Three miles of loose sand and stones have to be trundled through before reaching Kasveen; nevertheless my promised sixty miles are overcome, and I enter the city gate at 2 P.M. A trundle through several narrow, crooked streets brings me to an inner gateway emerging upon a broad, smooth avenue; a short ride down this brings me to a large enclosure containing the custom-house offices and a fine brick caravanserai. Yet another prince appears here in the person of a custom-house official; I readily grant the requested privilege of seeing me ride, but the title of a Persian prince is no longer associated in my mind with greatness and importance; princes in Persia are as plentiful as counts in Italy or barons in Germany, yet it rather shocks one's dreams of the splendor of Oriental royalty to find princes manipulating the keys of a one wire telegraph control-station at a salary of about forty dollars a month (25 tomans), or attending to the prosy duties of a small custom-house.
Kasveen is important as being the half-way station between Teheran and the Caspian port of Eesht, and on the highway of travel and commerce between Northern Persia and Europe; added importance is likewise derived from its being the terminus of a broad level road from the capital, and where travellers and the mail from Teheran have to be transferred from wheeled vehicles to the backs of horses for the passage over the rugged passes of the Elburz mountains leading to the Caspian slope, or vice versa when going the other way. Locking the bicycle up in a room of the caravanserai, I take a strolling peep at the nearest streets; a couple of lutis or professional buffoons, seeing me strolling leisurely about, come hurrying up; one is leading a baboon by a string around the neck, and the other is carrying a gourd drum. Reaching me, the man with the baboon commences making the most ludicrous grimaces and causes the baboon to caper wildly about by jerking the string, while the drummer proceeds to belabor the head of his drum, apparently with the single object of extracting as much noise from it as possible. Putting my fingers to my ears I turn away; ten minutes afterward I observe another similar combination making a bee-line for my person; waving them off I continue on down the street; soon afterward yet a third party attempts to secure me for an audience. It is the custom for these strolling buffoons to thus present themselves before persons on the street, and to visit houses whenever there is occasion for rejoicing, as at a wedding, or the birth of a son; the lutis are to the Persians what Italian organ-grinders are among ourselves; I fancy people give them money chiefly to get rid of their noise and annoyance, as we do to save ourselves from the soul-harrowing tones of a wheezy crank organ beneath the window.
Among the novel conveyances observed in the courtyard of the caravanserai is the takhtrowan, a large sedan chair provided with shafts at either end, and carried between two mules or horses; another is the before-mentioned kajaveh, an arrangement not unlike a pair of canvas-covered dog kennels strapped across the back of an animal; these latter contrivances are chiefly used for carrying women and children.
After riding around the courtyard several different times for crowds continually coming, I finally conclude that there must be a limit to this sort of thing anyhow, and refuse to ride again; the new-comers linger around, however, until evening, in the hopes that an opportunity of seeing me ride may present itself. A number of them then contribute a handful of coppers, which they give to the proprietor of a tributary tchai-khan to offer me as an inducement to ride again. The wily Persians know full well that while a Ferenghi would scorn to accept their handful of coppers, he would probably be sufficiently amused at the circumstance to reward their persistence by riding for nothing; telling the grinning khan-jee to pocket the coppers, I favor them with "positively the last entertainment this evening." An hour later the khan- jee meets me going toward the bazaar in search of something for supper; inquiring the object of my search, he takes me back to his tchai-khan, points significantly to an iron kettle simmering on a small charcoal fire, and bids me be seated; after waiting on a customer or two, and supplying me with tea, he quietly beckons me to the fire, removes the cover and reveals a savory dish of stewed chicken and onions: this he generously shares with me a few minutes later, refusing to accept any payment. As there are exceptions to every rule, so it seems there are individuals, even among the Persian commercial classes, capable of generous and worthy impulses; true the khan-jee obtained more than the value of the supper in the handful of coppers - but gratitude is generally understood to be an unknown commodity among the subjects of the Shah.
Soon the obstreperous cries of "All Akbar, la-al-lah-il-allah" from the throats of numbers of the faithful perched upon the caravanserai steps, stable-roof, and other conspicuous soul-inspiring places, announces the approach of bedtime. My room is actually found to contain a towel and an old tooth-brush; the towel has evidently not been laundried for some time and a public toothbrush is hardly a joy-inspiring object to contemplate; nevertheless they are evidences that the proprietor of the caravanserai is possessed of vague, shadowy ideas of a Ferenghi's requirements. After a person has dried his face with the slanting sunbeams of early morning, or with his pocket-handkerchief for weeks, the bare possibility of soap, towels, etc., awakens agreeable reflections of coming comforts.
At seven o'clock on the following morning I pull out toward Teheran, now but six chopar-stations distant. Running parallel with the road is the Elburz range of mountains, a lofty chain, separating the elevated plateau of Central Persia from the moist and wooded slopes of the Caspian Sea; south of this great dividing ridge the country is an arid and barren waste, a desert, in fact, save where irrigation redeems here and there a circumscribed area, and the mountain slopes are gray and rocky. Crossing over to the northern side of the divide, one immediately finds himself in a moist climate, and a country green almost as the British Isles, with dense boxwood forests covering the slopes of the mountains and hiding the foot-hills beneath an impenetrable mantle of green. The Elburz Mountains are a portion of the great water-shed of Central Asia, extending from the Himalayas up through Afghanistan and Persia into the Caucasus, and they perform very much the same office for the Caspian slope of Persia, as the Sierra Nevadas do for the Pacific slope of California, inasmuch as they cause the moisture-laden clouds rolling in from the sea to empty their burthens on the seaward, slopes instead of penetrating farther into the interior.
The road continues fair wheeling, but nothing compared with the road between Zendjan and Kasveen; it is more of an artificial highway; the Persian government has been tinkering with it, improving it considerably in some respects, but leaving it somewhat lumpy and unfinished generally, and in places it is unridable from sand and loose material on the surface; it has the appreciable merit of levelness, however, and, for Persia, is a very creditable highway indeed. At four farsakhs from Kasveen I reach the chapar-khana of Cawanda, where a breakfast is obtained of eggs and tea; these two things are among the most readily obtained refreshments in Persia. The country this morning is monotonous and uninteresting, being for the most part a stony, level plain, sparsely covered with gray camel-thorn shrubs. Occasionally one sees in the distance a camp of Eliauts, one of the wandering tribes of Persia; their tents are smaller and of an entirely different shape from the Koordish tents, partaking more of the nature of square-built movable huts than tents; these camps are too far off my road to justify paying them a visit, especially as I shall probably have abundant opportunities before leaving the Shah's dominions; but I intercept a straggling party of them crossing the road. They have a more docile look about them than the Koords, have more the general appearance of gypsies, and they dress but little different from the ryots of surrounding villages.
At Kishlock, where I obtain a dinner of bread and grapes, I find the cyclometre has registered a gain of thirty-two miles from Kasveen; it has scarcely been an easy thirty-two miles, for I am again confronted by a discouraging head breeze.
Keaching the Shah Abbas caravanserai of Yeng-Imam (all first-class caravanserais are called Shah Abbas caravanserais, in deference to so many having been built throughout Persia by that monarch) about five o'clock, I conclude to remain here over night, having wheeled fifty-three miles. Yeng-Imam is a splendid large brick serai, the finest I have yet seen in Persia; many travellers are putting up here, and the place presents quite a lively appearance. In the centre of the court-yard is a large covered spring; around this is a garden of rose-bushes, pomegranate trees, and flowers; surrounding the garden is a brick walk, and forming yet a larger square is the caravanserai building itself, consisting of a one-storied brick edifice, partitioned off into small rooms. The building is only one room deep, and each room opens upon a sort of covered porch containing a fireplace where a fire can be made and provisions cooked. Attached to the caravanserai, usually beneath the massive and roomy arched gateway, is a tchai-khan and a small store where bread, eggs, butter, fruit, charcoal, etc., are to be obtained. The traveller hires a room which is destitute of all furniture; provides his own bedding and cooking utensils, purchases provisions and a sufficiency of charcoal, and proceeds to make himself comfortable. On a pinch one can usually borrow a frying-pan or kettle of some kind, and in such first-class caravanserais as YengImam there is sometimes one furnished room, carpeted and provided with bedding", reserved for the accommodation of travellers of importance.
After the customary programme of riding to allay the curiosity and excitement of the people, I obtain bread, fruit, eggs, butter to cook them in, and charcoal for a fire, the elements of a very good supper for a hungry traveller. Borrowing a handleless frying-pan, I am setting about preparing my own supper, when a respectable-looking Persian steps out from the crowd of curious on-lookers and voluntarily takes this rather onerous duty out of my hands. Readily obtaining my consent, he quickly kindles a fire, and scrambles and fries the eggs. While my volunteer cook is thus busily engaged, a company of distinguished travellers passing along the road halt at the tchai-khan to smoke a kalian and drink tea. The caravanserai proprietor approaches me, and winking mysteriously, intimates that by going outside and riding for the edification of the new arrivals I will be pretty certain to get a present of a keran (about twenty cents). As he appears anxious to have me accommodate them, I accordingly go out and favor them with a few turns on a level piece of ground outside. After they have departed the proprietor covertly offers me a half-keran piece in a manner so that everybody can observe him attempting to give me something without seeing the amount. The wily Persian had doubtless solicited a present from the travellers for me, obtained, perhaps, a couple of kerans, and watching a favorable opportunity, offers me the half-keran piece; the wily ways of these people are several degrees more ingenious even than the dark ways and vain tricks of Bret Harte's "Heathen Chinee."
Occupying one of the rooms are two young noblemen travelling with their mother to visit the Governor of Zendjan; after I have eaten my supper, they invite me to their apartments for the evening; their mother has a samovar under full headway, and a number of hard boiled eggs. Her two hopeful sons are engaged in a drinking bout of arrack; they are already wildly hilarious and indulging in brotherly embraces and doubtful love-songs. Their fond mother regards them with approving smiles as they swallow glass after glass of the raw fiery spirit, and become gradually more intoxicated and hilarious. Instead of checking their tippling, as a fond and prudent Ferenghi mother would have done, this indulgent parent encourages them rather than otherwise, and the more deeply intoxicated and hilariously happy the sons become, the happier seems the mother. About nine o'clock they fall to weeping tears of affection for each other and for myself, and degenerate into such maudlin sentimentality generally, that I naturally become disgusted, accept a parting glass of tea, and bid them good-evening.
The caravanserai-Jee assigns me the furnished chamber above referred to; the room is found to be well carpeted, contains a mattress and an abundance of flaming red quilts, and on a small table reposes a well-thumbed copy of the Koran with gilt lettering and illumined pages; for these really comfortable quarters I am charged the trifling sum of one keran.
I am now within fifty miles of Teheran, my destination until spring-time comes around again and enables me to continue on eastward toward the Pacific; the wheeling continues fair, and in the cool of early morning good headway is made for several miles; as the sun peeps over the summit of a mountain spur jutting southward a short distance from the main Elburz Range, a wall of air comes rushing from the east as though the sun were making strenuous exertions to usher in the commencement of another day with a triumphant toot. Multitudes of donkeys are encountered on the road, the omnipresent carriers of the Persian peasantry, taking produce to the Teheran market; the only wheeled vehicle encountered between Kasveen and Teheran is a heavy-wheeled, cumbersome mail wagon, rattling briskly along behind four galloping horses driven abreast, and a newly imported carriage for some notable of the capital being dragged by hand, a distance of two hundred miles from Resht, by a company of soldiers. Pedalling laboriously against a stiff breeze I round the jutting mountain spur about eleven o'clock, and the conical snow-crowned peak of Mount Demavend looms up like a beacon-light from among the lesser heights of the Elburz Range about seventy-five miles ahead. De-niavend is a perfect cone, some twenty thousand feet in height, and is reputed to be the highest point of land north of the Himalayas.
From the projecting mountain spur the road makes a bee-line across the intervening plain to the capital; a large willow-fringed irrigating ditch now traverses the stony plain for some distance parallel with the road, supplying the caravanserai of Shahabad and several adjacent villages with water. Teheran itself, being situated on the level plain, and without the tall minarets that render Turkish cities conspicuous from a distance, leaves one undecided as to its precise location until within a few miles of the gate; it occupies a position a dozen or more miles south of the base of the Elburz Mountains, and is flanked on the east by another jutting spur; to the southward is an extensive plain sparsely dotted with villages, and the walled gardens of the wealthier Teheranis.
At one o'clock on the afternoon of September 30th, the sentinels at the Kasveen gate of the Shah's capital gaze with unutterable astonishment at the strange spectacle of a lone Ferenghi riding toward them astride an airy wheel that glints and glitters in the bright Persian sunbeams. They look still more wonder-stricken, and half-inclined to think me some supernatural being, as, without dismounting, I ride beneath the gaudily colored archway and down the suburban streets. A ride of a mile between dead mud walls and along an open business street, and I find myself surrounded by wondering soldiers and citizens in the great central top- maidan, or artillery square, and shortly afterward am endeavoring to eradicate some of the dust and soil of travel, in a room of a wretched apology for an hotel, kept by a Frenchman, formerly a pastry-cook to the Shah. My cyclometre has registered one thousand five hundred and seventy-six miles from Ismidt; from Liverpool to Constantinople, where I had no cyclometre, may be roughly estimated at two thousand five hundred, making a total from Liverpool to Teheran of four thousand and seventy-six miles. In the evening several young Englishmen belonging to the staff of the Indo-European Telegraph Company came round, and re-echoing my own above- mentioned sentiments concerning the hotel, generously invite mo to become a member of their comfortable bachelor establishment during my stay in Teheran. "How far do you reckon it from London to Teheran by your telegraph line." I inquire of them during our after-supper conversation. "Somewhere in the neighborhood of four thousand miles," is the reply. "What does your cyclometre say?"
There is sufficient similarity between the bazaar, the mosques, the residences, the suburban gardens, etc., of one Persian city, and the same features of another, to justify the assertion that the description of one is a description of them all. But the presence of the Shah and his court; the pomp and circumstance of Eastern royalty; the foreign ambassadors; the military; the improvements introduced from Europe; the royal palaces of the present sovereign; the palaces and reminiscences of former kings - all these things combine to effectually elevate Teheran above the somewhat dreary sameness of provincial cities.
A person in the habit of taking daily strolls here and there about the city will scarcely fail of obtaining a glimpse of the Shah, incidentally, every few days. In this respect there is little comparison to be made between him and the Sultan of Turkey, who never emerges from the seclusion of the palace, except to visit the mosque, or on extraordinary occasions; he is then driven through streets between compact lines of soldiers, so that a glimpse of his imperial person is only to be obtained by taking considerable trouble. Since the Shah's narrow escape from assassination at the hands of the Baabi conspirators in 1867, he has exercised more caution than formerly about his personal safety. Previous to that affair, it was customary for him to ride on horseback well in advance of his body-guard; but nowadays, he never rides in advance any farther than etiquette requires him to, which is about the length of his horse's neck. When his frequent outings take him beyond the city fortifications, he is generally provided with, both saddle-horse and carriage, thus enabling him to change from one to the other at will.
The Shah is evidently not indifferent to the fulsome flattery of the courtiers and sycophants about him, nor insensible of the pomp and vanity of his position; nevertheless he is not without a fair share of common-sense. Perhaps the worst that can be said of him is, that he seems content to prostitute his own more enlightened and progressive views to the prejudices of a bigoted and fanatical priesthood. He seems to have a generous desire to see the country opened up to the civilizing improvements of the West, and to give the people an opportunity of emancipating themselves from their present deplorable condition; but the mollahs set their faces firmly against all reform, and the Shah evidently lacks the strength of will to override their opposition. It was owing to this criminal weakness on his part that Baron Eeuter's scheme of railways and commercial regeneration for the country proved a failure.
Persia is undoubtedly the worst priest-ridden country in the world; the mollahs influence everything and everybody, from the monarch downward, to such an extent that no progress is possible. Barring outside interference, Persia will remain in its present wretched condition until the advent of a monarch with sufficient force of character to deliver the ipeople from the incubus of their present power and influence: nothing short of a general massacre, however, will be likely to accomplish complete deliverance.
Without compromising his dignity as "Shah-iri-shah," "The Asylum of the Universe," etc., when dealing with his own subjects, Nasr-e-deen Shall has profited by the experiences of his European tour to the extent of recognizing, with becoming toleration, the democratic independence of Ferenghis, whose deportment betrays the fact that they are not dazed by the contemplation of his greatness. The other evening myself and a friend encountered the Shah and his crowd of attendants on one of the streets leading to the winter palace; he was returning to the palace in state after a visit of ceremony to some dignitary.
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