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Across Coveted Lands by Arnold Henry Savage Landor

So unfortunately did Abbas Ali

In the course of time I put the party on the right track again, and for more than one hour we went up and down steep but not high passes, through defiles, and across a small stream. We were following the dry river-bed among rocks in a gorge, and we arrived at a spot where there was a rock barrier several feet high beneath us, which made it impossible for camels to get down; so Abbas Ali was despatched to try and find an easier way while Sadek and I were left to freeze in a cutting south-west wind.

The camel man returned and led the camels back a long distance until we came to a faint track along a streamlet, which we tried to follow, but it went along such precipitous places that we had to abandon it for fear the camels, who could not get a proper foot-hold, might come to grief. In Birjand I had only succeeded in obtaining just sufficient animals to carry my loads, Sadek, and myself, and so was not very anxious to run the risk of losing any and becoming stranded in such an inhospitable place.

We eventually contrived to take the camels down to the flat without any serious mishaps, and wandered and wandered about and went over another pass--my compass being all we had to go by.

Sadek, whose high fever had affected his vision, now swore that we were going back towards Birjand instead of going on, and said he was certain my compass was wrong; but I paid no heed to his remarks, and by carefully steering our course with the compass--which involved a reckless waste of matches owing to the high wind--I eventually got the party into the open, upon a wide plain of sand and gravel. Here, having shown Abbas Ali the right bearings to follow, I got upon my camel, again wrapped myself well in my blankets and went fast asleep.

So unfortunately did Abbas Ali, who was tired out after his exertions among the rocks, and at 3 a.m. I woke up to find the camels going as and where they pleased, and the camel man, buried under his thick felt coat, snoring so soundly upon his camel that it took a good deal of shouting to wake him up. I had no idea where we had drifted while I had been asleep, and the night being an unusually dark one we could not well see what was ahead of us, so we decided to halt until sunrise.

[Illustration: In the Desert. (Tamarisks in the Foreground.)]

When it grew light in the morning I was much interested in some curious circular and quadrangular pits only a few yards from where we had stopped, which were used as shelters for men and sheep but were now deserted. These pits were from four to six feet deep below the level of the ground, and from ten to thirty feet in diameter (when circular), a section being partitioned for sheep by a fence of thick but soft cane that grows in the neighbourhood of water. In the part reserved for human beings there was a circular fireplace of stones, and some holes in the earth at the sides for storing foodstuff. The lower portion of the inside wall all round the pit was of beaten earth up to a height of two feet, above which a wall of stones carefully fitted one upon the other was constructed from two to four feet high, up to the level of the earth. Here a projecting screen of cane was erected all round at an angle converging towards the centre of the pit, for the double purpose of preventing the sheep escaping, and of sheltering the inmates during the fearful sand and windstorms that sweep with great force along the earth's surface. The entrance was cut on one side with an incline to afford easy access to the pit.

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