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Chapter 4

Lawah or Rawar--A way to Yezd--The bazaar--Trade--Ruined
forts--Opium smoking and its effects--Beggar's ingenious
device--In a local gentleman's home--The Tokrajie--Buying fresh
provisions--Water skins--An unhealthy climate--A fight--When
fever is contracted--Wolves in camp--Fever stricken--A third cat

Lawah or Rawar is, in a way, quite an important centre. It is the last place one passes before entering the Salt Desert proper, on the border of which it is situated, and is, therefore, the last spot where provisions and good water can be obtained. It has a certain amount of local trade and is connected with Yezd by a very tortuous track via Bafk-Kuh-Benan. It has no possible resting place, and we therefore camped just outside the town. The natives were not particularly friendly and seemed inclined to give trouble. There was considerable excitement when we crossed the town in the morning on our arrival, and even more when I went to inspect the city alone in the afternoon.

There was nothing to see, the bazaar in the place being one of the most miserable looking in Persia. It was not domed over like those of other Persian cities, but the streets were merely covered with rafters supporting brush wood and rotten mats. There were no shops proper, but various merchants, and brass-smiths, fruit-sellers, or sellers of articles for caravans, had a certain amount of cheap goods within their habitation doors.

More quaintly interesting were the commercial caravanserais, or small squares with receptacles all round for travelling merchants to display their goods upon. Lawah's trade is principally a transit trade, the caravans which occasionally come through the desert taking an opportunity of selling off some of their goods here, as also, of course, do those that come from Yezd or Kerman.

There is some cultivation of wheat and cotton in the immediate neighbourhood, and of fruit, which is quite excellent. The water is not very plentiful, as can be seen by the hundreds of borings for water and disused kanats to the north of the city, where most fields are to be found, while the majority of fruit gardens and trees are to the east.

Here, as everywhere else in Persia, a great portion of the town is uninhabited and in ruins, and to the south-west, outside the inhabited part, can be seen an interesting ruined quadrangular castle with a double wall and moat with an outer watch tower besides the corner turrets. Inside this castle was formerly a village. Another smaller fort, also in ruins, is situated to the S.S.W.

There are a great many palm trees within the place, and they produce good dates. The climate is most unhealthy, fever of the desert being rampant. Great use is made of opium, which is smoked to excess by the natives and has very disastrous effects in such an unhealthy climate. Personally, I have ever believed, and believe still, that opium used in moderation has no worse effects upon the light-headed human beings who choose to make themselves slaves to it than whisky or tobacco, but under these particular circumstances and in this particular climate it had undoubtedly most evil effects in just the same way that whisky, which is certainly the best drink for damp Scotland, is most injurious to those who make use of it in similar doses in India.

Although I have visited opium dens, merely for the purpose of observing, in almost every Asiatic country where opium smoking is practised, I have never seen cases quite so depressing as here. A great proportion of the population suffered from fever, to allay the sufferings of which opium was used.

There was, of course, the usual contingent of sick people visiting my camp to obtain medicine for their various troubles--one fever-stricken man, with cadaverous face and skeleton-like limbs, collapsing altogether when reaching me and remaining senseless for a considerable time. As I never carry medicine of any kind in my travels I was unable to satisfy them, but I gave them some little present each, which did them just as much good.

Beggars, too, visited the camp in appalling numbers, and their ways were quite interesting; but none was so ingenious as that of an old woman, who waited till there was a goodish crowd of visitors in my camp, and then rushed at me and made a violent scene, saying that I must pay her 50 tomans--about £10.

"But I have never seen you before! What have you done to earn such a sum?"

"Oh, Sahib, you have ruined me!" and she yelled as only an angry old woman can! She plumped herself on my best carpet and proceeded to explain. She said that she had buried the above stated sum in solid silver within a pile of straw, which she had sold the day before to a man to feed his camels upon. She was therefore--according to a reasoning of her own, since I had not yet arrived here the day before, nor could she identify the man with any of my party--certain that my camels had devoured the sum, and I, therefore, must pay the sum back! She was, nevertheless, sure that I was not to blame in the matter, and was willing to waive the claim on the immediate payment of two shais--about a half-penny!

Although it is well to be as kind as one can to the natives, it is never right to allow them to go unpunished for playing tricks. Of all the people--and they were many--who applied for charity that day, she was the only one who received nothing. This punishment, I was glad to see, was approved of by the many natives who had collected round.

A gentlemanly-looking fellow came forward and asked me to visit his house, where he was manufacturing a huge carpet--very handsome in design, but somewhat coarse in texture--ordered for Turkestan. Three women in his house had uncovered faces, and were very good-looking. They brought us tea in the garden, and sweets and water melon, but did not, of course, join in the conversation, and modestly kept apart in a corner. They wore white chudders over the head and long petticoats--quite a becoming attire--while the men, too, were most artistic in appearance, with smart zouave yellow jackets trimmed with fur, with short sleeves not reaching quite to the elbow, leaving the arm quite free in its movements, and displaying the loose sleeve of the shirt underneath.

A couple of newly-born babies were swung in hammocks in the garden, and were remarkably quiet when asleep!

On going for a walk on the outskirts of the city one found a great many fairly high mud hillocks to the east, averaging 400 feet. East-south-east there stood hundreds more of these hillocks, with taller brown hills (the Leker Kuh) behind them, and to the west a high peak, rising to an estimated 11,000 feet, in the Kuh-Benan mountains. The Tokrajie Mountains, south-west of Lawah, did not seem to rise to more than 9,000 or 10,000 feet, and extended in a south-south-east direction. South-east we could still see the Kuh Legav Mountain, at the foot of which we had camped on November 8th. To the north was a long mountain, with a white stratum like a horizontal stripe half-way up it, and the summit was in regular teeth like those of a saw. Another similar but more pointed mountain was to the east-south-east, the white stratum being less horizontal in this portion. This curious white stripe in the hills extended over an arc of a circle from 70° (east-north-east) to 320° (north-west).

We made great purchases of provisions in Lawah--sheep, chickens, eggs, vegetables and fruit, the slaughtered chickens being carefully prepared in layers of salt to make them last as long as possible. Then we purchased a number of sheep skins to carry a further supply of drinking water, for from this place, we were told, we should be several days without finding any. Sadek was busy all day smearing these skins with molten butter to make them absolutely water tight, and I, on my part, was glad to see all the butter go in this operation, for with the intense heat of the day it was impossible to touch it with one's food. Sadek's idea of good cooking was intense richness--everything floating in grease and butter; so these skins, which absorbed all the butter we had, were really a godsend to me--as far as the cuisine of the future was concerned.

There was something in the climate of Lawah that made one feverish and irritable. In the afternoon some of the camel men had a fight with a number of Lawah people, and later the camel men in a body attacked Sadek. He was very plucky and quick--they were heavy but clumsy--so that Sadek succeeded with a heavy mallet in giving them several cracks on the head, but as they were eight to one and closed in upon him and were about to give him a good hammering, I had to rush to his assistance and with the butt of my rifle scattered the lot about. For a moment they seemed as if they were going to turn on me; they were very excited and seized whatever they could lay their hands upon in the shape of sticks and stones, but I casually put a few cartridges in the magazine of my rifle and sat down again on my carpets to continue writing my diary. They came to beg pardon for the trouble they had given, and embraced my feet, professing great humility.

Four camels of the combined caravans had been taken ill with fever and had to be left behind. Their cries from pain were pitiful. Owing to the abundant dinner we got here, with lavish supplies of meat, fruit--most delicious figs, pomegranates and water melons--of which we partook more copiously than wisely, all the men got attacks of indigestion, and so did my poor little kittens, who had stuffed themselves to their hearts' content with milk and the insides of chickens; so that when night came, everybody being ill, we were unable to make a start.

At sunset, with the sudden change in the temperature, and the revulsion from intense dryness to the sudden moisture of the dew, a peculiar feeling took possession of me, and I could feel that I was fast inhaling the miasma of fever. The natives shut themselves up inside their houses--for sunset, they say, and sunrise are the times when fever is contracted,--but we were out in the open and had no protection against it. It seems to seize one violently from the very beginning and sends up one's temperature extremely high, which produces a fearful exhaustion, with pains in the ribs, arms and spinal column.

The altitude of Lawah is 4,420 ft. and therefore the nights are terribly cold in contrast to the stifling heat of the day. I had wrapped myself up in my blankets, shivering with the fever that had seized me quite violently, and the kittens were playing about near my bed. My men were all sound asleep and only the occasional hoarse roar of the squatted camels all round our camp broke the silence of the night. I eventually fell asleep with my hat over my face screening it from the heavy fall of dew.

Suddenly I woke up, startled by the kittens dashing under my blankets and sticking their claws into me and making a fearful racket, and also by some other animals sniffing my face. I jumped up, rifle in hand, for indeed there were some wolves visiting our camp. One--a most impudent rascal--was standing on one of my boxes, and another had evidently made a dash for the white cat; hence the commotion.

The wolves bolted when I got up--I could not fire owing to the camels and people being all round--but the kittens did not stir from their hiding place until the next morning, when in broad day-light they cautiously peeped out to see that the danger had passed.

With the coming day the gruesome reality had to be faced, that one and all of my party had contracted fever of the desert in more or less violent form, even the kittens, who sneezed and trembled the whole day. Some of the camels, too, were unwell and lay with their long necks resting upon the ground and refused to eat. The prospects of crossing the most difficult part of the desert with such a sorry party were not very bright, but we made everything ready, and at ten o'clock in the evening we were to make a start.

I purchased here a third and most beautiful cat--a weird animal, and so wild that when let out of the bag in which it had been brought to me, he covered us all over with scratches. He was three months old, and had quite a will of his own. When introduced to Master Kerman and Miss Zeris, there were reciprocal growls and arched backs, and when asked to share their travelling home for the night there was evident objection and some exchange of spitting. But as there were four corners in the wooden box and only three cats, they eventually settled down, one in each, watching the new comer with wide expanded eyes and fully outstretched claws, merely for defensive emergencies, but otherwise quite peacefully inclined.