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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

Resht is an odious place in every way


It

may interest future travellers to know that the building where the hotel was at the time of my visit, August, 1901, has now been taken over for five years by the Russian Bank in order to open a branch of their business in Resht, and that the hotel itself, I believe, has now shifted to even less palatial quarters!

The Imperial Bank of Persia has for some years had a branch in Resht, and until 1901 was the only banking establishment in the town.

CHAPTER V

Resht--Impostors--A visit to the Head Mullah--Quaint notions--Arrangements for the drive to Teheran--The Russian concession of the Teheran road--The stormy Caspian and unsafe harbours--The great Menzil bridge--A detour in the road--Capital employed in the construction of the road--Mistaken English notions of Russia--Theory and practice--High tolls--Exorbitant fares--A speculator's offer refused--Development of the road.

Resht is an odious place in every way. It is, as it were, the "Port Said" of Persia, for here the scum of Armenia, of Southern Russia, and of Turkestan, stagnates, unable to proceed on the long and expensive journey to Teheran. One cannot go out for a walk without being accosted by any number of impostors, often in European clothes, who cling like leeches and proceed to try to interest you in more or less

plausible swindles. One meets a great many people, too, who are on the look out for a "lift" in one's carriage to the Persian capital.

I paid quite an interesting visit to a near relation of the Shah's, who was the guest of the local Head Mullah. The approach to the Mullah's palace was not attractive. I was conveyed through narrow passages, much out of repair, until we arrived in front of a staircase at the foot of which lay in a row, and in pairs, shoes of all sizes, prices, and ages, patiently waiting for their respective owners inside the house. A great many people were outside in the courtyard, some squatting down and smoking a kalian, which was passed round after a puff or two from one person to the other, care being taken by the last smoker to wipe the mouthpiece with the palm of his hand before handing it to his neighbour. Others loitered about and conversed in a low tone of voice.

A Mullah received me at the bottom of the staircase and led me up stairs to a large European-looking room, with glass windows, cane chairs, and Austrian glass candelabras. There were a number of Mullahs in their long black robes, white or green sashes, and large turbans, sitting round the room in a semicircle, and in the centre sat the high Mullah with the young prince by his side. They all rose when I entered, and I was greeted in a dignified yet very friendly manner. A chair was given me next to the high Mullah, and the usual questions about one's family, the vicissitudes of one's journey, one's age, one's plans, the accounts of what one had seen in other countries, were duly gone through.

It was rather curious to notice the interest displayed by the high Mullah in our South African war. He seemed anxious to know whether it was over yet, or when it would be over. Also, how was it that a big nation like Great Britain could not conquer a small nation like the Boers.

"It is easier for an elephant to kill another elephant," I replied, "than for him to squash a mosquito."


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