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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

It cost 18 tomans about L3 9 s


I

myself have had an amusing controversy in some of the London leading papers with no less a person than the Secretary of a prominent Geographical Society, who assured the public that certain well-known peaks did not exist because he could not find them (they happened to be there all the same) on his map!

Such other trifles as the connecting of lakes by imaginary rivers to maintain the reputation of a scientific impostor, or the building of accurate maps (_sic_) from badly-taken photographs--the direction of which was not even recorded by the distinguished photographers--are frauds too commonly perpetrated on the innocent public by certain so-called scientific societies, to be here referred to. Although these frauds are treated lightly, the harm they do to those who take them seriously and to the public at large, who are always ready blindly to follow anybody with sufficient bounce, is enormous.

Without going into minor details, let us take the burning question of the fast-expanding Russian influence in the south of Persia. We are assured that Russia wishes an outlet in the Persian Gulf, and suspicions are strong that her eye is set on Bandar Abbas. On the map it certainly appears a most heavenly spot for a harbour, and we hear from scribblers that it can be made into a strong naval base and turned into a formidable position. The trade from Meshed and Khorassan and Teheran, Isfahan, Yezd, and Kerman is with equal

theoretical facility switched on to this place. Even allowing that Russia should obtain a concession of this place--a most unlikely thing to be asked for or conceded while Persia remains an independent country--matters would not be as simple for Russia as the man in the street takes them to be.

It would first of all be necessary to construct a railway connecting the Trans-Caspian line with Bandar Abbas, a matter of enormous expense and difficulty, and likely enough never to be a profitable financial enterprise. The political importance is dubious. A long railway line unguarded in a foreign country could but be of little practical value. It must be remembered that Persia is a very thinly populated country, with vast tracts of land, such as the Salt Desert, almost absolutely uninhabited, and where the construction of such a railway would involve serious difficulties, owing to the lack of water for several months of the year, intense heat, shifting sands, and in some parts sudden inundations during the short rainy season.

Moreover, Bandar Abbas itself, although ideally situated on the maps, is far from being an ideal harbour. The water is shallow, and there is no safe shelter; the heat unbearable and unhealthy. At enormous expense, of course, this spot, like almost any other spot on any coast, could be turned into a fair artificial harbour. The native town itself--if it can be honoured with such a name--consists of a few miserable mud houses, with streets in which one sinks in filth and mud. The inhabitants are the most miserable and worst ruffians in Persia, together with some Hindoos. There is a European community of less than half-a-dozen souls.

The _British India_ and other coasting steamers touch here, and therefore this has been made the starting-point for caravans to Kerman and Yezd and Sistan _via_ Bam. But for Isfahan and Teheran the more direct and shorter route _via_ Bushire is selected. The caravan road from Bandar Abbas to Kerman and Yezd is extremely bad and unsafe. Several times of late the track has been blocked, and caravans robbed. During 1900, and since that date, the risk of travelling on the road seems to have increased, and as it is useless for Persians to try and obtain protection or compensation from their own Government the traffic not only has been diverted when possible to other routes, principally Bushire, but the rates for transport of goods inland had at one time become almost prohibitive. In the summer of 1900, it cost 18 tomans (about L3 9_s._) to convey 900 lbs. weight as far as Yezd, but in the autumn the charges rose to 56 tomans (about L10 13_s._) or more than three times as much for the same weight of goods. Eventually the rates were brought down to 22 tomans, but only for a short time, after which they fluctuated again up to 28 tomans. It was with the greatest difficulty that loading camels could be obtained at all, owing to the deficiency of exports, and this partly accounted for the extortionate prices demanded. An English gentleman whom I met in Kerman told me that it was only at great expense and trouble that he was able to procure camels to proceed from Bandar Abbas to Kerman, and even then he had to leave all his luggage behind to follow when other animals could be obtained.


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