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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

There is not much local trade in Birjand


These

pilgrims were a great nuisance; they traded on the fact that they were under British protection; they lived in the most abject fashion, continually haggling and quarrelling with the natives, and decidedly did not add to our popularity in Eastern Persia, to say nothing of the endless trouble and worry they gave to our officials at the Consulates and on the route.

As I have said, the natives do not know the difference between these men and Englishmen, and believe that all British subjects are of the same stamp--by which one cannot quite feel flattered. If these pilgrimages could be gradually restricted and eventually stopped, I think everybody all round would benefit,--even the pilgrims themselves, who might possibly not feel so holy, but whose health would not be impaired by the fearful sufferings they have to endure to gain--and often obtain very prematurely--a claim to a seat in heaven.

The opening up of the Nushki route from Quetta to Sistan and Meshed is responsible for the great influx of pilgrims, who have been attracted by the glowing reports of how easy it is to travel by this route. And so it is very easy, for men accustomed to that particular kind of travelling, like myself or like traders or Government officials, who can travel with all they want, and just as they please, but not for people who have to live from hand to mouth and who are destitute of everything. Those fellows have no idea whatever,

when they start, of what they will have to endure on the road.

There is not much local trade in Birjand, but quite a brisk transit trade. The industries are practically confined to carpet-weaving, the carpets being renowned all over Persia for their softness, smooth texture, and colours, which are said never to fade, but the designs upon them are not always very graceful nor the colours always artistically matched. The most curious and durable are the camel-hair ones, but the design, usually with a very large medallion in the centre, does not seem to appeal to European eyes. Even the smallest rugs fetch very large sums. Although called Birjand carpets they are mostly manufactured in some of the villages north of Birjand, especially at Darakush.

Among the shops there are a few silversmiths', some blacksmiths', and some sword and gunsmiths'. The latter manufacture fairly good blades and picturesque matchlocks.

The trade caravanserais in the town are quaint, but to me most interesting of all was the one approached by a sharp incline--a very old one--where an Indian British trader had started business, attempting to further British trade in these regions. This man, by name Umar-al-din Khan, of the firm of Mahommed Ali of Quetta, was really a remarkable fellow. If Russian trade has not yet succeeded in getting a fair hold in Birjand, if British trade has it so far almost altogether its own way, we have only to thank the tact, energy, patience, and talent of this man. The patriotism, enterprise, and hard labour of Umar-al-din and his firm deserve indeed the greatest credit and gratitude.

Birjand is a most interesting point commercially because it will be here that Russian and British competition in Eastern Persia will eventually come into collision.


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