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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

Illustration The City of Birjand


We

left Fedeshk an hour later, as I was very anxious to reach the city of Birjand the same day if possible. We were now again in fairly inhabited country, and on our hurried march passed a great many villages, large and small, such as Shahzileh, Mazumabad, Tagot, Siaguih, Shamzabad. Further, at Ossenabad, is to be seen a ruined country-house of the Governor of Birjand, then the last two villages of Khelatekhan and Khelatehajih.

Ali Murat seemed rather dazzled on this last march, and was so worn out that he threw himself down upon the ground several times, regardless of spoiling his smart new coat. In a moment he became fast asleep, and it took some rousing to make him get up again. His wife had given him a bag of _keshk_--a kind of cheese, which looked like hardened curdled milk--and of this he partook freely to try and regain his former strength. Keshk cheese was very hard stuff to eat and took a lot of chewing. To prevent it getting too hard it had to be soaked in water every few days.

We had a nasty wind against us, but the way was flat and good; our direction, due east across the long narrow valley of sand, nowhere broader than a couple of miles. To the north were a number of low hills shaped like so many tents, white, grey, and light-red in colour, and also to the south, where there was an additional irregular and somewhat higher rocky mountain.

In the evening of November

24th we had crossed the entire Salt Desert and arrived at the large city of Birjand, after Meshed the most important city of Khorassan, the journey having occupied twenty days, which was considered a very fast crossing.

There was a beautiful new caravanserai here, with clean spacious rooms, and with a most attentive and obliging keeper in charge of it.

CHAPTER XI

My caravan disbanded--Birjand--Ruined fortress--The city--Number of houses--Population--The citadel--Artillery--Trade routes--Birjand as a strategical position--A trading centre--No fresh water--The Amir--Indian pilgrims--Birjand carpets--Industries--A pioneer British trader--Imports and exports--How business is transacted--Russian and British goods--Long credit--A picturesque caravanserai--Afghan soldiers--Beluch camel men.

At Birjand, my camels being utterly exhausted, I disbanded my caravan, paid up Ali Murat, and attempted to make up a fresh caravan to proceed to Sistan. This would take two or three days at least, so I employed my time at first by seeing all that there was to be seen in the place, then by receiving various official callers, and last in trying to shake off the fever, which I partially did by very violent but effective methods.

[Illustration: The City of Birjand, showing main street and river bed combined.]

We entered Birjand from the west by a wide, dry river bed which formed the main street of the city. A ruined fortress which seemed at one time to have been of great strength, was to be seen on the western extremity of the town on a low hillock. The interior was quite interesting, with several tiers showing how the walls had been manned for defensive purposes.

The general view of Birjand reproduced in the illustration was taken from the fort and gives a better idea of the place than any description. It can be seen that the city is unequally divided by the combined river-bed and main street, the northern portion (to the left of observer in the photograph) having merely an extensive graveyard, a few houses, the large caravanserai at which I had halted, and a row of shops; whereas, on the southern side was the bulk of the houses, two, three and some even four storied, all of a monotonous greyish colour, the buildings being mostly of sun-dried mud bricks. The little windows in sets of threes and fives, with brown wooden shutters, relieved to a certain extent the dulness of the architecture, while a certain relief to the eye was afforded by a dome and another building, both painted white, in marked contrast to the mud walls. Many houses had long verandahs and balconies, on which the women spread their washing.


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