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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

Birjand is the commercial pivot


The

main imports of the province of Kain, of which Birjand is the capital, are now English and Russian made merchandise. English goods are so far preferred and realize higher prices, because of their better quality. The articles principally required, and for which in retail the natives are ready to pay well, are ordinary cotton, woollen and silk cloths, household iron, copper, brass vessels, loaf-sugar, glass-ware and crockery, especially of shapes suitable for Persian uses. Indian tea sold very well at first, but the market is greatly overstocked at present and great caution should be exercised by Indian exporters.

Russian sugar, being of a much cheaper quality, is rapidly driving out of the place French and Indian sugars, but the quality of Russian sugar is so bad that of late there has been rather a reaction in favour of Shahjahanpur Rosa (Indian) sugar.

There are in Birjand several native merchants having fair amounts of capital at their disposal, but it appears that the prices which they are willing to pay are so low and the credit required so long, that it is most difficult to do business with them. The retail business is, therefore, more profitable than the wholesale.

The competition in Russian-made cotton cloths and tea is getting very keen and the Russians can sell these things so cheaply that it is not possible for Indian traders to sell at their prices. Also the Russians

have learnt to manufacture the stuff exactly as required by the natives.

The glass ware and fancy goods are chiefly sold to the better class people, but no very great profits, especially to passing trading caravans, can be assured on such articles.

The exports consist of wool and skins to Russia, and to Bandar Abbas for India; carpets to Russia, Europe and India; _Barak_, a kind of woollen cloth, to various parts of Persia; opium to China _via_ Bandar Abbas; saffron, caraway seeds, _onaabs_, etc., to India, also _via_ Bandar Abbas, and some English and Russian merchandize to Herat.

Birjand is the commercial pivot, not only of the trade of North-eastern Persia, but also of Western Afghanistan. The commercial supremacy of this town will decide whether we are able in the future to hold our own in the south or not; but once driven back from this centre we may as well--commercially--say good-bye altogether to the northern and central Persian markets; while even the southern markets will be very seriously attacked, as far as goods coming overland are concerned.

Umar-al-din has made a most careful and serious study of the trade of Eastern Persia, and I am certain that if we were to encourage a number of other Indian traders of the same type to establish themselves in Birjand, with possible branches in Meshed, England could make rapid headway against any foreign competition. Being an Asiatic himself, although Umar-al-din has travelled, I believe, in Australia, England, etc., and speaks Hindustani, Persian and English perfectly, he is able to deal with the Persians in a way in which a European would not be so successful. He is on most friendly terms with H. E. Shan-kal-el-Mulk, the Governor, and all the local officials, by whom he is held in much respect and who have at various times made most extensive purchases in his shop to the amount of several thousand tomans' (dollars) worth of British goods.

On one occasion he imported for the Amir and his son a first-class double barrel English gun of the latest type, some revolvers, a bicycle, with a lot of European furniture for which he received immediate payment in cash of 4,000 rupees.

Umar-al-din was the first Indian trader to open a shop in Birjand. By this means he has exercised great influence over the Persian merchants of the place, and has induced the leading ones to trade with India, in preference to Russia, by the Nushki-Quetta route. His good work has been reported to Government by Major Chevenix Trench, then H. B. M. Consul in Sistan, now Consul in Meshed, by Lieutenant-Colonel Temple, Major Benn, and others.


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