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Chapter 2

Fifty miles from Kerman--Camels not made for climbing hills--The
Godar Khorassunih Pass--Volcanic formation--Sar-es-iap--A
variegated mountain--A castle--Rock dwellings--Personal
safety--Quaint natives--Women and their ways--Footgear.

On November 6th we were some fifty miles from Kerman. Again when midnight came and I was slumbering hard with the two kittens, who had made themselves cosy on my blankets, the hoarse grunts of the camels being brought up to take the loads woke me up with a start, and the weird figure of the camel-man stooped over me to say it was time to depart.

"Hrrrr, hrrrr!" spoke the camel-man to each camel, by which the animals understood they must kneel down. The loads were quickly fastened on the saddles, the kittens lazily stretched themselves and yawned as they were removed from their warm nooks, and Sadek in a moment packed up all my bedding on my saddle.

We continued to ascend, much to the evident discomfort of the camels, who were quite unhappy when going up or down hill. It was really ridiculous to see these huge, clumsy brutes quite done up, even on the gentlest incline. The track went up and up in zigzag and curves, the cries of the camel-drivers were constantly urging on the perplexed animals, and the dingle of the smaller bells somewhat enlivened the slow, monotonous ding-dong of the huge cylindrical bell--some two and a half feet high and one foot in diameter--tied to the load of the last camel, and mournfully resounding in the valley down below.

And we swung and swung on the camels' humps, in the beautiful starlight night--the moon had not yet risen--on several occasions going across narrow passages with a drop under us of considerable depth, where one earnestly hoped the quivering legs of the timid camels would not give way or perchance stumble. The higher we got the more the camels panted and roared, and the cries of the drivers were doubled.

One farsakh and a half from our last camp, we reached at 2 a.m. the top of the Godar Khorassunih Pass (8,400 ft.), and we had to halt for a while to let the camels rest. The cold was bitter. Camels and men were trembling all over. Then came the descent.

Camel riding is comfortable at no time. It is passable on the flat; just bearable going up hill, but dreadful going down a fairly steep incline. The wretched beasts assumed a kind of hopping, jerky motion on their front legs, with a good deal of spring in their knees, which bumped the rider to such an extent that it seemed almost as if all the bones in one's body began to get disjointed and rattle. When the camel happened to stumble among the rocks and loose stones the sudden jerk was so painful that it took some seconds to recover from the ache it caused in one's spine.

The moon rose shortly after we had gone over the pass, as we were wending our way from one narrow gorge into another, between high rocks and cliffs and mountains of most fantastic forms. We passed the little village of Huruh, and at dawn the picturesqueness of the scenery increased tenfold when the cold bluish tints of the moon gradually vanished in the landscape, and first the mountains became capped and then lighted all over with warm, brilliant, reddish tints, their edge appearing sharply cut against the clear, glowing, golden sky behind them.

We were now proceeding along a dry, wide river bed, which had on one side a tiny stream, a few inches broad, of crystal-like water dripping along. Evident signs could be noticed that during the torrential storms of the rainy season this bed must occasionally carry large volumes of water. A foot track can be perceived on either side some twelve feet above the bed, which is followed by caravans when the river is in flood.

We now entered a volcanic region with high perpendicular rocks to our right, that seemed as if they had undergone the action of long periods of fire or excessive heat; then we emerged into a large basin in which the vegetation struck one as being quite luxuriant by contrast with the barren country we had come through. There were a few old and healthy trees on the edge of the thread of water, and high tamarisks in profusion. On our left, where the gorge narrowed again between the mountains, was a large flow of solid green lava. In this basin was a quaint little hamlet--Sar-es-iap (No. 2)--actually boasting of a flour-mill, and curious rock dwellings which the natives inhabit.

We continued, and entered a broader valley, also of volcanic formation, with reddish sediments burying a sub-formation of yellowish brown rock which appeared in the section of the mountains some 300 feet above the plain. To the W.N.W. stood a lofty variegated mountain, the higher part of which was of dark brown in a horizontal stratum, while the lower was a slanting layer of deep red.

In the valley there was some cultivation of wheat, and I noticed some plum, apple, fig and pomegranate trees. One particularly ancient tree of enormous proportions stood near the village, and under its refreshing shade I spent the day. The village itself--a quaint castle-like structure with ruined tower--was curiously built in the interior. On the first storey of the large tower were to be found several humble huts, and other similar ones stood behind to the north. These huts were domed and so low as hardly to allow a person to stand erect inside. Some had an opening in the dome, most had only a single aperture, the door. The majority of the inhabitants seemed quite derelict and lived in the most abject poverty.

A few yards north-east of the castle were some rock habitations. There were three large chambers dug in the rock side by side, two of one single room and one of two rooms en suite. The largest room measured twenty feet by twelve, and was some six feet high. In the interior were receptacles apparently for storing grain. The doorway was quite low, and the heat inside suffocating. Curiously enough, one or two of these chambers were not quite straight, but formed an elbow into the mountain side.

At the sides of the row of cliff dwellings were two smaller doors giving access to storehouses also dug in the rock. I was told that the natives migrated to this village during the winter months from October till one month after the Persian New Year, while they spend the remainder of the year higher up on the mountains owing to the intense heat. Firewood, which is scarce, is stored piled up on the top of roofs, whence a little at a time is taken down for fuel, and prominent in front of the village was a coarse and well-fortified pen for sheep. Wolves were said to be plentiful in the neighbourhood, and as I was sitting down writing my notes a shepherd boy ran into the tower to say that a wolf had killed one of his sheep.

Both from men and beasts there seemed to be little safety near the village, according to the natives, who invariably took their old-fashioned matchlocks with them when they went to work in their fields, even a few yards away from the castle.

One peculiarity of this village, which stood at an altitude of 6,180 feet, was that nobody seemed to know its name. The people themselves said that it had no name, but whether they were afraid of telling me, in their suspicions that some future evil might come upon them or for other reasons, I cannot say.

The natives were certainly rather original in their appearance, their ways and speech, and as I comfortably sat under the big tree and watched them coming in and out of the castle-village, they interested me much. Donkeys in pairs were taken in and out of the gate to convey manure to the fields, and old men and young came in and out carrying their long-poled spades and matchlocks. Even little boys were armed.

The men reminded one very forcibly, both in features and attire, of the figures in ancient Egyptian sculptures, of which they were the very image. They wore felt skull caps, the side locks of jet black hair cut straight across. They had clean-shaven necks and lumpy black beards. Their tall bodies were slender, with short waists, and their wiry feet showed beneath ample trousers--so ample as almost to approach a divided skirt. The children were pretty, and although miserably clothed looked the very picture of health and suppleness.

The women, of whom a number sat the whole day perched on the domed roofs of their huts to watch the doings of the ferenghi, showed their faces fully, and although professing to be Mussulman made no attempt whatever at concealment. They wore picturesque light blue and red kerchiefs on the head and shoulders, falling into a point behind, and held fast in position round the skull by a small black and blue turban. A pin held the two sides of the kerchief together under the chin. The women were garbed in short, pleated blue skirts reaching just below the knee, and a short loose coat of the same cotton material with side slits and ample sleeves. They had bare legs, well proportioned and straight, with handsome ankles and long, well-formed feet and toes. When working they went about bare-footed, but when their daily occupations were finished put on small slippers.

They were particularly to be admired when they walked, which they did to perfection, looking most attractively picturesque when carrying jugs of water on the head. The head had to be then kept very erect, and gave a becoming curve to the well-modelled neck and a most graceful swing to the waist. A long black cloak, not unlike a chudder, was worn over the head after sunset when the air was turning cold.

The women did all the hard work and seemed to put their whole soul into it. Some gaily spun wool on their wheels, and others worked at small, neat, but primitive weaving looms which were erected on the top storey of the castle.

Affectionate mothers carefully searched the hair of the heads of their children--to remove therefrom all superfluous animal life,--but to my dismay I discovered that their good-nature went so far as not to destroy the captured brutes, which were merely picked up most gently, so as not to injure them, and flung down from the castle-village wall, on the top of which this operation took place. As there were other people sitting quite unconcerned down below, no doubt this provided a good deal of perpetual occupation to the women of the castle, and the parasites were provided with a constant change of abode.

Probably what astonished me most was to see a young damsel climb up a tall tree in the best monkey fashion, with successively superposed arms and legs stiff and straight, not round the tree, mind you, and using her toes for the purpose with almost equal ease as her fingers.

The foot-gear of the men was interesting. They wore wooden-soled clogs, held fast to the foot by a string between the big toe and the next, and another band half way across the foot. Some of the men, however, wore common shoes with wooden soles.