Persia/Chapter 37

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As the manner of travelling in the East differs widely from ours, it may not be amiss to devote a few pages to that subject.

Owing to the insecurity and difficulty of the roads in Persia, it is dangerous to travel ever so small a distance without attendants or escort. In longer journeys, it is common to join a company of travellers who are going to the same place. Such a company is called kaufileh, or caravan. The beasts of burden are camels, horses, and mules.

The kaufileh is commanded by a tchaharvadar, or chief, who undertakes to furnish servants, horses, and other beasts of burden, and provisions, during the journey, at such a rate as may be agreed on.

The caravan marches in the closest order possible. When there are no caravanserais in the country through which it is travelling, as soon as it reaches its menzil-gah, or resting-place, the tchaharvadar points out to each individual the spot where he is to deposit his baggage and merchandise, that there may be no confusion. The baggage forms a semicircle, the centre of which is occupied by the provisions and beds. This place, as well as the encampment of each traveller, is encompassed with a hair-rope. The beasts of burden are all stationed facing their respective loads, and are merely tied by hair-ropes.

The tchaharvadar is stirring with his people-before light, to superintend the loading of the goods, so that the caravan may start with the dawn, that is, between three and four in the morning. A bell or drum gives the signal for departure.

Women of superior rank, and sick persons, travel in takhti-evans, or litters carried by two camels or mules, one before and the other behind, as described in a preceding part of the work.The women and children of the poor are carried in panniers suspended from the backs of mules or camels.

The Orientals, though they account the founding of caravanserais, or inns in which travellers are lodged gratuitously, a work well pleasing to God, nevertheless, take no pains to keep their roads in order. Turn which way you please in Turkey and in Persia, and you will find none of those beautiful roads which in Europe facilitate the communication between the most remote provinces. Kinneir attributes to the barbarous monarchs of Asia the notion, that the bad state of the roads tends to strengthen their authority. Accustomed to see their power defied, and their thrones threatened by rebellious officers, they would be apprehensive lest, by constructing high-wads through all parts of their empire, they should facilitate the enterprises of these officers against the principal cities; whereas, the difficulties of a mountainous, dry, and desert country, by retarding the progress of an army, afford the sovereign time to collect his forces.

The Persians, having no high-roads, are unacquainted with the use of any such. marks of distances as our mile-stones. In practice, they do not even employ the division of distances by farsangs; leaving that measure to the curious traveller and the professed geographer, they reckon the distance from town to town, by days' journeys, or halting-places. These journeys are not governed by the distance travelled, but by the convenience of the spot for passing the night: Kämpfer remarked, that they were never less than six leagues nor more than twelve.

The Persians employ the same term for the station or halting-place, as for the day's journey. This is some spot on the road, where there is in general a caravanserai, and where water fit for drinking is supplied by nature, but more commonly obtained by art. In the deserts, the presence of water alone determines the halting-place. The traveller, overcome with fatigue, reclines under an acacia, a cypress, or a sycamore; his lodging costs him nothing; he sleeps abroad without apprehension; quenches his thirst with limpid rapid water, unadulterated by any mixture; and appeases his hunger with dried fruit, which the tchaharvadar has taken care to provide for the use of the caravan.

The form and number of the caravanserais differ with the climate: they are more frequent in the northern than in the southern provinces, where the purity and dryness of the air allow the traveller to pass the night abroad without danger to his health. Their extent and elegance depend on the fortune of the founder: and in the north of Persia, they are commonly built of brick. Their figure is usually a square, and externally they exhibit nothing but a dead wall. A description of the caravanserai of Guz, will furnish an idea of the general accommodations of them all.

The extent of this building is an exact square, of one hundred yards on every side, flanked by four towers. Within these walls are the buildings which form the accommodations of the caravan. On entering the great gate, the first object that presents itself is a kind of piazza, extending on every side of the interior of the quadrangle, leaving a noble area or. court in the middle. These piazzas are subdivided into lofty arched apartments, open in front, and all neatly paved. At ten feet within each of these is another chamber fifteen feet deep, and containing at its farther end fire-place, besides several little compartments cut out of the thickness of the wall, called topshehs or cupboards, which are deemed indispensable in every Persian room. This interior chamber is seldom resorted to before winter; the outer one, open to the court, being considered the summer apartment from the advantage it affords of fresh air. The traveller spreads his nummud upon the paved floor, fitting it up with bedding according to his own idea of comfort; but nothing is really necessary beyond a pillow, with a sheet for the warmest nights and a quilt for the cool. Immediately behind this double range of chambers runs an open space or lane, in like manner following the quadrangular sweep of the building; the hinder side of the lane, that is the one nearest the wall of the caravanserais, being an arcade also, and divided into cell-like apartments, for the use of servants, muleteers, and other persons wishing to keep Station near their cattle, which are generally stabled in the lane between the front of this last arcade, and the back of the one first described. Sometimes, when the caravanseraisis very full, the animals are picketed in the great court, while their attendant sleep on a large elevated square platform, which occupies the centre, and round it the packages of the travellers are piled up in heaps. Reposing in the open air is not merely a luxury to all orders of people in this climate, in summer, but it is indispensable to their health and comfort in many other respects, close apartments being often not only intolerable from heat, but sorely infested with vermin. One ample entrance leads into the caravanserais, the gates of which are closed soon after sun-set, and only occasionally re-opened during the night for the egress of departing guests. Beneath the extensive vaulted roof of the porch, are the quarters of the keeper, o: warden, and his people; with the shop and other repositories of the accommodations, he prepares for travellers. Among his numerous stores, we see exposed to sale, tobacco, rice, grapes, water-melons, eggs, grease, bread, wood, corn, moss, &c. This last article is a beverage of acidulated milk, which, diluted with water, is a favourite drink with the natives. The antiquity of this beverage is so great, that Plutarch mentions it as part of the ceremony at the consecration of the Persian kings, to quaff a large goblet of this acidulated mixture. Every commodity being sold at double the ordinary price, the renter of the caravanseraisis enabled to. pay liberally to the agent of the crown for his privilege, and to realize a handsome profit besides.

In most of the caravanserais which remain from earlier times,. there are three or four vaulted chambers over the grand portico, which have always been held in more dignity than any others of the building. These are perforated on all sides with apertures and doors, being a sort of temples of the winds, imbibing a breeze or blast at every pore. Hence, when the wind is at all brisk, it is difficult to find a sheltered nook in these chambers from the clouds of dust and gravel; but in serene weather, the traveller, stretched on carpets in one of these balconies, owing to the zephyrs around and to the heavens above glowing with stars, enjoys a truly luxurious repose.

As the caravanserais are open to travellers of every description, the shelter which they afford is frequently purchased at the expense of other comforts. Sir R. Porter relates, that at one of these places he Found a large body of pilgrims, many of whom were stripped to the skin to have free chase after the infinity of vermin which covered their squalid and unchanged garments: and as they never destroy what they discover, but throw them down, the floor of any place of their rest seldom fails swarming like the quarters of Egypt. Fleas too are met with in all the caravanserais skipping about in myriads;'and as whirlwinds are frequent at the close of the day, these creatures literally come in clouds, mingled with chaff and dust, and entering the open recesses fill every nook and dwelling-hole destined to shelter the passing guest.

The traveller just quoted also informs us, that the town of Mianna is infested with a plague, which it has been found impossible to eradicate, in the form of a small but poisonous bug. It breeds in myriads in all the old houses, and may be seen creeping over every part of their walls, of the size and shape of the European bug, only a little flatter, and of a bright red colour. Its bite is mortal, producing death at the expiration of eight or nine months. Strangers of every sort, not merely foreigners, but persons not usually inhabiting the town or its vicinity, are liable to be thus poisoned; while the people themselves and the adjacent peasantry are either never bitten, or if so the consequences are not more baneful to them than the sting of the least noxious insect. Sir Robert adds, that this is without doubt the same city which the often marvellous and sometimes veritable Maundeville mentions as "lying in the way from Thaurisso (Tabreez) towards the East, where no Christene man may 1onge dwelle, ne enduren with life in that cytee, but dyen within short time and no man knowethe the cause."

Kotzebue, whose description of this insect agrees pretty nearly with the above, distinctly asserts, however, that its bite proves mortal in twenty-four hours. He mentions two instances of its effects. He says, he was repeatedly told by the English at Tabreez, that they had lost a servant at Mianna, who had the misfortune to be bitten by one of these vermin: he complained immediately of parching heat over his whole body; shortly afterwards he became delirious, and expired in dreadful convulsions.

Colonel Baron Wrede, continues the same writer, who has long served with credit in Grusia, and who was some years since sent on a mission to Persia, relates a better authenticated instance of the poisonous bite of these bugs. It was pretty late in the year, when their bite is considered less venomous than in the heat of summer, and the baron thought that its effect might not be so dangerous as was reported. He determined, therefore, to pass the night at Mianna, taking care, however, to keep a light burning in his apartment. Every one happily escaped, with the exception of a Cossack, who next morning observed a black spot on his foot. The man talked wildly, and at last became delirious. The inhabitants recommended by way of antidote that an ox should be slaughtered, and his skin wrapped while warm round the Cossack's foot: this was done, but to no purpose; he died in dreadful convulsions. The inhabitants assert that persons bitten by these bugs have been saved by tasting nothing but water, sugar, and honey, for forty days. They themselves handle them without danger. It is fortunate that clothes and similar articles do not harbour these vermin, otherwise they might perhaps have spread throughout the whole country.

The Persians have no wheel-carriages: hence the presents carried out for the king by Sir Gore Ouseley, being for the most part too bulky to be loaded on camels, had to be carried by men from Bushire to Teheran, a distance of 620 miles. To lighten the labour of descending the steep mountains, the Persian attendants adopted the expedient of fastening some of the cases upon a gun-carriage, and letting it run at random down the declivities. The destruction of the article attached to it was the almost invariable consequence: out of seventy mirrors, about one-third arrived safe, the rest being entirely demolished.

Among the articles destined for the king was a carriage, which the ambassador, attended by the grand-visir and all the principal officers of state, presented with great formality to his majesty. He walked round the carriage, examined it minutely, admired its beauty, criticised its contrivances, and then got inside, leaving his shoes at the door, and seating himself with much satisfaction on the velvet cushions. Some of the secretaries of state and other persons of rank, in their court-dresses, then fastened themselves to it and dragged the king backward and forward, to his great delight, which he expressed by some good remarks on the convenience of carriages and the ingenuity of Europeans in bringing them to such great perfection. The king kept his seat more than half an hour, observing, that there would be very good sitting-room for two, pointing to the bottom of the carriage as the place for the second. When he had smoked his kallioun within it, he descended, made the ambassador a very handsome acknowledgment for so magnificent a present, ordered the Ameen-ad-Dowlah to purchase six large horses to draw it. Instead, however, of being used, it was put into a warehouse, where it was bricked up, and where it is likely to remain.

Pietro della Valle relates, that when he was at lspahan, the English gave a superb carriage to Shah Abbas, who looked at it once: it was then put away, and never seen afterwards.