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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

On the Caspian between Baku and Enzeli in Persia


most depressing sight in Baku is the vegetation, or rather the strenuous efforts of the lover of plants to procure verdure at all costs in the gardens. It is seldom one's lot to see trees and plants look more pitiable, notwithstanding the unbounded care that is taken of them. The terrific heat of Baku, the hot winds and sand-storms are deadly enemies to vegetation. Nothing will grow. One does not see a blade of grass nor a shrub anywhere except those few that are artificially brought up. The sand is most trying. It is so fine that the wind forces it through anything, and one's tables, one's chairs, one's bed are yellow-coated with it. The tablecloth at the hotel, specklessly white when you begin to dine, gets gradually yellower at sight, and by the time you are half through your dinner the waiter has to come with a brush to remove the thick coating of dust on the table.

These are the drawbacks, but there is an air of prosperity about the place and people that is distinctly pleasing, even although one may not share in it. There is quite a fair foreign community of business people, and their activity is very praiseworthy. The people are very hospitable--too hospitable. When they do not talk of naphtha, they drink sweet champagne in unlimited quantities. But what else could they do? Everything is naphtha here, everything smells of naphtha, the steamers, the railway engines are run with naphtha. The streets are greasy with naphtha. Occasionally--frequently

of late--the monotony of the place is broken by fires of gigantic proportions on the premises of over-insured well-owners. The destruction to property on such occasions is immense, the fires spreading with incalculable rapidity over an enormous area, and the difficulty of extinguishing them being considerable.

When I was in Baku the Amir of Bokhara was being entertained in the city as guest of the Government. His suite was quartered in the Grand Hotel. He had taken his usual tour through Russia and no trouble had been spared to impress the Amir with the greatness of the Russian Empire. He had been given a very good time, and I was much impressed with the pomp and cordiality with which he was treated. Neither the Governor nor any of the other officials showed him the usual stand-off manner which in India, for instance, would have been used towards an Asiatic potentate, whether conquered by us or otherwise. They dealt with him as if he had been a European prince--at which the Amir seemed much flattered. He had a striking, good-natured face with black beard and moustache, and dark tired eyes that clearly testified to Russian hospitality.

I went to see him off on the steamer which he kept waiting several hours after the advertised time of departure. He dolefully strode on board over a grand display of oriental rugs, while the military brass band provided for the occasion played Russian selections. Everybody official wore decorations, even the captain of the merchant ship, who proudly bore upon his chest a brilliant star--a Bokhara distinction received from the Amir on his outward journey for navigating him safely across the Caspian.

[Illustration: The Amir of Bokhara leaving Baku to return to his Country.]

The Amir's suite was very picturesque, some of the men wearing long crimson velvet gowns embroidered in gold, others silk-checked garments. All had white turbans. The snapshot reproduced in the illustration shows the Amir accompanied by the Governor of Baku just stepping on board.

There is a regular mail service twice a week in summer, from April to the end of October, and once a week in winter, on the Caspian between Baku and Enzeli in Persia, the Russian Government paying a subsidy to the Kavkas and Mercury Steam Navigation Company for the purpose of conveying passengers, mails (and, in the event of war, troops) into Persia and back. There are also a number of coasting steamers constantly plying between the various ports on the Caspian both on the Russian and Persian coast.

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