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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

Birjand could not even support its own population


Birjand

is probably the greatest commercial centre in Eastern Persia, its transit trade at various seasons of the year being very extensive from all the routes above-mentioned. Agriculturally, Birjand could not even support its own population, for the water supply is scanty and bad. There is no fresh water obtainable in the city, but brackish water is a little more plentiful. A small spring of good water is, however, to be found some two miles from the city, and there I daily sent a man to bring us a supply.

In war time, therefore, the city could not support nor aid an army, which would fare badly if locked up here. Possibly in some seasons it might supply some camels, horses and mules, but no food.

That the Persians themselves believe this an untenable place in time of war is evident, as this is one of the few large cities in Persia which is not surrounded by a wall.

The Amir, or Governor, does not live in Birjand itself but half a farsakh, or two miles, across the plains to the S.S.E., where he has a handsome residence in a pretty garden. Much to my regret I was too unwell to go and pay my respects to him, although I carried an introduction to him from H.R.H. Zil-es-Sultan, the Shah's brother. He very kindly sent to inquire after my health several times during my stay, and the Karghazar was deputed to come and convey these messages to me.

One cannot

speak too highly of the extreme civility of Persian officials if one travels in their country properly accredited and in the right way. If one does not, naturally one only has to blame one's self for the consequences.

One hears a good deal about the advantages of being a Britisher in any country, and one could not help being amused at the natives of Birjand who could not distinguish a European from the blackest Bengalese. They were all _Inglis_ to them. Some natives came to announce that a caravan of twenty of my own countrymen had just arrived--which gave me quite a pleasant surprise, although I could hardly credit its truth. On rushing out of my room to greet them, I found myself confronted with a crowd of black-faced, impudent, untidy Indian pilgrims from Bengal, on their way to the Sacred Shrine of Meshed. Most of them were fever-stricken; others, they told me, had died on the way.

These caravans have caused a good deal of friction both with the Persian and Russian authorities, for fear that they should bring plague into Persia and Transcaspia. When one saw these fanatics--religious people can be so dirty--one could not with any fairness blame the authorities for making a fuss and taking stringent measures to protect their own countries and people from probable infection. True, it should be remembered that the journey of 600 miles across the hot Baluchistan desert to Sistan, and the 500 more miles to Meshed, ought to have been a sufficient disinfectant as far as the plague went, but their wretched appearance was decidedly against them.


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