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Chapter 16

English fancy geographical names--Sher-i-Nasrya--The main
street--The centre of the city--Reverence of the natives for
Major Benn--A splendid type of British official--Indian and
Russian goods--The Shikin Maghut cloth--Steadily increasing trade
of the Nushki route--Khorassan horses for
remounts--Husseinabad--Russian Vice-Consulate--Mr.
Miller--Characteristic windmills--"The wind of 120 days"--Benn

Disappointing as it may seem that the natives themselves should be barefaced enough not to call their city by the fancy name given it by certain British geographers, we might as well explain why the natives call the capital of Sistan by its real name, Sher-i-Nasrya. The three words mean the "City of Nasr," Nasr being an abbreviation of Nasr-ed-din Shah, in honour of whom the city was named. In Sistan itself the city goes by the shortened name of mere "Sher" or "city," but letters sent by Persians from other parts of the Shah's dominions are generally addressed Sher-i-Nasrya, or simply Sher-i-Sistan.

When the place was first conquered by the father of the present Amir, Mir-Alam-Khan, it was spoken of as Nusratabad, or the "City or Victory," just the same as we speak of the "City of the Commune," or the "Eternal City," or the "City of Fogs." The name "Nusratabad" only applied to the victory and not to the city. We should certainly not wish to see the names of the three above illustrations given on maps for Paris, Rome, or London.

As for calling the city Nasirabad, as the Trigonometrical Survey maps do, there is no excuse whatever for this, which is a mere blunder--not the only one, unfortunately--and attributes to the city the name of a small village some eight miles off.

The present Sher-i-Nasrya is not more than twenty years old. It has a double wall all round, a higher one with semicircular castellated towers, and a lower on a mud bank with outwardly projecting semicircular protected platforms, the walls of which, eight feet high, are loopholed in a primitive fashion. On the inner side of the lower wall there is a platform all along the wall for soldiers to stand upon. The city wall, forty feet high, is separated from this outer defence by a road all round the city, and outside of all there is a moat, but with very little water in it.

The wall on the south side (really S.S.W.) has ten towers, the two central ones being close together and larger than the others, between which is the principal city gate, reached by an earthen bridge and a tortuous way, as the entrance of the outer wall is not in a line with the inner. The east and west side have only eight towers, including the corner ones, the double towers being the fourth and fifth. Every tower is semicircular, with loopholes pointing towards the sky--very useful in case of defence--and a large opening for pieces of artillery. The corner towers have two of these apertures, one under the other.

A kind of bastion or battlement has been formed by piling up the earth removed from the moat round the lower wall. The moat is forty feet broad and thirty feet deep.

A large road was made not long ago round three sides of the city by Colonel Trench, then our Consul there, so that the Amir could drive to his garden, a quarter of a mile outside the north city gate, the residence of the Amir's son, the Sar-tip. On the west side of Sher-i-Nasrya there is merely a sheep track.

In the north-west corner of the city is a higher wall enclosing a large space and forming the citadel and Anderun, in which the Amir and part of his family reside. There are three large towers to each side of the quadrangle, the centre tower to the south being of much larger proportions than the others. A lower outer wall surrounds the higher one, and in the large tower is the entrance gate to the Governor's citadel.

The inside of the city of Sher-i-Nasrya is neither beautiful nor interesting from a pictorial point of view. There is a main street with some mud buildings standing up, others tumbled down. The full-page illustration shows the most attractive and interesting point of the city, the centre of the quadrangle where the two streets, one from south to north, the other from east to west, intersect at right angles. A dome of mud bricks has been erected over the street, and under its shade a number of the Amir's soldiers were generally to be seen with their rifles resting idle against the wall.

The type of Sistan residence can be seen in the two hovels to the right of the observer in this photograph. The two hoods on the highest point of the dome are two typical ventilators. To the left the large doorways are mere shops, with a kind of narrow verandah on which the purchasers squat when buying goods. The main street is very narrow and has a small platform almost all along its sides, on which the natives sit smoking their kalians or conversing.

I was really very much impressed, each time that I visited the city in the Consul's company, by the intense respect shown by these people to our representative. There was not a single man who did not rise and salaam when we rode through the bazaar, while many also came forward to seize the Consul's hand and pay him the customary compliments. Major Benn modestly put down this civility of the natives to the popularity of his predecessor, Major Trench, and the good manners which he had taught these men; but Major Benn himself, with his most affable manner, his unsophisticated ways, absolutely devoid of nonsensical red-tape or false pride, is to my mind also to be held responsible for the reverence which he inspires among the masses.

To me personally, I must confess, it was a very great pleasure indeed to see an English gentleman held in such respect, and that solely on account of his tact and savoir faire. It is not a common sight.

Of course, a certain amount of show has also to be made to impress the natives, but "show" alone, as some believe, will be of little good unless there is something more attractive behind it. Major Benn seemed to be everybody's welcomed friend; everybody, whether rich or poor, whether in smart clothes or rags, gleamed with delight as they saw him come; and Major Benn stopped his horse, now to say a kind word to a merchant, then to shake hands with a native friend, further on to talk to a little child who had run to the door of his parents' mud hut to say "salameleko" to the Consul.

It is men with sound common sense, civil manners, and human sympathy, of Benn's type, that we want to represent England everywhere, and these men, as I have ever maintained, can do Great Britain more good in foreign countries in a day than all the official red-tape in a year. It is a mistake to believe that Persians or other Asiatics are only impressed by gold braiding and by a large retinue of servants. The natives have a wonderful intuitive way of correctly gauging people, as we civilised folk do not seem able to do, and it is the man himself, and his doings, that they judge and criticise, and not so much the amount of gold braiding on a man's coat or trousers, or the cut of a resplendent uniform.

In the northern portion of the main street are the few shops with English and Russian goods. Most of the articles I saw in the couple of Indian shops were of Indian or English importation--many of the articles appeared to me of German manufacture, like the usual cheap goods one sees in the Indian bazaars.

On the opposite side of the road was the rival merchant who dealt in Russian goods, and he seemed to be doing quite a brisk business. He appeared to deal mostly in clothes. There is a kind of moleskin Russian cloth called the shikin maghut, of various shades, colours and qualities, which commands a ready sale both in Khorassan and Sistan, although its price is high and its quality and dye not particularly good. With a little enterprise Indian manufacturers could certainly make a similar and better cloth and easily undersell the Russian material.

It is most satisfactory to find from Captain Webb-Ware's statement that Indian trade by the Nushki-Sistan route, which was absolutely nil in the year 1895-96, and only amounted to some 64,000 rupees in 1896-97, made a sudden jump to 589,929 rupees in the following twelve months, 1897-98. It has since been steadily on the increase, as can be seen by the following figures:--

1898-99 Rupees 728,082 1899-1900 " 1,235,411 1900-01 " 1,534,452

These figures are the total amount of imports and exports by the Nushki route, beginning from 1st of April each year. In 1900-01 the imports were Rs. 748,021; the exports Rs. 786,431.

When the route comes to be better known the returns will inevitably be greatly increased, but of course only a railway--or a well-conducted service of motor vans--can make this route a really practical one for trade on a large scale. The cost of transport at present is too great.

A point which should be noted in connection with the railway is that every year a great number of horses are brought from Meshed to India via Quetta for remount purposes. In 1900-01 the number of horses brought by dealers to Quetta amounted to 408, and as the Khorassan horses are most excellent, they were promptly sold at very remunerative prices. The average price for a capital horse in Persia is from 80 to 100 rupees (15 rupees to £1). I understand that these horses when in Quetta are sold by dealers to Government at an average of 300 rupees each, leaving a very large profit indeed. As horses are very plentiful in Khorassan, if a railway existed the Government could remount its cavalry at one-third of the present cost.

Adjoining Sher-i-Nasrya to the south is the partly ruined village of Husseinabad. It has a wall, now collapsed, and a moat which forms an obtuse angle with the east wall of Sher-i-Nasrya. There are in this village some miserable little mud houses still standing up and inhabited, and the high-walled, gloomy mud building of the Russian Vice-Consulate which has lately been erected, opposite to an extensive graveyard.

The site and the outward appearance of the Russian Vice-Consulate, which one can only reach by jumping over various drain channels or treading over graves, was decidedly not one's ideal spot for a residence, but once inside the dwelling, both house and host were really charming. Mr. Miller, the Consul, was a very intelligent and able man indeed, a most wonderful linguist, and undoubtedly a very efficient officer for his country. There is also in Husseinabad a round tower where the Beluch Sirdar fought the Amir some nine years ago, and one or two windmills characteristic of Sistan and Beluchistan.

These windmills are not worked by sails in a vertical position like ours, but are indeed the simplest and most ingenious contrivance of its kind I have ever seen. The motive wheel, which revolves in a horizontal position, is encased in high walls on three sides, leaving a slit on the north side, from whence the prevalent winds of Sistan blow. The wind entering with great force by this vertical slit--the walls being so cut as to catch as much wind as possible--sets the wheel in motion--a wheel which, although made coarsely of reeds tied in six bundles fastened together by means of cross-arms of wood, revolves easily on a long iron pivot, and once set in motion attains a high speed.

The flour mill has two stories, the motive wheel occupying the entire second floor, while attached to its pivot on the ground floor is the actual grinding stone. The wheat to be ground flows into a central aperture in this stone from a suspended vessel, a simple system of strings and ropes acting as an efficient brake on the axle of the upper wheel to control its speed, and others allowing the grain to fall uniformly and, when necessary, preventing its flow.

There sweeps over Sistan in the hot weather what is called the Bad-i-sud-o-bist-roz, or wind of the 120 days, which blows from the north-north-west, and, although this may seem unpleasant to the inhabitants, it has a most undoubtedly salubrious effect upon the climate of the province, which, owing to the great quantity of channels and stagnant water, would otherwise be most unhealthy. As it is the climate is now extremely healthy. The water of the Halmund is delicious to drink.

The suburb of Husseinabad stretches for about one mile towards the south, and contains among other places of importance the buildings of the Customs, with a caravanserai--very modest and unsafe--a picture of which is here given. What is called "Benn Bazaar," or the British Bazaar, is also found at the south-east portion of Husseinabad and facing the Consulate Hospital.