Thin ice covers the still pools of water when I resume my toilsome route over the mountains at daybreak, a raw wind coines whistling from the east, and until the sun begins to warm things up a little, it is necessary to stop and buffet occasionally to prevent benumbed hands. Obtaining some small lumps of wheaten dough cooked crisp in hot grease, like unsweetened doughnuts, from a horseman on the road, I push ahead toward the summit and then down the eastern slope of the mountains; rounding an abutting hill about 9.30, the glorious snow-crowned peak of Ararat suddenly bursts upon my vision; it is a good forty leagues away, but even at this distance it dwarfs everything else in sight. Although surrounded by giant mountain chains that traverse the country at every conceivable angle, Ararat stands alone in its solitary grandeur, a glistening white cone rearing its giant height proudly and conspicuously above surrounding eminences; about mountains that are insignificant only in comparison with the white-robed monarch that has been a beacon-light of sacred history since sacred history has been in existence.
Descending now toward the Alashgird Plain, a prominent theatre of action during the war, I encounter splendid wheeling for some miles; but once fairly down on the level, cultivated plain, the road becomes heavy with dust. Villages dot the broad, expansive plain in every direction; conical stacks of tezek are observable among the houses, piled high up above the roofs, speaking of commendable forethought for the approaching cold weather. In one of the Armenian villages I am not a little surprised at finding a lone German; he says he prefers an agricultural life in this country with all its disadvantages, to the hard, grinding struggle for existence, and the compulsory military service of the Fatherland. "Here," he goes on to explain, "there is no foamy lager, no money, no comfort, no amusement of any kind, but there is individual liberty, and it is very easy making a living; therefore it is for me a better country than Deutschland." " Everybody to their liking," I think, as I continue on across the plain; but for a European to be living in one of these little agricultural villages comes the nearest to being buried alive of anything I know of. The road improves in hardness as I proceed eastward, but the peculiar disadvantages of being a conspicuous and incomprehensible object on a populous level plain soon becomes manifest. Seeing the bicycle glistening in the sunlight as I ride along, horsemen come wildly galloping from villages miles away. Some of these wonderstricken people endeavor to pilot me along branch trails leading to their villages, but the main caravan trail is now too easily distinguishable for any little deceptiona of this kind to succeed. Here, on the Alashgird Plain, I first hear myself addressed as "Hamsherri," a term which now takes the place of Effendi for the next five hundred miles.
Owing to the disgust engendered by my unsavory quarters in the wretched Dele Baba village last night, I have determined upon seeking the friendly shelter of a wheat-shock again to-night, preferring the chances of being frozen out at midnight to the entomological possibilities of village hovels. Accordingly, near sunset, I repair to a village not far from the road, for the purpose of obtaining something to eat before seeking out a rendezvous for the night. It turns out to be the Koordish village of Malosman, and the people are found to be so immeasurably superior in every particular to their kinsfolk of Dele Baba that I forthwith cancel my determination and accept their proffered hospitality. The Malosmanlis are comparatively clean and comfortable; are reasonably well-dressed, seem well-to-do, and both men and women are, on the average, handsomer than the people of any village I have seen for days past. Almost all possess a conspicuously beautiful set of teeth, pleasant, smiling countenances and good physique; they also seem to have, somehow, acquired easy, agreeable manners.
The secret of the whole difference, I opine, is that, instead of being located among the inhospitable soil of barren hills they are cultivating the productive soil of the Alashgird Plain, and, being situated on the great Persian caravan trail, they find a ready market for their grain in supplying the caravans in winter. Their Sheikh is a handsome and good-natured young fellow, sporting white clothes trimmed profusely with red braid; he spends the evening in my company, examining the bicycle, revolver, telescopic pencil-case, L.A.W. badge, etc., and hands me his carved ivory case to select cigarettes from. It would have required considerable inducements to have trusted either my L.A.W. badge or the Smith & Wesson in the custody of any of our unsavory acquaintances of last night, notwithstanding their great outward show of piety. There are no deep-drawn sighs of Allah, nor ostentatious praying among the Malosmanlis, but they bear the stamp of superior trustworthiness plainly on their faces and their bearing. There appears to be far more jocularity than religion among these prosperous villagers, a trait that probably owes its development to their apparent security from want; it is no newly discovered trait of human character to cease all prayers and supplications whenever the granary is overflowing with plenty, and to commence devotional exercises again whenever the supply runs short. This rule would hold good among the childlike natives here, even more so than it does among our more enlightened selves.
I sally forth into the chilly atmosphere of early morning from Maloaman, and wheel eastward over an excellent road for some miles; an obliging native, en route to the harvest field, turns his buffalo araba around and carts me over a bridgeless stream, but several others have to be forded ere reaching Kirakhan, where I obtain breakfast. Here I am required to show my teskeri to the mudir, and the zaptieh escorting me thither becomes greatly mystified over the circumstance that I am a Frank and yet am wearing a Mussulman head-band around my helmet (a new one I picked up on the road); this little fact appeals to him as something savoring of an attempt to disguise myself, and he grows amusingly mysterious while whisperingly bringing it to the mudir's notice. The habitual serenity and complacency of the corpulent mudir's mind, however, is not to be unduly disturbed by trifles, and the untutored zaptieh's disposition to attach some significant meaning to it, meets with nothing from his more enlightened superior but the silence of unconcern.
More streams have to be forded ere I finally emerge on to higher ground; all along the Alashgird Plain, Ararat's glistening peak has been peeping over the mountain framework of the plain like a white beacon-light showing above a dark rocky shore; but approaching toward the eastern extremity of the plain, my road hugs the base of the intervening hills and it temporarily disappears from view. In this portion of the country, camels are frequently employed in bringing the harvest from field to village threshing-floor; it is a curious sight to see these awkwardly moving animals walking along beneath tremendous loads of straw, nothing visible but their heads and legs. Sometimes the meandering course of the Euphrates - now the eastern fork, and called the Moorad-Chai - brings it near the mountains, and my road leads over bluffs immediately above it; the historic river seems well supplied with trout hereabouts, I can look down from the bluffs and observe speckled beauties sporting about in its pellucid waters by the score. Toward noon I fool away fifteen minutes trying to beguile one of them into swallowing a grasshopper and a bent pin, but they are not the guileless creatures they seem to be when surveyed from an elevated bluff, so they steadily refuse whatever blandishments I offer. An hour later I reach the village of Daslische, inhabited by a mixed population of Turks and Persians. At a shop kept by one of the latter I obtain some bread and ghee (clarified butter), some tea, and a handful of wormy raisins for dessert; for these articles, besides building a fire especially to prepare the tea, the unconscionable Persian charges the awful sum of two piastres (ten cents); whereupon the Turks, who have been interested spectators of the whole nefarious proceeding, commence to abuse him roundly for overcharging a stranger unacquainted with the prices of the locality calling him the son of a burnt father, and other names that tino-je unpleasantly in the Persian ear, as though it was a matter of pounds sterling.
Beyond Daslische, Ararat again becomes visible; the country immediately around is a ravine- riven plateau, covered with bowlders. An hour after leaving Daslische, while climbing the eastern slope of a ravine, four rough-looking footmen appear on the opposite side of the slope; they are following after me, and shouting "Kardash!" These people with their old swords and pistols conspicuously about them, always raise suspicions of brigands and evil characters under such circumstances as these, so I continue on up the slope without heeding their shouting until I observe two of them turn back; I then wait, out of curiosity, to see what they really want. They approach with broad grins of satisfaction at having overtaken me: they have run all the way from Daslische in order to overtake me and see the bicycle, having heard of it after I had left. I am now but a short distance from the Russian frontier on the north, and the first Turkish patrol is this afternoon patrolling the road; he takes a wondering interest in my wheel, but doesn't ask the oft-repeated question, "Russ or Ingiliz?" It is presumed that he is too familiar with the Muscovite "phiz" to make any such question necessary.
About four o'clock I overtake a jack-booted horseman, who straightway proceeds to try and make himself agreeable; as his flowing remarks are mostly unintelligible, to spare him from wasting the sweetness of his eloquence on the desert air around me, I reply, "Turkchi binmus." Instead of checking the impetuous torrent of his remarks at hearing this, he canters companionably alongside, and chatters more persistently than ever. "T-u-r-k-chi b-i-n-m-u-s!" I repeat, becoming rather annoyed at his persistent garrulousness and his refusal to understand. This has the desired effect of reducing him to silence; but he canters doggedly behind, and, after a space creeps up alongside again, and, pointing to a large stone building which has now become visible at the base of a mountain on the other side of the Euphrates, timidly ventures upon the explanation that it is the Armenian Gregorian Monastery of Sup Ogwanis (St. John). Finding me more favorably disposed to listen than before, he explains that he himself is an Armenian, is acquainted with the priests of the monastery, and is going to remain there over night; he then proposes that I accompany him thither, and do likewise.
I am, of course, only too pleased at the prospect of experiencing something out of the common, and gladly avail myself of the opportunity; moreover, monasteries and religious institutions in general, have somehow always been pleasantly associated in my thoughts as inseparable accompaniments of orderliness and cleanliness, and I smile serenely to myself at the happy prospect of snowy sheets, and scrupulously clean cooking.
Crossing the Euphrates on a once substantial stone bridge, now in a sadly dilapidated condition, that was doubtless built when Armenian monasteries enjoyed palmier days than the present, we skirt the base of a compact mountain and in a few minutes alight at the monastery village. Exit immediately all visions of cleanliness; the village is in no wise different from any other cluster of mud hovels round about, and the rag-bedecked, flea-bitten objects that come outside to gaze at us, if such a thing were possible, compare unfavorably even with the Dele Baba Koords. There is apparent at once, however, a difference between the respective dispositions of the two peoples: the Koords are inclined to be pig-headed and obtrusive, as though possessed of their full share of the spirit of self-assertion; the Sup Ogwanis people, on the contrary, act like beings utterly destitute of anything of the kind, cowering beneath one's look and shunning immediate contact as though habitually overcome with a sense of their own inferiority. The two priests come out to see the bicycle ridden; they are stout, bushy-whiskered, greasy-looking old jokers, with small twinkling black eyes, whose expression would seem to betoken anything rather than saintliness, and, although the Euphrates flows hard by, they are evidently united in their enmity against soap and water, if in nothing else; in fact, judging from outward appearances, water is about the only thing concerning which they practise abstemiousness. The monastery itself is a massive structure of hewn stone, surrounded by a high wall loop-holed for defence; attached to the wall inside is a long row of small rooms or cells, the habitations of the monks in more prosperous days; a few of them are occupied at present by the older men.
At 5.30 P.M., the bell tolls for evening service, and I accompany my guide into the monastery; it is a large, empty-looking edifice of simple, massive architecture, and appears to have been built with a secondary purpose of withstanding a siege or an assault, and as a place of refuge for the people in troublous times; containing among other secular appliances a large brick oven for baking bread. During the last war, the place was actually bombarded by the Russians in an effort to dislodge a body of Koords who had taken possession of the monastery, and from behind its solid walls, harassed the Russian troops advancing toward Erzeroum. The patched up holes made by the Russians' shots are pointed out, as also some light earthworks thrown up on the Russian position across the river. In these degenerate days one portion of the building is utilized as a storehouse for grain; hundreds of pigeons are cooing and roosting on the crossbeams, making the place their permanent abode, passing in and out of narrow openings near the roof; and the whole interior is in a disgustingly filthy condition. Rude fresco representations of the different saints in the Gregorian calendar formerly adorned the walls, and bright colored tiles embellished the approach to the altar. Nothing is distinguishable these days but the crumbling and half-obliterated evidences of past glories; both priests and people seem hopelessly sunk in the quagmire of avariciousness and low cunning on the one hand, and of blind ignorance and superstition on the other. Clad in greasy and seedy-looking cowls, the priests go through a few nonsensical manosuvres, consisting chiefly of an ostentatious affectation of reverence toward an altar covered with tattered drapery, by never turning their backs toward it while they walk about, Bible in hand, mumbling and sighing. My self-constituted guide and myself comprise the whole congregation during the "services." Whenever the priests heave a particularly deep- fetched sigh or fall to mumbling their prayers on the double quick, they invariably cast a furtive glance toward me, to ascertain whether I am noticing the impenetrable depth of their holiness. They needn't be uneasy on that score, however; the most casual observer cannot fail to perceive that it is really and truly impenetrable - so impenetrable, in fact, that it will never be unearthed, not even at the day of judgment. In about ten minutes the priests quit mumbling, bestow a Pharisaical kiss on the tattered coverlet of their Bibles, graciously suffer my jack-booted companion to do likewise, as also two or three ragamuffins who have come sneaking in seemingly for that special purpose, and then retreat hastily behind a patch-work curtain; the next minute they reappear in a cowlless condition, their countenances wearing an expression of intense relief, as though happy at having gotten through with a disagreeable task that had been weighing heavily on their minds all day.
We are invited to take supper with their Reverences in their cell beneath the walls, which they occupy in common. The repast consists of yaort and pillau, to which is added, by way of compliment to visitors, five salt fishes about the size of sardines. The most greasy-looking of the divines thoughtfully helps himself to a couple of the fishes as though they were a delicacy quite irresistible, leaving one apiece for us others. Having created a thirst with the salty fish, he then seizes what remains of the yaort, pours water into it, mixes it thoroughly together with his unwashed hand, and gulps down a full quart of the swill with far greater gusto than mannerliness. Soon the priests commence eructating aloud, which appears to be a well-understood signal that the limit of their respective absorptive capacities are reached, for three hungry-eyed laymen, who have been watching our repast with seemingly begrudging countenances, now carry the wooden tray bodily off into a corner and ravenously devour the remnants. Everything about the cell is abnormally filthy, and I am glad when the inevitable cigarettes are ended and we retire to the quarters assigned us in the village. Here my companion produces from some mysterious corner of his clothing a pinch of tea and a few lumps of sugar. A villager quickly kindles a fire and cooks the tea, performing the services eagerly, in anticipation of coming in for a modest share of what to him is an unwonted luxury. Being rewarded with a tiny glassful of tea and a lump of sugar, he places the sweet morsel in his mouth and sucks the tea through it with noisy satisfaction, prolonging the presumably delightful sensation thereby produced to fully a couple of minutes. During this brief indulgence of his palate, a score of his ragged co- religionists stand around and regard him with mingled envy and covetousness; but for two whole minutes he occupies his proud eminence in the lap of comparative luxury, and between slow, lingering sucks at the tea, regards their envious attention with studied indifference. One can scarcely conceive of a more utterly wretched people than the monastic community of Sup Ogwanis; one would not be surprised to find them envying even the pariah curs of the country.
The wind blows raw and chilly from off the snowy slopes of Ararat next morning, and the shivering, half-clad-wretches shuffle off toward the fields and pastures, - with blue noses and unwilling faces, humping their backs and shrinking within themselves and wearing most lugubrious countenances; one naturally falls to wondering what they do in the winter. The independent villagers of the surrounding country have a tough enough time of it, worrying through the cheerless winters of a treeless and mountainous country; but they at least have no domestic authority to obey but their own personal and family necessities, and they consume the days huddled together in their unventilated hovels over a smouldering tezek fire; but these people seem but helpless dolts under the vassalage of a couple of crafty-looking, coarse-grained priests, who regard them with less consideration than they do the monastery buffaloes.
Eleven miles over a mostly ridable trail brings me to the large village of Dyadin. Dyadin is marked on my map as quite an important place, consequently I approach it with every assurance of obtaining a good breakfast. My inquiries for refreshments are met with importunities of bin bacalem, from five hundred of the rag-tag and bobtail of the frontier, the rowdiest and most inconsiderate mob imaginable. In their eagerness and impatience to see me ride, and their exasperating indifference to my own pressing wants, some of them tell me bluntly there is no bread; others, more considerate, hurry away and bring enough bread to feed a dozen people, and one fellow contributes a couple of onions. Pocketing the onions and some of the bread, I mount and ride away from the madding crowd with whatever despatch is possible, and retire into a secluded dell near the road, a mile from town, to eat my frugal breakfast in peace and quietness. While thus engaged, it is with veritable savage delight that I hear a company of horsemen go furiously galloping past; they are Dyadin people endeavoring to overtake me for the kindly purpose of worrying me out of my senses, and to prevent me even eating a bite of bread unseasoned with their everlasting gabble. Although the road from Dyadin eastward leads steadily upward, they fancy that nothing less than a wild, sweeping gallop will enable them to accomplish their fell purpose; I listen to their clattering hoof-beats dying away in the dreamy distance, with a grin of positively malicious satisfaction, hoping sincerely that they will keep galloping onward for the next twenty miles.
No such happy consummation of my wishes occurs, however; a couple of miles up the ascent I find them hobnobbing with some Persian caravan men and patiently awaiting my appearance, having learned from the Persians that I had not yet gone past. Mingled with the keen disappointment of overtaking them so quickly, is the pleasure of witnessing the Persians' camels regaling themselves on a patch of juicy thistles of most luxuriant growth; the avidity with which they attack the great prickly vegetation, and the expression of satisfaction, utter and peculiar, that characterizes a camel while munching a giant thistle stalk that protrudes two feet out of his mouth, is simply indescribable.
From this pass I descend into the Aras Plain, and, behold the gigantic form of Ararat rises up before me, seemingly but a few miles away; as a matter of fact it is about twenty miles distant, but with nothing intervening between myself and its tremendous proportions but the level plain, the distance is deceptive. No human habitations are visible save the now familiar black tents of Koordish tribesmen away off to the north, and as I ride along I am overtaken by a sensation of being all alone in the company of an overshadowing and awe-inspiring presence. One's attention seems irresistibly attracted toward the mighty snow-crowrned monarch, as though,the immutable law of attraction were sensibly exerting itself to draw lesser bodies to it, and all other objects around seemed dwarfed into insignificant proportions. One obtains a most comprehensive idea of Ararat's 17,325 feet when viewing it from the Aras Plain, as it rises sheer from the plain, and not from the shoulders of a range that constitutes of itself the greater part of the height, as do many mountain peaks. A few miles to the eastward is Little Ararat, an independent conical peak of 12,800 feet, without snow, but conspicuous and distinct from surrounding mountains; its proportions are completely dwarfed and overshadowed by the nearness and bulkiness of its big brother. The Aras Plain is lava-strewn and uncultivated for a number of miles; the spongy, spreading feet of innumerable camels have worn paths in the hard lava deposit that makes the wheeling equal to English roads, except for occasional stationary blocks of lava that the animals have systematically stepped over for centuries, and which not infrequently block the narrow trail and compel a dismount. Evidently Ararat was once a volcano; the lofty peak which now presents a wintry appearance even in the hottest summer weather, formerly belched forth lurid flames that lit up the surrounding country, and poured out fiery torrents of molten lava that stratified the abutting hills, and spread like an overwhelming flood over the Aras Plain. Abutting Ararat on the west are stratiform hills, the strata of which are plainly distinguishable from the Persian trail and which, were their inclination continued, would strike Ararat at or near the summit. This would seem to indicate the layers to be representations of the mountain's former volcanic overflowings.
I am sitting on a block of lava making an outline sketch of Ararat, when a peasant happens along with a bullock-load of cucumbers which he is taking to the Koordish camps; he is pretty badly scared at finding himself all alone on the Aras Plain with such a nondescript and dangerous-looking object as a helmeted wheelman, and when I halt him with inquiries concerning the nature of his wares he turns pale and becomes almost speechless with fright. He would empty his sacks as a peace-offering at my feet without venturing upon a remonstrance, were he ordered to do so; and when I relieve him of but one solitary cucumber, and pay him more than he would obtain for it among the Koords, he becomes stupefied with astonishment; when he continues on his way he hardly knows whether he is on his head or his feet. An hour later I arrive at Kizil Dizah, the last village in Turkish territory, and an official station of considerable importance, where passports, caravan permits, etc., of everybody passing to or from Persia have to be examined. An officer here provides me with refreshments, and while generously permitting the population to come in and enjoy the extraordinary spectacle of seeing me fed, he thoughtfully stations a man with a stick to keep them at a respectful distance. A later hour in the afternoon finds me trundling up a long acclivity leading to the summit of a low mountain ridge; arriving at the summit I stand on the boundary-line between the dominions of the Sultan and the Shah, and I pause a minute to take a brief, retrospective glance.
The cyclometer, affixed to the bicycle at Constantinople, now registers within a fraction of one thousand miles; it has been on the whole an arduous thousand miles, but those who in the foregoing pages have followed me through the strange and varied experiences of the journey will agree with me when I say that it has proved more interesting than arduous after all. I need not here express any blunt opinions of the different people encountered; it is enough that my observations concerning them have been jotted down as I have mingled with them and their characteristics from day to day; almost without exception, they have treated me the best they knew how; it is only natural that some should know how better than others.
Page 40 of 50