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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

He had left Birjand when I arrived


The

British Government, one feels, makes a primary and most palpable mistake in not being represented by more English Consular officials, not necessarily sent by the London Foreign Office, but rather of that most excellent type, the military Political servants, such as those who are now found in some few Persian cities. The establishment of a vice-Consulate here at Birjand instead of a Medical Political Agency would, I think, also, be of very great help at the present moment and would increase British prestige there.

The afternoon of that day was spent in returning the visits of Abbas Ali Khan, the Russian Agent, and the Karghazar. Everywhere I met with extreme civility. Both the British and the Russian Agent lived in nice houses, handsomely carpeted and furnished, only Abbas Ali's place had a more business-like appearance than that of the Russian because of the many books, the red cross trunks of medicine and surgical instruments and folding camp furniture. The house of the Russian was practically in Persian style, with handsome carpets and cushions, but with hardly any European chairs or furniture.

Birjand is very high up, 5,310 ft. above sea level, and we did not feel any too warm. The thermometer was seldom more than 60 deg. in the shade during the day, and from 40 deg. to 50 deg. at night.

In the evenings the four Cossacks of the Sistan Consular escort, who had been detained

here, and occupied one of the rooms of the caravanserai, sat out in the open singing with melodious voices in a chorus the weird songs of their country. These men were really wonderful. They had come down from Turkestan, a journey of close upon five hundred miles, riding their own horses, with only a few roubles in their pockets, and little more than the clothing they wore, their rifles, and bandoliers of cartridges. The affection for their horses was quite touching, and it was fully reciprocated by the animals. One or two of the men slept by the horses so that no one should steal them, and the animals were constantly and tenderly looked after.

There was a bright scene in the graveyard behind the caravanserai, the day that all the women went to visit the graves and to lay offerings of food, rice and dried fruit upon the tombs of their dead. Little conical white tents were pitched by hawkers, and dozens of women in their white chudders prowled about like so many ghosts, or else squatted down in rows beside or upon the graves. The doleful voices of blind beggars sang mournful tunes, and cripples of all kinds howled for charity.

A Persian crowd is always almost colourless, and hardly relieved by an occasional touch of green in the men's kamarbands or a bright spot of vermilion in the children's clothes. The illustration representing the scene, shows on the left-hand side of the observer, the ruined fortress at the western end of the city of Birjand, and the near range of hills to the north-west which, as I mentioned, would afford most excellent positions for artillery for commanding Birjand. The domed building in the centre of the photograph is one of the dead-houses adjoining every cemetery in Persia, to which the bodies are conveyed and prepared previous to interment.

The Persian Government have a Belgian Customs official in Birjand, but he generally spends much of his time travelling along the Afghan frontier. He had left Birjand when I arrived.

[Illustration: Women Visiting Graves of Relatives, Birjand. (Ruined Fort can be observed on Hill.)]

With more pity than regret I watched at the caravanserai the departure of the Indian pilgrims for the Shrine at Meshed. They had obtained a number of donkeys and mules, and were having endless rows with the natives about payment. Eventually, however, the caravanserai court having been a pandemonium for several hours, all was settled, their rags were packed in bundles upon the saddles, and the skeleton-like pilgrims, shivering with fever, were shoved upon the top of the loads. There was more fanaticism than life left in them.


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