Kerman city, which had undergone terrible oppression from the entry of the Afghans, fared no better at the hands of the Persians. The Zoroastrians of Kerman particularly were massacred wholesale or compelled to adopt the Mahommedan religion.

It is not unlikely--although I assume no responsibility for the statement--that at that time the Zoroastrians, who were still numerous in Kerman, driven from their homes by the invading Afghan and Persian armies, settled a few miles from the city, unable to proceed further afield owing to the desolate nature of the country all round. With no animals, no means of subsistence, it would have been impossible for them with their families to go much further en masse in a country where food and even water are not easily obtainable. The name of the town--Farmidan--also would point to the conclusion that it had been inhabited by Fars, and the age attributed to the city by the natives corresponds roughly with the epoch of the Afghan invasion.

To the north of Kerman city we have another similar settlement, now deserted, Mahala-Giabr (a corruption of Guebre), of which there is little doubt that it was inhabited by Zoroastrians. One of the reasons that these cities are now deserted may be found in the fact that Agha Muhammed, having raised another army in Afghanistan, proceeded a second time to the conquest of Persia. The Zoroastrians, who had fared worse at the hands of Luft-Ali-Khan than under the Afghan rule, were persuaded to join Agha Muhammed against their Perso-Arab oppressors, in hopes of obtaining some relief to their misery, but history does not relate what became of them. They were never heard of again. One fact only is known, that very few of those living in Kerman at the time succeeded in escaping massacre. That previous to this the Zoroastrians must have been very numerous in Kerman can be judged by the remains of many fire-temples to be seen, especially in the neighbourhood of the city.

In his second invasion of Persia Agha Muhammed again reached Kerman in 1795 and besieged the city defended by Luft-Ali-Khan. The inhabitants, who had suffered at the hands of their saviours as much if not more than at those of their oppressors, made a half-hearted resistance and eventually, in the thick of the fighting, the city gates were opened by treachery. Luft-Ali-Khan and a handful of his faithful men fought like lions in the streets of the city, but at last, seeing that all hope of victory had vanished, and forsaken by most of his men, Luft-Ali-Khan rode full gallop in the midst of the Afghans. According to chronicles, he defiantly ran the gauntlet with only three followers, and they were able to force their way through the Kajar post and escape to Bam-Narmanshir, the most eastern part of the Kerman province, on the borders of Sistan.

Agha Muhammed demanded the surrender of Luft-Ali-Khan; the city was searched to find him, and when it was learned that he had succeeded in effecting an escape, the wrath of the Afghan knew no bounds. The people having declared that they could not find Luft-Ali, he ordered 70,000 eyes of the inhabitants to be brought to him on trays, and is said to have counted them himself with the point of a dagger. But this punishment he believed to be still too lenient. A general massacre of the men was commanded, and no less than 20,000 women and children were made into slaves. To this day the proverbially easy morals of the Kerman women are attributed to the Afghan invasion, when the women became the concubines of soldiers and lost all respect for themselves; and so is the importation of the dreadful disease which in its most virulent form is pitifully common in a great portion of the population of the present Kerman city. According to some the city was razed to the ground, but whether this was so or not, there is no doubt that Kerman has never recovered from the blow received, and from the subsequent oppression at the hands of this barbarous conqueror.

In the south-west part of the mountainous crescent are three very low passes, by which the hill range can be crossed. One pass between the Kala-i-Dukhtar and the Kala-Ardeshir forts; one between the Kala-Ardeshir and the ruins south of it along the southern continuation of the range; and the third at the most southern point of the crescent, where the precipitous rocky hill-ranges are separated by a narrow gap, level with the flat plains on either side. One can still see the remains of a ruined wall on the east side of this entrance, a round, outpost mud turret, with other buildings and a large walled enclosure directly outside the pass on the flat to the south; while on the lower slope of the eastern mountain stands a tall square building, now roofless, erected on a strong quadrangular base with corner turrets. It has three pointed arch doorways (east, west, south), almost as tall as the building itself, and by the side of these are found high and broad windows in couples. This building appears to be of a much more recent date than the underlying castle filled up with earth on which it stands. It has rather the appearance of a fire temple.

On going through the pass we find ourselves in the centre basin formed by the mountainous crescent, and here we have another deserted settlement smaller than Farmidan, also to all appearance not more than a century old, and directly under the lee of the precipitous rocky mountains. A high building of a rich burnt-sienna colour, with a dome of stone and mortar--the latter said to have been mixed with camel's milk, which gives the mortar greater consistency--is to be seen here. This, too, is supposed to have been a fire temple. Its base is quadrangular, with two tiers of three windows each. A small lateral wall is next to the entrance, but nothing is to be seen in the interior except the bare walls.

East of this, on the face of the cliff and several hundred feet above the valley, one is shown a gigantic inscription, "Ya Ali," in white characters depicted on the rock. The letters are so big that they can be seen from Kerman, about three miles off. This is a pilgrimage well worth making, for they say every wish of those who climb up to the inscription will come true. Two qualities are required--a very steady head and the agility of a monkey. The angle of the rock is very steep,--almost vertical, as can be seen on the left side of the photograph, which I took from the site of the inscription looking down upon the ruined city and the whole Kerman plain. The only way by which,--on all fours,--one can climb up is so worn, greasy and slippery, owing to the many pilgrims who have glided up and down, that it is most difficult to get a grip on the rock.

Yet the going-up is much easier than the coming down. The full-page illustration shows the man who accompanied me just about to reach the inscription,--I took the photograph as I clung to the rock just below him, as can be seen from the distortion of his lower limbs caused by my being unable to select a suitable position from which to take the photograph. We were then clinging to the rock with a drop below us in a straight line of several hundred feet.

We reached the inscription safely enough, and sat on the edge of the precipice--the only place where we could sit--with our legs dangling over it. Screened as we were in deep shadow, we obtained a magnificent bird's-eye view of the Kerman plain, brilliantly lighted by the morning sun, and of the forts to our left (south-west) and the many ruins down below between ourselves and Kerman city. A bed of a stream, now dry, wound its way from these mountains to almost the centre of the plain, where it lost itself in the sand beyond a cluster of ruined buildings. Undoubtedly at some previous time this torrent carried a good volume of water to the village, and this accounts for the deserted settlement being found there.

The letters of the inscription were ten feet high, painted white.

Photograph of Guide taken by the Author on reaching the Inscription several hundred feet above the plain.]

The man who had climbed up with me related an amusing incident of the occasion when H. E. the Governor of the city was persuaded to climb to inspect the inscription. Hauled up with the assistance of ropes and servants, he became so nervous when he reached the inscription and looked down upon the precipice below that he offered a huge reward if they took him down again alive. Although otherwise a brave man he was unaccustomed to mountaineering, and owing to the great height, had been seized with vertigo and was absolutely helpless and unable to move. With considerable difficulty he was hauled down and safely conveyed to his palace.

The descent presented more difficulty than the ascent, and one's shoes had to be removed to effect it in more safety. Eventually we reached the bottom again where, in a gully is a small ruined temple and a mud hut or two.

A great many women, who from this point had been watching us come down along the face of the cliff, stampeded away, giggling, at our approach, and on my asking why so many representatives of the fair sex were to be found here--there were lots more dotting the landscape below in their white or black chudders, all converging towards this point--it was explained that, a few yards off, was a rock possessing marvellous properties. The rock in question forms part of the mountain-side, and in its natural formation coarsely suggests, much magnified, the effigy of a component of feminine anatomy. At the foot of it there was an inscription and certain offerings, while above it, in a recess, a large wax candle was burning. Near this stone a stunted tree was to be seen, laden with bits of red and white rags and various kinds of hair--a most unedifying sight.

This is a well-known pilgrimage for sterile women, who, after certain exorcisms in front of and on the divine stone, and a night or two spent in the neighbouring ruins, are said infallibly to become prolific. The neighbouring ruins, it should be added, are the favourite night resort of the Kerman young men in search of romantic adventure, and a most convenient rendezvous for flirtations; but whether the extraordinary qualities of prolificness are really due to the occult power of the magic stone or to the less mystic charms of nights spent away from home, the reader is no doubt better able to discriminate than I. Judging by the long strings of ladies of all ages to be seen going on the pilgrimage, one would almost come to the conclusion that half the women of Kerman are in a bad plight, or else that the other half only is a good lot!

Much unsuspected amusement was provided to the natives by a Russian political agent who had visited Kerman a few weeks before I did, with the intention--it was stated--of starting a Consulate there and a caravanserai to further Russian trade. Previous to his departure, attracted merely by the lovely view from the pilgrimage stone, and absolutely unaware of what misconstruction might be placed on his hospitality, the Russian gave a picnic at this spot to the tiny European community of Kerman. Needless to say, the evil-minded Persians of course put a wrong construction upon the whole thing, and a good deal of merriment was caused among the natives--who may lack many other qualities, but not wit--by the sahibs going en masse to the pilgrimage.

The Russian picnic was the talk of the bazaar when I was there, and will probably remain so for some little time.

We will now leave ruins and puzzling pilgrimages alone, and will accept an invitation to a substantial Persian dinner with Hussein-Ali-Khan, known by the title of Nusrat-al-Mamalik, and probably the richest man in the province of Kerman. At great expense and trouble, this man bought an English carriage, for the pleasure of driving in which he actually made a road several miles long. He kindly sent the carriage for the Consul and me to drive to his place, and had relays of horses half-way on the road so that we could gallop the whole way. He has planted trees all along the new road, and brought water down from the hills by a canal along the roadside in order to provide sufficient moisture to make them grow.

When we reached Fatabad--that was the name of the village close to which our host's country residence stood--we alighted at a most beautiful avenue of high trees on either side of a long tank of limpid water, in which gracefully floated dozens of swans and ducks. We were met at the gate by our host, a charming old fellow, and his son, Mahommed Ali Khan, a most intelligent young man. Surrounded by a crowd of servants we were shown round the beautiful garden, with its rare plants from all parts of the world, its well-cared-for flowers, and its fruit trees of every imaginable kind. There was a handsome house built in semi-European style and with European furniture in it. On a table in the dining-room were spread a great many trays of sweets. After the usual compliments dinner was brought in by a long row of attendants, who carried tray after tray full of delicacies, part of which they deposited on the table, the rest on the floor.

Our host, with much modesty, asked us to sit at the table, and he and his Persian friends sat themselves on the floor. We--the Consul, the two other Englishmen, residents of Kerman, and myself, however--declined to take advantage of his offer and declared that we should all sit on the floor in the best Persian style, an attention which was greatly appreciated by our host and by his friends.

It was with some dismay that I saw more trays of food being conveyed into the room, until the whole floor was absolutely covered with trays, large and small, and dishes, cups and saucers, all brim-full of something or other to eat.

(How steep the ascent to the inscription is can be seen by the mountain side on left of observer.)]

Persian food of the better kind and in moderation is not at all bad nor unattractive. It is quite clean,--cleaner, if it comes to that, than the general run of the best European cooking. The meat is ever fresh and good, the chickens never too high--in fact, only killed and bled a few minutes before they are cooked; the eggs always newly laid in fact, and not merely in theory, and the vegetables ever so clean and tasty. As for the fruit of Central and Southern Persia, it is eminently excellent and plentiful.

The Persians themselves eat with their fingers, which they duly wash before beginning their meals, but we were given silver forks and spoons and best English knives. Really to enjoy a Persian meal, however, one's fingers are quite unapproachable by any more civilised device.

The most sensible part of a Persian meal is its comparative lack of method and order, anybody picking wherever he likes from the many dishes displayed in the centre of the room and all round him; but any one endowed with digestive organs of moderate capacity feels some apprehension at the mountains of rice and food which are placed before one, and is expected to devour. A European who wants to be on his best behaviour finds the last stages of a Persian dinner a positive trial, and is reminded very forcibly of the terrible fable of the frog that tried to emulate the cow. To show the reader to what test of expansion one's capacity is put, no better evidence can be given than a faithful enumeration of the viands spread before us at the dinner here described, all of which we were made to taste.

Qalam pal[=a]j[=o]               = Cabbage pilao.
Chil[=a]-[=o]                    = White rice with a soupçon of butter.
Khurish-i-murgh-i-b[=a]dinj[=a]n = Stew of chicken with tomatoes.
Kab[=a]b-i-ch[=u]ja              = Broiled chicken.
Sh[=a]m[=i]                      = Meat sausages.
Dulmayi qalam                    = Meat wrapped in cabbage leaves with
                                   onions and beans.
[=A]b-g[=u]sht                   = Soup with a lump of meat.
Halwa                            = A dish of honey, pistache, and camel's
K[=u]-k[=u]                      = Omelette of eggs and vegetables.
Mushta                           = Rissoles.
Mast                             = Curds.
Kharbuza                         = Melon.
Pan[=i]r                         = Cheese.
Turb                             = Radishes.
Pista                            = Pistachio nuts.
[=A]n[=a]r                       = Pomegranates.
Zab[=a]n-i-gaw                   = Green bombes.
Tursh[=i]                        = Pickles of all sorts.
Rishta                           = White and green vermicelli cakes.
Murabba bihi                     = Preserved gum.

To these must be added the numerous sweets of which one has to partake freely before dinner. Through dinner only water is drunk, or nothing at all, but before and after, tea--three-quarters sugar and one quarter tea, with no milk,--is served, and also delicious coffee.

The capacity of Persians is enormous, and on trying to emulate it we all suffered considerably. So pressing were our hosts to make us eat some of this and some of that, and to taste some of the other, that by the time we had finished we were all in a semi-conscious state. An attendant passed round a brass bowl and poured upon our fingers, from a graceful amphora, tepid water with rose-leaf scent. Then our host very considerately had us led to the upper floor of the building to a deliciously cool room, wherein were soft silk broad divans with velvet pillows. Five minutes later, one in each corner of the room, we were all fast asleep. It is the custom in Persia to have a siesta after one's meals--one needs it badly when one is asked out to dinner. So for a couple of hours we were left to ourselves, while our hosts retired to their rooms. Then more tea was brought, more coffee, more sweets.

We paid an interesting visit to the village of Fatabad, the older portion of which, formerly called Rustamabad, had from a distance the appearance of a strongly fortified place. It had a high broad wall with four circular towers at the corners, and quite an imposing gateway. The interior of the village was curious, the habitations being adjacent to the village wall all round, and each room having a perforated dome over it. There was spacious stabling on one side for horses, and several irregular courts in the centre of the village. A long wall stretched from this village to the Fatabad gardens and palatial dwelling of Hussein-Ali-Khan, and on one side of this wall were nicely kept wheat fields, while on the other lay a capital fruit garden.

In the new village of Fatabad, directly outside the wall of Rustamabad, there were but few houses, with an interesting underground hammam, with water coming from natural mineral springs brought here from the village of Ikhtiyarabad, some little distance off. Behind this village, to the west, a barrier of high rugged hills closed the horizon before us, and made the view a most delightfully picturesque one.

In the evening, in the same grand carriage, we were again conveyed back to Kerman, as I intended to start at midnight on my journey across the Great Salt Desert.

Drawn by A. Henry Savage Landor.]