Following The Trail Of The Conquerors Of Old

IF you will take your geography and turn to the political map of Asia, you will observe what an isolated position Persia occupies. It is true that the warm waters of the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf lap the southern shores of this country, lying between latitudes 25 and 39 degrees, but there are no railroads that penetrate Persia from any harbor on this southern coast line. Bu-shire, Persia’s principal port, has communication with the hinterland only by means of caravans, and the capital city, Teheran, lies five hundred miles to the north.

In fact, Persia, which has a population of only 9,500,000, nearly equals in area Texas, California, Oregon, Washington, and the New England states included, and is larger than that part of Europe embracing Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, France, Belgium and Holland.

It is a land without any railroads outside of a sixty-mile branch that crosses the Trans-Caucasian border and penetrates to Tabriz from Tiflis, Georgia, on the north—and Tabriz is an eight to ten day journey from Teheran by camel caravan or horses and cumbersome gharries.

From the east there is no practical avenue of approach, the principal connecting link being that famous caravan route used by the conquerors of old, which stretches across Afghanistan and through the Khyber Pass into India. Another important caravan route of entrance is from Baghdad, and the 600-mile trip to Teheran from that city until recently required a wearisome journey of two to three weeks.

Previous to the Great War the most direct way to reach Persia was by the way of Constantinople, thence the Black Sea to Batum, from there to Baku on the Caspian Sea, then by steamer to Enzeli, and from this Persian port it was an over-land journey of several days to Kazvin and Teheran. Mail from America arrives at the capital in four to six weeks but it is interesting to recall that a cable from California reached me in less than thirty hours.

During the war, however, the British improved the caravan trail or route leading into Persia from Baghdad, constructing a good military highway with intention of a rear attack on Turkey and also establishing communication with Russia. Thus, again, the tramp of warriors resounded on a highway over which had marched the legions of Cyrus, Darius and Alexander. It was over this route that we made our way to the capital of Persia.

I engaged for this purpose a new Ford car and its driver, the owner, a young Englishman who had remained in this region after completing his services with the British Army in its campaign in Mesopotamia and Persia. He spoke Persian fluently. The fee agreed upon was 1400 rupees, equivalent at the time to one hundred pounds sterling, or $440.

The actual running time was seven days going and five days returning. This does not, however, include the time spent with friends at Hamadan and Teheran. There were several delays, how-ever, on the inward journey, which otherwise should also have been completed in five days. Forty dollars a day for a Ford car and driver seems like rather liberal remuneration, but on the other hand gasoline costs from 75 cents to $1.50 per gallon, and the road tolls, which were assumed by the owner of the car, were something approximating $70.

When we left Baghdad on the 25th day of February, our Ford car, flying a small American flag above the radiator, was laden with baggage, duffel, packages, tires, equipment, etc., reminding one in this land of an over-burdened camel with boxes and bales bulging to port and starboard. But you can’t overload a Ford—they are like a street car, always room for more, and one is apt any-where, even in our own country, to meet this proverbial monopolizer of the highway with a folding go-cart strapped to the radiator, a rocking-chair or two dangling between the front fenders and the hood, folding beds, mattresses, blankets, etc., lashed to the running boards, tires, stove,. and refrigerator jingling on the rear, a tent nest-ling on the top, and ten to one, a trailer on behind. So, after all, as I recall it, our out-riggings were quite simple as compared to those of “Henrys” that I have seen scurrying to a week-end’s outing in Oakland County, Michigan, or in the recreation lands of California.

We followed northward the main business street of Baghdad—the one wide thoroughfare of the city, which was widened and constructed within recent years while under Turkish sovereignty, without any regard to property rights, by unceremoniously cutting off the fronts of buildings bordering on the narrow street previously existing. We passed the blue-domed, tile-encrusted mosque and on through the north gate, wending our way toward the desert beyond. Embankments and earthworks thrown up near the outskirts of the city during the war are still in evidence, but a contrasting picture was the flocks of sheep now peacefully pasturing on the sparse grass.

Our road led across a perfectly level expanse stretching to a limitless horizon practically bare of vegetation, driving over which was like navigating a sea of monotonous waste. But strange sights appeared horses and their riders were floating in the air and afar off were dark trees silhouetted against the sky, a lake of placid water reflecting them and the reeds growing along its shore line. As we continued on and drew nearer to this scene, the horses and their riders came to earth, the waters of the phantom lake narrowed, the trees took on the form of black-wooled sheep, the flock now being but a short distance away. The mirage had disappeared only to reappear again as we increased the distance and looked back a little later, for once more the sheep had become trees standing beyond limpid waters. At another place a mirage created for us a beautiful lagoon in which was a perfect reflection of the mountains beyond.

A mirage is a strange optical illusion which your encyclopedia will scientifically describe for you in terms referring to the “undulatory theory of light,” whatever that is, but to me a mirage is still an indefinable something appearing like water, phantom water—reflecting trees and reeds, and gently rippled, though not a breath of air be stir-ring; noiselessly overflowing an illusory landscape; waste sands.

We passed police outposts set in the silent desolation of sand and rock or an armored car patrolling these waste lands with wholesome effect on any lawlessly intentioned natives. Caravans, often composed of several hundreds of camels, appeared on the horizon, swung into full view as they silently passed on their cushioned feet, and soon disappeared in the monotonous waste.

Not far from where we crossed the Diala River at Bakuba, a verdant oasis of date palms and orange groves, we passed the Assyrian and Armenian Relief Camp, where, during the war, upwards of 80,000 refugees were cared for by the British, the Near East American Relief also lending its aid. Fallen and crumbling mud walls, unroofed, and a graveyard with many a mound, are all that remain to tell the sad tale.

The British extended, during their military operations, a railroad from Baghdad to Khanikin, over which a daily train is still operated at the slowest scheduled speed of any railroad in the world. This railroad we crossed and recrossed, and there were still visible the measures of defense employed against raids; circular fortifications of sand bags piled about six or eight feet high, which, in turn, were surrounded by wire entanglements, were located at short intervals apart. Within these earthworks were placed machine guns. We skirted along the outer walls of several mud villages or threaded our way through their narrow, tortuous streets, hemmed in by bazaars with barely room for a car to pass between.

The mountains on the borderland of western Persia were now visible and late in the afternoon we suddenly topped the brow of a hill and just before us lay our objective for the first day’s run, Khanikin, on the Diala River.

The low buildings of the city are nearly concealed by what appears like a forest of palms. We soon entered one of the quaintest and most picturesque places that I saw in Mesopotamia. After two or three abrupt turns through narrow passages walled in by mud walls and mud houses, we found ourselves in the compound of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. Here we were made welcome by an East Indian servant who informed us that he had been instructed to make our stay pleasant and regretted the absence of his master, the manager, Mr. Osborn. We were assigned to comfortable rooms with good beds, enjoyed splendid food and perfect service.

It was my pleasure to meet our host, a much traveled Englishman, on my return trip and to enjoy his hospitality which was dispensed here in the mud walled city of Khanikin with the same gracious ease that stamps the host of a country place in England. Two graceful little tame gazelles wandered at will in the small courtyard, in which were placed just a few rases and shrubs suggesting their owner’s undiminished love for the gardens of England.

Leaving Khanikin the next morning at 11:00 A.M., we were joined by two more equally over-laden Fords. A Mr. and Mrs. Schuster of Switzerland and their baggage and equipment were en route to the rug markets of Persia. They had come by train from Baghdad to Khanikin. We now assumed quite the appearance of a convoy. In the outskirts of Khanikin a large camel caravan was resting and from here on we were almost continually passing camel caravans, mule and pack trains, horse-drawn wagons and carts, burden-bearing donkeys, all Iaden with merchandise that was being conveyed from rail head to the interior of Persia. Millions of tons of freight annually are transported in this manner. The seven miles to the Iraq passport control was soon traversed, the necessary formalities discharged, a glass of tea, and we rolled on another mile to where the high-way was obstructed by a pole swung across the road, with a small mud walled building on each side. We were now at the Persian custom and passport control.

Due to having a new car upon which custom fees were payable, and the fact that the driver was carrying two or three dutiable parcels to friends, the custom inspection and formalities delayed us at least two or three hours. Meanwhile, how-ever, we had several glasses of hot, over-sweetened tea and watched caravan after caravan, pack-train following pack-train, camels, donkeys, horses, mules with jingling bells and heavily laden, being checked through the control.

These pack animals are adorned with broad strings of blue beads about their necks to keep away the evil spirits. Their halters, pack-saddles, and trappings are usually combinations of leather and carpet material decorated with shells and beads, and ofttimes on the back of a camel or mule one would see a pair of saddlebags that would make his eyes turn green with envy.

Unfailingly, a tinkling bell is a part of the equipment. The lead animal of the caravan is often quite loaded down with bells, wee round brass bells like our smallest sleighbells, bells within bells—the one acting as a clapper for the other—and deep-toned bells nearly as large as a country school bell. The tinkling, rhythmic sound of these bells is often very musical. I have listened to them with pleasure as they awakened me when I lay in my bed just before the break of day and some caravan would be up and on its day’s march, doing another leg of a journey totaling possibly four hundred, five hundred, or six hundred miles. I shall always associate with Persia her pack animals adorned with jingling bells and laden with huge burdens.

But a few miles from the frontier is found an exceedingly picturesque place. Even its name is interesting—” Kasr-i-Shinin,” or, translated, “The Castle of the Sweet One.” Here may be seen some ancient ruins of a castle of the Sassanian dynasty. The town is built along the banks of a branch of the Diala River and has a background of green hills stretching to barren mountains, the most distant ones snow-capped.

It is said that the women here are known for their beauty, and I suppose their appreciation of this fact is the reason they wear no veils, although Mohammedan. It may, however, be attributed to the near proximity of Persia-Kurdistan for the Kurds enjoy a reputation for fine features and splendid, erect figures. The most magnificent and imposing gentleman whom I met on my journey into Persia was a Kurd visiting at Hamadan and who was introduced to me by Dr. Funk. He was a friend of the Doctor’s and of the most striking appearance—tall, of noble bearing, aquiline features as sharp as though cut from steel, lustrous eyes, and a ruddy though swarthy complexion.

But you should have seen his costume; trousers made from yards of beautiful blue broadcloth hanging in vertical folds from waist to knees, tight fitting, immaculate black boots; around his waist was a girdle encircling him many times (which I was later informed doubtless contained no less than fifty yards of delicate silk material) and from which protruded the gold and silver in-laid handles of two daggers. His short, close-fitting jacket was faultless; his head was crowned by a most unusual turban in size. A stunning piece of humanity, for which any lady might be excused if her blood pulsed just a little more swiftly upon meeting him and having her hand clasped by one that was equally soft and delicate. Dr. Funk acted as interpreter. The Kurd’s remarks and manners were as suave as those of an Italian nobleman.

As a rule, however, there is a monotone of dress in Persia that is lacking in color, for the men usually wear loose, brown garments and in cold weather a sheepskin coat or a seamless top garment of dirty gray felt, the sleeves dangling. A queer dome-shaped, brown, brimless hat (kola) which is larger at the crown than the rim, tops the head. The women are generally veiled and completely enrobed in black.

Of Persia’s 9,500,000 inhabitants, 2,500,000 are town residents; 5,000,000 are peasants; 2,000,000 are nomad tribes; two-thirds are of the Aryan race and resemble Spaniards or Italians in appearance; many, however, exceedingly darkened by the sun. Of course, other tribes from Central Asia and the northwestern frontier have left their imprint, due to invasions. There are only about 1,000 Europeans, half being British.

We continued through a rolling country, the winding road leading toward rugged mountains with serrated peaks, the higher ranges beyond, snow clad, and we passed several watch-towers of earlier days that were built on high hill-tops commanding a view of the surrounding country. The road we are traveling is the one over which pass the pilgrims from the interior and eastern portions of Persia, also Turkestan, the !Caucasus, and even Afghanistan, on their way to the Shiah shrines at Kerbella, Nejef, and Kathimain, in Mesopotamia. Many such pilgrims bearing banners are seen en route to or from these holy shrines of the Shiah faith, a sect of the Moslems.

Sundown found us at Siripid, less than fifty miles from our morning starting point. Mr. and Mrs. Schuster continued to the hostelry, such as it was, while we stopped at the barracks of an outpost on the edge of the village. Nazin Imamalek, the governor of this district, put us up for the night and insisted upon placing his own room in the barracks at our disposal.

An archway gave entrance into the interior depths of an open courtyard, a caravansari, around which the barracks were built. Steep stairs led to the flat mud roof, the upper story being set back far enough to produce a wide walk around the court on the roof of the first story, thus affording a passageway to the entrance of the rooms on the second floor, which faced the court. Our baggage was brought up for safekeeping and our bedding rolls were spread, one on the only cot, the other on the floor.

Our host had his servant serve us to what was our second meal for that day other than the several glasses of tea in which we had indulged. It was simple fare, I assure you. Persian bread (lavash), an article made from flour but which resembles an elephant’s ear in size, thickness, texture, and I might almost say, in color; a huge, tough pancake, a couple or so feet in diameter which lends itself for the purpose of a tablecloth, a platter or plate. You tear off a piece, roll meat or any other food therein, and proceed to devour. In fact, it is quite serviceable for anything from food to a dishrag or a polishing cloth for your boots.

But when you are hungry you are not so dainty in your gastronomic demands, and our host’s simple menu, consisting of this chief article of Persian diet, some hard-boiled eggs, and many glasses of sweetened tea, was acceptable indeed. In fact, before I left Persia, I found when dining in private homes that when this bread was toasted and buttered it was quite palatable.

The room we occupied was carpeted with rugs and the walls were hung with large colored Biblical pictures, which I was surprised to find in a Mohammedan’s quarters, and were probably in-tended purely as a decorative feature. The titles were in English and the prints bore the name of the Providence Lithographing Company. There were “Daniel in the Lion’s Den,” “Samuel Blessing David,” “Nehemiah, the King’s Cup Bearer,” “The Angel’s Message to Mary,” “The Worship of the Magi,” “The Shepherds and Star of Bethlehem,” etc. One could imagine oneself in a primary room of a Sunday school.

The ceiling was of tin squares made from petrol cans, and that reminds me that everywhere in these remote lands ‘we find the tins of the Standard Oil Company and the Shell Company put to every conceivable use. They have quite wholly replaced the picturesque water jars that in former days graced the well-poised heads of erect native women carrying water from the streams or wells. They become pans and kettles and are shaped into every conceivable form by ingenuous tin-smiths. They are used as roofing, and I have seen entire buildings constructed of empty five-gallon gasoline cans employed, as we would use hollow tile, for side walls, with mud plaster as a binder.

But to get back to the room where we slept for the night. Several times I was awakened from my slumber, and thought “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” had become a reality. Somewhere below in the compound were dogs, many dogs, which would every little while break forth in barking, biting, fighting, yelping—a case of “dog eat dog,” and let me add, if this practice were actually extended all over Persia, it would take a heap of dog-eating to rid the land of this curse, for Persia is inflicted with hordes of inferior, infernal, infuriated, insect-infested dogs, dogs, dogs.

The next morning, taking farewell of our courteous and genial host, we traversed in the early hours of the day a valley that was walled in by precipitous rock. As the sun ascended, billowy clouds cast their fleeting shadows on the landscape. Soon the highway began to wind its way over a mountain pass, the British military road following closely the trail used by the armies of earlier days, and a stone arch used as an observation tower by the ancients still marks the way. When we reached the top of the pass, the mountains were covered with snow. Continuing a few miles we passed through the picturesque village of Serkadeesa, nestled against the slope of a ravine through which flowed a clear mountain stream. These villages of flat-roofed, one-story huts blend perfectly into the landscape, of which they are in reality a part, being constructed of mud and usually built against the slope of a hill, their flat earthen roofs a rendezvous for dogs and children of about equal numbers. As an abode, they are only a degree advanced beyond the burrow of the ground hog or prairie dog, and like these hiberna-tors, the inhabitants of these villages enjoy squatting against the sunny side of a wall, lolling in comfort, in the delightful, lazy warmth of the spring sun.

Gradually descending to a lower level, we arrived at Karind, where we stopped for our break-fast. Mr. and Mrs. Schuster’s car soon came up and they were joined by a Turkish-Persian representative of his firm, Ali Kafaroff, who had come down from Tabriz to meet them, a journey by horse-drawn vehicle and motor car that had required more than two weeks, which gives one some idea of traveling in Persia, for a like distance in America would be but a day’s journey by train.

To celebrate the occasion and give generous welcome to his friends, Mr. Kafaroff had brought with him several bottles of champagne and a most incongruous breakfast followed, comprising lavash (the aforesaid leviathan Persian flap-jacks), kabab, which is a mixture of chopped meats and onions flattened out by hand into thin wafers and rolled about a skewer and grilled over hot charcoal embers; to this fare was added tea and champagne.

After leaving Karind, for some miles we traversed a broad valley six or eight miles wide, then debouched over a low pass into a second valley lying between two snow-capped ranges. We followed this valley into Kermanshaw. Over the vale hung a haze that gave the effect that violet and blue-colored screens produce upon a stage setting, and the mountains in the distance were tinted in aerial tints which belong only to nature, while over all was the beautiful clear vault of Persian blue.