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Chapter 26

Sand accumulations--A round tower--Mahommed Raza Chah--A burial
ground--Rustam's city--An ancient canal--Rustam's house--The
Persian hero's favourite room--A store room--Reception hall--The
city wall--Where Rustam's son was impaled--The stable of Rustam's
gigantic horse--More dry canals--An immense graveyard--Sand and
its ways--A probable buried city--A land-mark--Sadek's ways--A
glorious sunset--Girdi--Beluch greeting.

Warmal (altitude 2,100 feet) was left at 8 a.m. on the 12th. We skirted extensive sand accumulations, high to the north, lower towards the south. The under portion of these deposits had become semi-petrified up to a height varying from 20 feet to 50 feet in proportion to the loftiness of the hills themselves. We were travelling in a south-east direction along these sand banks cut abruptly vertically, and when we left them and turned due south across a flat bay in the desert there were sand-hills to the east and west about one mile apart.

At the most northern end of the western range a round tower could be seen on the summit of a hillock. Having crossed over the low hill range before us we descended into a long, flat, sandy stretch with tamarisk shrubs in abundance. In an arc of a circle from north to south there extended sand accumulations in various guises, the highest being some lofty conical hills due east of our course. To the west in the distance we were encircled by the Patang Kuh and the Mukh Surk ranges, which also extended from north to south.

Two farsakhs (eight miles) brought us to the British Consular Postal Station of Mahommed Raza Chah, a mud structure of two rooms and an ante-room between. One room was full of provisions, the other accommodated the three postal sawars (riders). Twelve holes had been dug in search of water, but only two had been successful. One of the sawars, a Beluch, on a jumbaz camel, was just coming in with the post, and he was a very picturesque figure in his white flowing robes and turban over the curly long hair hanging upon his shoulders. One mile off, six or seven more deep holes had been bored for water, but with no success. Tamarisk was plentiful.

We were now getting near the ruins of Sher-i-Rustam or Sher-i-Sukhta, the city of Rustam, the Persian hero. North-east of it one came first to a ruined tower, then to a burial ground with single graves and graves in sets of two and three, very similar in shape to those we had seen on the Kuh-i-Kwajah. These, too, were above ground, but were made of mud instead of stone. Most of the graves had been broken through. The graveyard was situated on a sand hillock.

In the distance, to the east and south-east of Rustam's city, there spread from the north a long stretch of ruins, which probably were part of the continuation of the great Zaidan. A number of towers--as many as six being counted in a line--and a high wall could be perceived still standing. This must evidently have been a fort, and had what appeared to be the wall of a tower at its north-west end. Other extensive ruins could just be observed further south-east, and also to the south-west, where a high tower stood prominent against the sky.

When close to Rustam's city we went through a walled oblique-angled parallelogram enclosing a tower. A great portion of the wall had collapsed, but it appeared to have been an outpost north of the city.

The next thing was an ancient dry canal which came from the east by south-east, and we then found ourselves before Rustam's abode. The photograph given in the illustration was taken as we approached the city and gives a good idea of the place as it appeared beyond the foreground of sand and salt. The place was in most wonderful preservation considering its age. There were four high towers to the north, the two central towers which protected the city gate being close together and more massive than the corner ones, which were circular and tapering towards the summit. The wall of the city was castellated and stood some 30 feet high. The city gate, protected by an outer screen, was to the east, and was two-storeyed. It led directly into the main street of the city.

I cannot do better than enumerate the characteristics of the city in the order in which I noticed them on my visit to it. A path, like a narrow platform, was visible all round half-way up inside the wall, as well as another on the top which gave access from one tower to another. There were no steps to reach the summit of the towers, but merely inclined planes.

On entering the city gate--the only one--one came at once upon Rustam's palace--a three-tiered domed structure with a great many lower annexes on its western and southern sides. A wall adjoining the city gate enclosed Rustam's quarters, and had a large entrance cut into it leading to the dwelling. The various floors were reached by a series of tunnelled passages on inclined planes. Rustam's favourite room was said to have been the top one, represented in the photograph facing page 266, where the outside of the two top storeys of the building can be seen.

The domed room was well preserved, and had a sort of raised portion to sit upon. The ceiling was nicely ornamented with a frieze and a design of inverted angles. The room had four windows, and a number of slits in the north wall for ventilating purposes. It was a regular look-out house, commanding a fine view all round above the city wall of the great expanse of desert with its ancient cities to the east, and distant blue mountains to the west. There were a number of receptacles, some of which had been used for burning lights, and five doors leading into other rooms. These rooms, however, were not so well preserved--in fact, they had mostly collapsed, their side walls alone remaining. No wood had been used in the construction of the building and all the ceilings were vaulted.

Rustam's "compound," to use the handy word of the east, occupied about one-quarter of the area of the town and filled the entire south-east corner. Besides the higher building it contained a great many side structures, with domes, unfortunately, only half-standing, and showing the same peculiarity as all the other domes in the city, i.e., they had all collapsed on the north side while the southern part was preserved. In the photograph facing page 268 this is shown very clearly. This was, of course, due to the potent northerly winds. Rustam's tall house and high walled enclosures can be seen in this photograph, some semi-collapsed domes of great proportions showing just above the high enclosing wall.

A spacious court commanded by a raised passage from north to south--evidently for soldiers to patrol upon--was within the enclosure, and, in fact, Rustam's premises formed a regular strong citadel within the city.

On the ground floor, now considerably below the level of the street outside, was a long room, like a store-room. In the north wall it had a most wonderful arrangement of ventilating chambers, which made the room deliciously cool. These contrivances were like slits in the wall, with boxed-in channels, where a great draught was set up by the natural inflow and outflow of cooler and hotter air from above and under ground, and from in and out of the sun. A great many receptacles could be noticed in the lower portion of the wall, and also some low mangers, as if sheep had been kept here to supply meat for the inmates of the citadel in time of siege.

Next to this, with an entrance on the main street, was Rustam's reception hall--a great big room with domes no less than 18 feet high inside, but now fallen through in two places. There were doors on the south and north, and eleven receptacles specially constructed for lamps. These receptacles were rather quaint in their simple design.

All round Rustam's palace the city wall was double, and strengthened with outside battlements. The same thing was noticeable in two portions of the city wall to the west and south sides. The city wall was irregular in shape, and impressed one as having been built at various epochs, and the city had the appearance of having been enlarged in comparatively recent times. There was a moat outside the wall, but in many places it had got filled up with sand. A glance at the plan which I drew of the city will give an idea of its shape.

On the north side of the main street, opposite Rustam's house, was a large stable, unroofed, and showing in the wall a number of mangers, which appeared as if a large number of horses had been kept.

Besides these there were in the western portion of the city quantities of domed roofs, very small, a few still perfect, but mostly fallen in on the northern side. The houses directly under the shelter of the northern wall were in the best preservation, and many of them were still almost entirely above ground. They were quadrangular or rectangular in shape, made of mud, and with a low door on the south side. The larger ones had ventilating channels with perforated slits in the north wall, like those in Rustam's store-room, but all the houses were extremely small--an average of 12 feet by 12 feet.

In the southern portion of the city, where exposed to the wind, the dwellings were deep-buried in sand, and hardly more than the domes remained above ground. There were, however, one or two higher buildings, presumably some of the better dwellings inhabited by Rustam's officers. A portion of the south walls, which, curiously enough, had quadrangular towers instead of tapering circular ones, had collapsed, and so had the corresponding portion of the north wall.

The city wall was of great interest, and even on the west side, where it was of less strength, was constructed in successive tiers, each of less than a man's height, and each with a path extending all along so that it could be remanned continuously in time of attack. When one man of the higher platform fell another could replace him immediately from the platform directly below. The towers were much higher than the wall.

The city gate was of great strength, the two front towers being strengthened inwardly by a third quadrangular tower. A raised block under the gateway was said to be the execution place.

This city, historians declare, was destroyed by Bahram, who caused it to be burnt, but there is no evidence whatever in the buildings to show that a conflagration ever occurred in this place at all. In fact, it is rather difficult to understand how buildings entirely of mud could be burned. The city, it is said, was abandoned only about a century ago, when the Sarbandi entered it by treachery and drove out the Rais tribe.

A few hundred feet to the south outside the city wall are the remains of the stable of Rustam's legendary gigantic horse. Part of the high wall still stands up on the top of the section of a vault, but the greater portion of the building, which was evidently of great proportions, is now buried in sand. The exact spot is pointed out where the manger stood, and so is the point where the heel ropes of this famous horse were tied. This circumstance misled one traveller into stating in 1872 that "two hills, one mile apart to the south-west, denoted the places where the manger and the spot where the head of this famous horse were tied." This error has been copied faithfully by subsequent travellers, including very recent ones (see Journal of the Royal Geographical Society, February, 1902, page 142).

There seemed little doubt that the huge building, of which the wall reproduced in the illustration made part, was a stable, and that it must have been of special importance could be seen by the elaborate cross pattern decorations on its outer face. The fragment of the wall stands over 50 feet high, and to all appearance some twenty more feet of it are underground, buried by the sand. It had strong supports at its base.

The stable was most peculiarly shaped, ending in a sharp point at one end.

Another dry canal was noticeable to the west of the ruins which went from south to north, with a branch canal going due west. North-west and west were to be seen other ruined cities, one of which, with two high quadrangular towers, was approximately three miles distant. To the west on two hills were fortresses, but between these and Rustam's city lay an immense graveyard (about one mile from Sher-i-Rustam), with graves above ground--mainly single ones, but also a few family ones in adjoining compartments.

As we went along due west another ruined city was pointed out, Zorap, a very ancient place, where Bahram is said to have impaled the body of Firamurz, Rustam's son.

We crossed two more dry canals of some magnitude, running parallel, which showed that in former days this now barren part of Sistan must have been under flourishing cultivation. In fact, further on we came upon traces of houses and of extensive irrigation, the soil having quite a different appearance to the usual lut where left untouched by human tools.

We then came across what at first seemed a confused commotion of sand and mud, but its formation was very curious, and looked as if it covered an underlying city of great size. The surface sand seemed to reproduce to a certain extent the form of the structures that were down below, such as quadrangular buildings, walls, domes, etc. It was not the natural formation of sand on a natural ground. In one particular place a whole city wall with towers could be traced, just showing above ground, so perfectly rectangular that although covered by sand it would seem certain that a fortress must be buried under this spot.

All around these particular suspected buried cities the sand is absolutely flat, and there would be no other plausible reason for this most extraordinary irregular accumulation of sand reproducing forms of walls, domes and towers against all the general rules of local sand accumulations, unless such obstacles existed below to compel the sand to accumulate in resemblance to them. This theory is strengthened too by the fact that, here and there, some of the higher buildings actually may be seen to project above ground. The sand mixed with salt had, on getting wet, become solid mud, baked hard by the sun.

Anybody interested in sand and its movements, its ways and process of accumulation, could not do better than take a trip to this part of Sistan. Little as one may care about sand, one is bound to get interested in its ways, and one point in its favour is that with a certain amount of logic and observation one can always understand why it has assumed a certain formation rather than another--a pleasing feature not always existing in all geological formations of the scenery one goes through.

The great expanse of irregular surface soil, with its innumerable obstacles and undulations, was, of course, bound to give curious results in the sand accumulations south of it, where the sand could deposit itself in a more undisturbed fashion and was affected by purely natural causes. Of course, sand hills do not accumulate in the flat desert unless some obstacle--a mere pebble, a tamarisk shrub, a ridge, or a stone, is the primary cause of the accumulation. In the present case, I think the greater number of sand hills had been caused by tamarisk shrubs arresting the sand along its flight southwards.

To enumerate and analyse each sand hill--there were thousands and thousands--would take volumes. I will limit myself to the various most characteristic types of which I give diagrams. The absolutely conical type was here less noticeable, being too much exposed to the wind, which gradually corroded one side of each hill more than the other.

Whatever their shape, the highest point of the sand hills was in any case always to the north-east, the lower to the south-west. As can be seen by the diagram there were single hills and composite ones; there were well-rounded hills, semi-spherical hills, and then came the sand dunes, such as those on the right of our track, like long parallel walls of sand extending for great distances from east to west.

One sand hill, 80 feet high, quite semi-spherical, and with a solitary tamarisk tree on its top, rising some 40 feet above all the others, was quite a landmark along this route. It marked a point from which to the east of our track we found more uniformity in the shape of the sand mounds, which were lower and all semi-spherical. To the west of the track, curiously enough, there were hardly any sand hills at all,--but this was due, I think, to the fact that tamarisk shrubs did not seem to flourish on the latter side, and therefore did not cause the sand to accumulate.

Several miles further, however, at a spot protected by high sand dunes, tamarisk trees were found growing, some being 4 to 6 feet high, and seeming quite luxuriant after the usual desert shrubs which hardly ever rise above two to three feet.

Sadek had purchased at Warmal two big bottles of milk for my use, but as we had found no good water on the way and the heat of the sun was great, he could not resist the temptation, and had drunk it all. When I claimed it he professed that my cats had stolen it. A long jolting ride on the jumbaz camel produced the marvellous result that, although the cats had drunk the milk, Sadek himself was attacked by indigestion caused by it. He seemed to suffer internal agony, and lay on his camel's hump doubled up with pain. He felt so very ill that he requested me to take him on my camel, and to let him exchange places with my driver. To my sorrow I consented.

In a moment of temporary relief from the aching of his digestive organs he entered into one of his favourite geographical discussions. Having for the twentieth time eradicated from his brain the notion that London and Russia were not suburbs of Bombay, he now wanted to know whether Yanki-dunia (by which glorified name the Persians call the United States of America) were inside the "walls" of London city or outside!

He had an idea that the earth was flat, and that London, Bombay and Russia were together on the extreme edge of it. The stars he believed to be lighted up nightly, as one would candles or paraffin lamps. Fortunately, while explaining to me his extraordinary theory of how it was that the moon never appeared alike on two successive nights, he was again seized with another fearful attack, and tumbled off the camel.

Sadek was most unfortunate with animals. He was hated by them all. When he went near horses they would kick, buck and neigh as if a wolf had been at hand; mules stampeded at his sight; cats bolted as if he were about to beat them; and camels were restless and made most fearful noises of disapproval and distress at his approach. When he tried to get on and off, the kneeling camel would suddenly spring up again, causing him to fall, and when he did get on the saddle the vicious brutes would assume a most unusual and uncomfortable jerky motion, which bumped him to such an extent that he could not stand it long, and had to get off. The animals evidently did it purposely to get rid of him, for when I got on any of them they went beautifully. Hence, whenever Sadek wished to ride comfortably he always requested to change seats with my driver, who occupied the front seat on the hump of my camel.

We had a glorious sunset on that evening, not unlike an aurora borealis, in brilliant rays of light radiating from a central point. The sun had already disappeared behind the blue mountain chain, and each bright vermilion ray had like a fish bone or like a peacock's feather, myriads of cross off-shoots in the shape of lighter sprays of light. There was a brilliant yellow glow which tinted the blue sky and made it appear of various gradations, from bright yellow at the lower portion to various delicate shades of green in the centre, blending again into a pure deep cobalt blue high up in the sky, and on this glorious background the feathery vermilion sprays shot up to half way across the celestial vault. Other smaller sprays of vivid yellow light flared up in a crescent nearer the mountain edge.

It was quite a glorious sight, unimpeded by the grand spread of sand in the foreground and a patch or two of humble tamarisks.

The rapidity with which night descends upon the desert, is, as we noticed several times, quite amazing. There was hardly any twilight at all. In a few seconds this beautiful spectacle vanished as by enchantment, and was converted into a most mournful sight. The vermilion feathery sprays, now deprived of the sun's light upon them, were converted into so many gigantic black feathers--of rather funereal appearance--and the emerald green sky became of a dead leaden white. The deep blue, fringed with red and yellow, of the radiant mountains had now turned into a sombre, blackish-grey.

About four miles before reaching Girdi a track branches off, which avoids that place altogether, and rejoins the track again one mile south of Girdi, thus saving a considerable detour.

Our march that day had been from Warmal to Mahommed Raza-Chah (altitude 2,100 feet), eight miles, and from that place to Girdi-chah, twenty-eight miles. The track between the two latter stations was perfectly level, and on jumbaz camels going at a good pace the journey had occupied eight hours and a half.

On arriving at Girdi (altitude 2,200 feet), the Beluch sawar whom I had taken as guide from Mahommed Raza Chah, and my Beluch driver had a most touching scene on meeting some Beluch of a caravan travelling in the opposite direction to mine and camping at Girdi for the night.

The men hastily dismounted from their camels, put their heads together and pressed each the other's right hand, holding it on the heart.

"It is my brother!" cried my camel man, and then followed another outburst of effusion on the brother's part, who seized my hand in both his and shook it heartily for a considerable time. The others followed suit.

There is nothing that an Afghan or a Beluch likes better than a good hearty hand-shake.