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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

And behind them again the flat lut

style="text-align: justify;"> CHAPTER X

Intense cold--Dulled sense of taste--Characteristics of the country--Beautiful stones--Clouds of the desert--A salt stream--Icicles on the moustache and eyelashes--Longing for sunrise--Prayers of the camel men--Fedeshk--Ali Murat meets his wife--Opium dens and opium smokers--Effects of smoking opium in excess--Fever-stricken people--Dwellings--An official visitor--Science reduced to practice--Sadek's idea of sunset and sunrise--"Keshk" cheese--Arrival in Birjand.

We left camp at 8 p.m. on the night of November 20th-21st, and by midnight the cold grew intense. The camel men lighted big bonfires all through the night wherever they found a few shrubs, but I was so ill with fever that I had not the strength and energy to dismount from my camel, on which I was shivering with cold although well wrapped up in blankets.

After marching eight miles from our last camp we came to a brackish well where the camel men replenished their water-skins. I was rather interested to see what dulled sense of taste these men of the desert possessed. When I saw them making a rush for this well I thought that probably we had come to fresh water, and on asking them they said this was a well of excellent "sweet water." When I tasted it, it was so salt that it quite made one's inflamed gums and palate smart with pain. I noticed

some days later that when we did actually get fairly sweet water they could detect no difference between it and the most brackish water.

We had come through hilly and broken country, over low passes and narrow gorges flanking dry river-beds. Then we had entered another immense flat stretch of _lut_, quite level except an occasional solitary hillock breaking the monotonous line of the horizon here and there. From one of these hillocks (4,300 feet) near our camp of November 21st one got quite an interesting panorama all round.

The highest mountain in sight was still the Naiband peak to the south-west of us. A range which seemed about 50 miles off spread to the north-west, and before it--about 20 miles distant from us--a very long low hill range. In an arc from our west to our north were distinguishable several high pointed peaks. A blackish brown, handsomely cut hill stood prominent a mile or so from us in the middle of the plain.

To the north the country was much broken up and low. There was a stream of salt water running from east to west with thick salt deposits on each side of the water edge. To the north-east the hills showed no peculiar characteristics but to the east and south-east could be observed two short hill-ranges, much indented, of broken up and corroded rock, similar to the many we had already found across the desert. To the north and to the south of the hill range which stood to the east of us there were low passes, and behind them again the flat _lut_.

The only thing of real interest in the absolutely bare parts of the desert is the geological formation of the soil and the only amusement is to examine the different beautifully coloured stones that can be picked up, such as handsome agates, bits of malachite, crystals, beautiful marbles, and flints. These are all the more interesting when one thinks that most of them may have travelled hundreds, some, thousands of miles to get there, either brought by the water when the country was submerged or shifted on and on by the wind. They all bear marks of travel, and even the hardest are polished smooth, the original natural angles of crystals being in many cases actually worn down and quite rounded. Sand-polished pebbles of red jasper, jasper-conglomerates, chalcedony, quartz and agatescent quartz, pink and brown corroded limestone, and calcite were the most frequently met with.

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