A new caravanserai is in process of construction just outside the Tabreez gate, and I become an interested spectator of the Persian mode of building the walls of a house; these of the new caravanserai are nearly four feet thick. Parallel walls of mud bricks are built up, leaving an interspace of two feet or thereabouts; this is filled with stiff, well-worked mud, which is dumped in by bucketsful and continually tramped by barefooted laborers; harder bricks are used for the doorways and windows. The bricklayer uses mud for mortar and his hands for a trowel; he works without either level or plumb-line, and keeps up a doleful, melancholy chant from morning to night. The mortar is handed to him by an assistant by handsful; every workman is smeared and spattered with mud from head to foot, as though glorying in covering themselves with the trade-mark of their calling.
Strolling away from the busy builders we encounter a man the "water boy of the gang"- bringing a three-gallon pitcher of water from a spring half a mile away. Being thirsty, the soldiers shout for him to bring the pitcher. Scarcely conceiving it possible that these humble mud-daubers would be so wretchedly sanctimonious, I drink from the jar, much to the disgust of the poor water-carrier, who forthwith empties the remainder away and returns with hurried trot to the spring for a fresh supply; he would doubtless have smashed the vessel had it been smaller and of lesser value. Naturally I feel a trifle conscience-stricken at having caused him so much trouble, for he is rather an elderly man, but the soldiers display no sympathy for him whatever, apparently regarding an humble water-carrier as a person of small consequence anyhow, and they laugh heartily at seeing him trotting briskly back half a mile for another load. Had he taken the first water after a Ferenghi had drank from it and allowed his fellow-workmen to unwittingly partake of the same, it would probably have fared badly with the old fellow had they found it out afterward.
Returning cityward we meet our friend, the moonshi bashi, looking me up; he is accompanied by a dozen better-class Persians, scattering friends and acquaintances of his, whom he hag collected during the day chiefly to show them my map of Persia; the mechanical beauty of the bicycle and the apparent victory over the laws of equilibrium in riding it being, in the opinion of the scholarly moonshi bashi, quite overshadowed by a map which shows Teheran and Khoi, and doesn't show Stamboul, and which shows the whole broad expanse of Persia, and only small portions of other countries. This latter fact seems to have made a very deep impression upon the moonshi banhi's mind; it appears to have filled him with the unalterable conviction that all other countries are insignificant compared with Persia; in his own mind this patriotic person has always believed this to be the case, but he is overjoyed at finding his belief verified - as he fondly imagines - by the map of a Ferenghi. Returning to the caravanserai, we find the courtyard crowded with people, attracted by the fame of the bicycle. The moonshi bashi straightway ascends to the bala-khana, tenderly unfolds my map, and displays it for the inspection of the gaping multitude below; while five hundred pairs of eyes gaze wonderingly upon it, without having the slightest conception of what they are looking at, he proudly traces with his finger the outlines of Persia. It is one of the most amusing scenes imaginable; the moonshi bashi and myself, surrounded by his little company of friends, occupying the bala-khana, proudly displaying to a mixed crowd of fully five hundred people a shilling map as a thing to be wondered at and admired.
After the departure of the moonshi bashi and his friends, by invitation I pay a visit of curiosity to a company of dervishes (they themselves pronounce it "darwish") occupying one of the caravanserai rooms. There are eight of them lolling about in one small room; their appearance is disgusting and yet interesting; they are all but naked in deference to the hot weather and to obtain a little relief from the lively tenants of their clothing. Prominent among their effects are panther or leopard skins which they use as cloaks, small steel battle-axes, and huge spiked clubs. Their whole appearance is most striking and extraordinary; their long black hair is dangling about their naked shoulders; they have the wild, haggard countenances of men whose lives are being spent in debauchery and excesses; nevertheless, most of them have a decidedly intellectual expression. The Persian dervishes are a strange and interesting people; they spend their whole lives in wandering from one end of the country to another, subsisting entirely by mendicancy; yet their cry, instead of a beggar's supplication for charity, is "huk, huk" (my right, my right); they affect the most wildly, picturesque and eccentric costumes, often wearing nothing whatever but white cotton drawers and a leopard or panther skin thrown, carelessly about their shoulders, besides which they carry a huge spiked club or steel battle-axe and an alms-receiver; this latter is usually made of an oval gourd, polished and suspended on small brass chains. Sometimes they wear an embroidered conical cap decorated with verses from the Koran, but often they wear no head-gear save the covering provided by nature. The better-class Persians have little respect for these wandering fakirs; but their wild, eccentric appearance makes a deep impression upon the simple-hearted villagers, and the dervishes, whose wits are sharpened by constant knocking about, live mostly by imposing on their good nature and credulity. A couple of these worthies, arriving at a small village, affect their wildest and most grotesque appearance and proceed to walk with stately, majestic tread through the streets, gracefully brandishing their clubs or battle- axes, gazing fixedly at vacancy and reciting aloud from the Koran with a peculiar and impressive intonation; they then walk about the village holding out their alms-receiver and shouting "huk yah huk! huk yah huk" Half afraid of incurring their displeasure, few of the villagers refuse to contribute a copper or portable cooked provisions.
Most dervishes are addicted to the intemperate use of opium, bhang (a preparation of Indian hemp), arrack, and other baleful intoxicants, generally indulging to excess whenever they have collected sufficient money; they are likewise credited with all manner of debauchery; it is this that accounts for their pale, haggard appearance. The following quotation from "In the Land of the Lion and Sun," and which is translated from the Persian, is eloquently descriptive of the general appearance of the dervish:
The dervish had the dullard air,
The maddened look, the vacant stare,
That bhang and contemplation give.
He moved, but did not seem to live;
His gaze was savage, and yet sad;
What we should call stark, staring mad.
All down his back, his tangled hair
Flowed wild, unkempt; his head was bare;
A leopard's skin was o'er him flung;
Around his neck huge beads were hung,
And in his hand-ah! there's the rub-
He carried a portentous club.
After visiting the dervishes I spend an hour in an adjacent tchai- khan drinking tea with my escort and treating them to sundry well-deserved kalians. Among the rabble collected about the doorway is a half-witted youngster of about ten or twelve summers with a suit of clothes consisting of a waist string and a piece of rag about the size of an ordinary pen- wiper. He is the unfortunate possessor of a stomach disproportionately large and which intrudes itself upon other people's notice like a prize pumpkin at an agricultural fair. This youth's chief occupation appears to be feeding melon-rinds to a pet sheep belonging to the tchai-khan and playing a resonant tattoo on his abnormally obtrusive paunch with the palms of his hands. This produces a hollow, echoing sound like striking an inflated bladder with a stuffed club; and considering that the youth also introduces a novel and peculiar squint into the performance, it is a remarkably edifying spectacle. Supper-time coming round, the soldiers show the way to an eating place, where we sup off delicious bazaar-kabobs, one of the most tasteful preparations of mutton one could well imagine. The mutton is minced to the consistency of paste and properly seasoned; it is then spread over flat iron skewers and grilled over a glowing charcoal fire; when nicely browned they are laid on a broad pliable sheet of bread in lieu of a plate, and the skewers withdrawn, leaving before the customer a dozen long flat fingers of nicely browned kabobs reposing side by side on the cake of wheaten bread-a most appetizing and digestible dish.
Returning to the caravanserai, I dismiss my faithful soldiers with a suitable present, for which they loudly implore the blessings of Allah on my head, and for the third or fourth time impress upon the caravanseraijes the necessity of making my comfort for the night his special consideration. They fill that humble individual's mind with grandiloquent ideas of my personal importance by dwelling impressively on the circumstance of my having eaten with the Governor, a fact they likewise have lost no opportunity of heralding throughout the bazaar during the afternoon. The caravanserai-jee spreads quilts and a pillow for me on the open bala-khana, and I at once prepare for sleep. A gentle-eyed and youthful seyud wearing an enormous white turban and a flowing gown glides up to my couch and begins plying me with questions. The soldiers noticing this as they are about leaving the court-yard favor him with a torrent of imprecations for venturing to disturb my repose; a score of others yell fiercely at him in emulation of the soldiers, causing the dreamy-eyed youth to hastily scuttle away again. Nothing is now to be heard all around but the evening prayers of the caravanserai guests; listening to the multitudinous cries of Allah-il-Allah around me, I fall asleep. About midnight I happen to wake again; everything is quiet, the stars are shining brightly down into the court-yard, and a small grease lamp is flickering on the floor near my head, placed there by the caravan-serai-jee after I had fallen asleep. The past day has been one full of interesting experiences; from the time of leaving the garden of Mohammed Ali Khan this morning in company with the moonshi bashi, until lulled to sleep three hours ago by the deep-voiced prayers of fanatical Mohammedans the day has proved a series of surprises, and I seem more than ever before to have been the sport and plaything of fortune; however, if the fickle goddess never used anybody worse than she has used me to-day there would be little cause for complaining.
As though to belie their general reputation of sanctimoniousness, a tall, stately seyud voluntarily poses as my guide and protector en route through the awakening bazaar toward the Tabreez gate next morning, cuffing obtrusive youngsters right and left, and chiding grown-up people whenever their inordinate curiosity appeals to him as being aggressive and impolite; one can only account for this strange condescension on the part of this holy man by attributing it to the marvellous civilizing and levelling influence of the bicycle. Arriving outside the gate, the crowd of followers are well repaid for their trouble by watching my progress for a couple of miles down a broad straight roadway admirably kept and shaded with thrifty chenars or plane-trees. Wheeling down this pleasant avenue I encounter mule-trains, the animals festooned with strings of merrily jingling bells, and camels gayly caparisoned, with huge, nodding tassels on their heads and pack-saddles, and deep-toned bells of sheet iron swinging at their throats and sides; likewise the omnipresent donkey heavily laden with all manner of village produce for the Khoi market.
My road after leaving the avenue winds around the end of projecting hills, and for a dozen miles traverses a gravelly plain that ascends with a scarcely perceptible gradient to the summit of a ridge; it then descends by a precipitous trail into the valley of Lake Ooroomiah. Following along the northern shore of the lake I find fairly level roads, but nothing approaching continuous wheeling, owing to wash-outs and small streams leading from a range of mountains near by to the left, between which and the briny waters of the lake my route leads. Lake Ooroomiah is somewhere near the size of Salt Lake, Utah, and its waters are so heavily impregnated with saline matter that one can lie down on the surface and indulge in a quiet, comfortable snooze; at least, this is what I am told by a missionary at Tabreez who says he has tried it himself; and even allowing for the fact that missionaries are but human after all and this gentleman hails originally from somewhere out West, there is no reason for supposing the statement at all exaggerated. Had I heard of this beforehand I should certainly have gone far enough out of my course to try the experiment of being literally rocked on the cradle of the deep.
Near midday I make a short circuit to the north, to investigate the edible possibilities of a village nestling in a cul-de-sac of the mountain foot-hills. The resident Khan turns out to be a regular jovial blade, sadly partial to the flowing bowl. When I arrive he is perseveringly working himself up to the proper pitch of booziness for enjoying his noontide repast by means of copious potations of arrack; he introduces himself as Hassan Khan, offers me arrack, and cordially invites me to dine with him. After dinner, when examining my revolver, map, etc., the Khan greatly admires a photograph of myself as a peculiar proof of Ferenghi skill in producing a person's physiognomy, and blandly asks me to "make him one of himself," doubtless thinking that a person capable of riding on a wheel is likewise possessed of miraculous all 'round abilities.
The Khan consumes not less than a pint of raw arrack during the dinner hour, and, not unnaturally, finds himself at the end a trifle funny and venturesome. When preparing to take my departure he proposes that I give him a ride on the bicycle; nothing loath to humor him a little in return for his hospitality, I assist him to mount, and wheel him around for a few minutes, to the unconcealed delight of the whole population, who gather about to see the astonishing spectacle of their Khan riding on the Ferenghi's wonderful asp-i-awhan. The Khan being short and pudgy is unable to reach the pedals, and the confidence-inspiring fumes of arrack lead him to announce to the assembled villagers that if his legs were only a little longer he could certainly go it alone, a statement that evidently fills the simple-minded ryots with admiration for the Khan's alleged newly-discovered abilities.
The road continues level but somewhat loose and sandy; the scenery around becomes strikingly beautiful, calling up thoughts of "Arabian Nights " entertainments, and the genii and troubadours of Persian song. The bright, blue waters of Lake Ooroomiah stretch away southward to where the dim outlines of mountains, a hundred miles away, mark the southern shore; rocky islets at a lesser distance, and consequently more pronounced in character and contour, rear their jagged and picturesque forms sheer from the azure surface of the liquid mirror, the face of which is unruffled by a single ripple and unspecked by a single animate or inanimate object; the beach is thickly incrusted with salt, white and glistening in the sunshine; the shore land is mingled sand and clay of a deep-red color, thus presenting the striking and beautiful phenomena of a lake shore painted red, white, and blue by the inimitable hand of nature. A range of rugged gray mountains run parallel with the shore but a few miles away; crystal streams come bubbling lake-ward over pebble-bedded channels from sources high up the mountain slopes; villages, hidden amid groves of spreading jujubes and graceful chenars, nestle here and there in the rocky gateways of ravines; orchards and vineyards are scattered about the plain. They are imprisoned within gloomy mud walls, but, like living creatures struggling for their liberty, the fruit-laden branches extend beyond their prison-walls, and the graceful tendrils of the vines find their way through the sun-cracks and fissures of decay, and trail over the top as though trying to cover with nature's charitable veil the unsightly works of man; and all is arched over with the cloudless Persian sky.
Beaming the roads of this picturesque region in search of victims is a most persistent and pugnacious species of fly; rollicking as the blue- bottle, and the veritable double of the green-head horsefly of the Western prairies, he combines the dash and impetuosity of the one with the ferocity and persistency of the other; but he is happily possessed of one redeeming feature not possessed by either of the above-mentioned and well-known insects of the Western world. When either of these settles himself affectionately on the end of a person's nose, and the person, smarting under the indignity, hits himself viciously on that helpless and unoffending portion of his person, as a general thing it doesn't hurt the fly, simply because the fly doesn't wait long enough to be hurt; but the Lake Ooroomiah fly is a comparatively guileless insect, and quietly remains where he alights until it suits one's convenience to forcibly remove him; for this redeeming quality I bespeak for him the warmest encomiums of fly-harassed humans everywhere.
Dusk is settling down over the broad expanse of lake, plain, and mountain when I encounter a number of villagers taking donkey-loads of fruit and almonds from an orchard to their village. They cordially invite me to accompany them and accept their hospitality for the night. They are travelling toward a large area of walled orchards but a short distance to the north, and I naturally expect to find their village located among them; so, not knowing how far ahead the next village may be, I gladly accept their kindly invitation, and follow along behind. It gets dusky, then duskier, then dark; the stars come peeping out thicker and thicker, and still I am trundling with these people slowly along up the dry and stone-strewn channel of spring-time freshets, expecting every minute to reach their village, only to be as often disappointed, for over an hour, during which we travel out of my proper course perhaps four miles. Finally, after crossing several little streams, or rather; one stream several times, we arrive at our destination, and I am installed, as the guest of a leading villager, beneath a sort of open porch attached to the house. Here, as usual, I quickly become the centre of attraction for a wondering and admiring audience of half-naked villagers. The villager whose guest I become brings forth bread and cheese, some bring me grapes, others newly gathered almonds, and then they squat around in the dim religious light of primitive grease-lamps and watch me feed, with the same wondering interest and the same unconcealed delight with which youthful Londoners at the Zoological Gardens regard a pet monkey devouring their offerings of nuts and ginger-snaps.
I scarcely know what to make of these particular villagers; they seem strangely childlike and unsophisticated, and moreover, perfectly delighted at my unexpected presence in their midst. It is doubtful whether their unimportant little village among the foothills was ever before visited by a Ferenghi; consequently I am to them a rara avis to be petted and admired. I am inclined to think them a village of Yezeeds or devilworshippers; the Yezeeds believe that Allah, being by nature kind and merciful, would not injure anybody under any circumstances, consequently there is nothing to be gained by worshipping him. Sheitan (Satan), on the contrary, has both the power and the inclination to do people harm, therefore they think it politic to cultivate his good-will and to pursue a policy of conciliation toward him by worshipping him and revering his name. Thus they treat the name of Satan with even greater reverence than Christians and Mohammedans treat the name of God. Independent of their hospitable treatment of myself, these villagers seem but little advanced in their personal habits above mere animals; the women are half- naked, and seem possessed of little more sense of shame than our original ancestors before the fall. There is great talk of kardash among them in reference to myself. They are advocating hospitality of a nature altogether too profound for the consideration of a modest and discriminating Ferenghi - hospitable intentions that I deem it advisable to dissipate at once by affecting deep, dense ignorance of what they are discussing.
Page 43 of 50