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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

Per load from Isfahan to Ahwaz


British firm, who run the steamers, with much insight and praiseworthy enterprise improved the existing caravan track from Isfahan to Ahwaz on the Karun River, the point up to which the river is navigable by steamers not drawing more than four feet. They built two fine suspension bridges, one over the Karun at Godar-i-Balutak and the other, the Pul-Amarat (or Built-bridge) constructed on the side of an ancient masonry bridge. The track has thus been rendered very easy and every assistance was offered to caravans, while a regular service of river steamers plied from Mahommerah to Ahwaz, to relieve the traffic by water. The s.s. _Blosse Lynch_, 250 tons, was sent up at first, but was too large, so the s.s. _Malamir_, 120 tons, was specially built for the Karun navigation.

Matters were very prosperous at first, until many obstacles came in the way. The road has been open to traffic some three years. The first year traffic was healthy and strong, but the second year, owing to famine in Arabistan, the traffic suddenly dropped and nothing would induce muleteers to travel by that route. Although they were offered as much as 100 (L2) to 110 krans (L2 4_s._) per load from Isfahan to Ahwaz, a distance of 17 stages--277 miles--they preferred to take 70 krans (L1 9_s._ 2_d._) to Bushire, a journey of about 30 stages, over a distance of 510 miles.

The caravan men in Persia are curious people to deal with, and it takes a

very long time to imbue their minds with new ideas. In the case of the Ahwaz road it was partly conservatism and fear instigated by the Mullahs that prevented their taking loads to the steamers.

It was fully expected that the route could not pay its way for at least five years from its inauguration, and the British Government--which at that time seemed to understand the value of the undertaking--agreed to give in equal shares with the Government of India a collective guarantee against losses up to L3,000 for the first two years, then of L2,000 for five years. For some unaccountable reason the Government of India, which the scheme mostly concerned, dropped out, and the guarantee was further reduced to L1,000 payable by the home Government only. As a result of this the steamers have been run since at a considerable loss, and had it not been for the patriotism of Lynch Brothers, and the prospects to which they still cling of a successful issue, the navigation of the Karun would have already come to an untimely end.

The principal article of export of any importance was wheat, grown in enormous quantities in the fertile plains of Arabistan; and were its export legal, the export of grain would be infinitely greater than the whole of the present imports. But the Persian Government unfortunately prohibited the export of grain from Persia, nominally to allay and prevent famine in the country, in fact to enrich local governors by permitting illicit export. Consequently, the peasants could not sell their produce in the open market and had to sell it, accepting what they could get from speculators at about half the actual value. This led to the discontinuance of the cultivation of wheat. When for three years the exportation of grain was permitted, the acreage under cultivation was enormous and yielded very large returns, but as soon as the prohibition was set in force it dwindled year by year until it became approximately the fifth part of what it originally was. On the top of all this a severe drought occurred and a famine resulted.

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