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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

We were soon out of Birjand and


The

four Cossacks, also, who were at the caravanserai received orders to leave at once for their post at Sistan, and gaily departed in charge of the British Consular courier who was to show them the way.

This courier travels from Meshed to Sistan with relays of two horses each, in connection with the Quetta-Sistan postal service. The service is worked entirely by the Consuls and by the Agent at Birjand, and is remarkably good and punctual considering the difficulties encountered. There is also a Persian postal service of some sort, but unfortunate is the person who rashly entrusts letters to it. Even the Persian officials themselves prefer to use the English post. The Russians have established a similar service from their frontier to Sistan, but it does not run so frequently.

The making up a second caravan in a hurry was no easy matter, but eventually I was able to persuade one of the men who had accompanied me across the Salt Desert to procure fresh camels and convey me there. This he did, and after a halt of three days we were on the road again to cross our third desert between Birjand and Sistan, a distance of some 210 miles.

CHAPTER XIII

Departure from Birjand--A cloud like a skeleton hand--A downpour--The village of Muht--A ruined fortress--A beautiful sunset--A pass--Besieged by native

callers--Two towers at Golandeh--Strayed--Curious pits--Sahlabad--The impression of a foreign bed--Fujiama's twin.

A large and most respectful crowd collected in and out of the caravanserai to watch the departure of my caravan at five o'clock in the evening on November 27th. We were soon out of Birjand and, steering a south-easterly course, passed one or two large mud enclosures with a few fruit-trees, but otherwise there was hardly any vegetation visible anywhere--even in the immediate neighbourhood of Birjand. Everything was as barren as barren could be.

Overhead the sky after sunset was most peculiarly marked by a weird, black, skeleton-like hand of perfect but gigantic proportions, spreading its long bony fingers over us. As night came on, it grew very cold and the skeleton hand of mist compressed itself into a nasty black cloud. A few minutes later a regular downpour drenched us to the skin and the camels experienced great difficulty in walking on the slippery mud.

This was the first rain we had seen, or rather felt, since leaving Teheran. Our long-unused macintoshes had been applied to such usages as wrapping up cases of photographic plates and enveloping notebooks, so that we could not very well get at them, now that we needed them, without taking all the loads down. So we went on until our clothes were perfectly saturated, when at least we had the satisfaction of knowing that we could not get wetter than we were.

The rain came down in bucketfuls for over an hour, then luckily stopped, and in a few moments, with a howling wind rising, the sky was clear again and the myriads of stars shone bright like so many diamonds. The cutting wind and our wet clothes made this march rather a chilly one, although one felt some relief at the sensation of moisture after so many months of intense dryness.

There was nothing whatever to see on any side, and I have never thanked my stars so much as when, after marching thirteen hours, we reached the village of Muht, a place of fair size in a picturesque little valley with nice hills on all sides.

To the north-east of the village was an interesting demolished fortress standing on a low hill. It had a very deep well in the centre within its walls, which were of stone, with twelve turrets round it. At the foot of the hill was a _haoz_, or water tank, now dry, which the natives said was very ancient and which they attributed to the Hindoos. To the west a lake was said to exist called Kiemarakalah, by the side of a mountain not unlike a Swiss roof in shape; while to the north-east of the fortress were rugged rocks and low sand-hills. The elevation of this village was 6,520 feet.


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