A Journey in Khorassan and Central Asia/Chapter 2
Transcaspia and Turkestan.
On Friday, March 28th, we left Meshed on our 'march' to Dushak, accompanied by General MacLean, who provided tents, servants, horses, and mules. 'Marching' differs from 'chaparing' in being a much slower, but more comfortable, mode of travelling. The distance covered in a day's march varies from sixteen to thirty miles, and a small army of servants and mules is required to carry and look after the tents, camp furniture, and heavy miscellaneous baggage. General MacLean's camp consisted of one double-bedded tent for us, one sleeping tent for himself, one for Chivers, one 'parlour' tent, besides small servants' and kitchen tents; and the ease and rapidity with which this camp was pitched every evening and struck every morning was mainly due to the skill and experience of Duffadar, i.e., Sergeant Ramazan Ali Khan, of the Corps of Indian Guides, acting under the personal supervision of our gallant host.
We left Meshed after luncheon; a cool, cloudy day, with an easterly breeze, all riding horses lent to us by General MacLean, and we were accompanied for a few miles, on horseback, by Dr. and Mrs. Woolbert, Mr. Thomson, and Mr. Stagno Navarra. The camp had been sent on in the morning, with twenty-six mules, to our first camping ground, the village of Kanabis, distant sixteen miles. After passing the Naoghan gate, our road lay in a northerly direction, until we reached, at six miles, the Kashas Rud stream, which is crossed by a good stone and brick bridge; then turning east-south-east, we passed through the large village of Kanegousha, in the neighbourhood of which General MacLean had an unsuccessful shot at some sand grouse. At sunset we reached the camp, which we found pitched just outside the village of Kanabis, which, like Kanegousha, consists of some seven hundred Afghan families, Sunis by religion, who emigrated from Afghanistan about fifty years ago. Here we found abundant supplies, lambs, chickens, milk, &c.; and the inhabitants, who flocked out in great numbers to inspect us, were very civil and friendly in their demeanour.
The next morning, Saturday, March 29th, broke wet and drizzly, and after striking the camp about nine a.m., we rode for several hours wrapped in our mackintoshes and sou'-westers. Our destination was Huntalabad, and our road, after passing through the whole village of Kanabis, the inhabitants of which assembled in crowds on their flat, round roofs to witness our passage, lay north-east over a cultivated plain. After four miles it bent north-north-east over a line of low hills,crossing a line of 'kanauts,' or underground water-courses, and a plateau with scanty herbage, after which it descended a short, steep ravine, and entered at right angles a narrow and well-cultivated plain. Then, turning to the left, the track lay up the valley, north-north-east,under some high, over-hanging cliffs, until the small fortified village of Namisar, inhabited by Hazaras, was reached. Here we made a halt for luncheon, and in the afternoon, the rain having cleared off, we continued along the valley, which widened at intervals, but was nowhere much more than a mile or so in breadth, until we reached the fortified village of Huntalabad, perched in a commanding position on the cliffs, where there is a certain amount of cultivation, but where supplies are with difficulty procured. The night was very cold, owing to our close proximity to the mountains, and we were glad to warm the interior of our sleeping tent with a 'mongol,' or large iron brazier filled with glowing embers.
Sunday morning, March 30th, however, dawned bright and sunny, and the pleasant change from the cold and wet of the previous day was greatly appreciated by us all. We struck our camp soon after seven, and proceeded north-east, after a mile ascending east-north-east by a short, steep path. After four miles we reached the foot of the Tamoura pass, the ascent of which was steep, rocky, and, in places, almost impassable for horses. After an hour's scrambling up a goat path we reached the summit, whence we enjoyed a splendid view, as far as the hills joining the Russo-Persian boundary at Chacha. The descent only occupied about forty minutes, by a steep, but good, winding path, after which we entered a narrow valley running north-east, and bisected by a small, sedgy stream. On each side of the valley were rolling hills, planted in places with pistachio nut-trees, and occasionally we passed black, nomad tents, inhabited by shepherds, whose flocks of sheep and goats were extracting such sustenance as they could obtain from the scanty spring herbage which a summer sun would, before long, convert into a brown waste. Cantering along the banks of the stream, keeping the high Atok range in view, we reached the village of Persian Chacha, in the immediate neighbourhood of which we found a charming camping ground — a small, green meadow, surrounded by budding fruit-trees and streams of water, and sheltered from the north by frowning and inaccessible cliffs. Here, while the baggage mules, wearied by a long, stiff march of over thirty miles, were being unladen, and the tents being pitched, we refreshed ourselves with some of General MacLean's inexhaustible champagne, and listened to the bitter complaints preferred by the villagers against the high-handed proceedings of the inhabitants of Russian Chacha, who forcibly prevent Persian Chacha deriving the full benefit of its rich water supply, in order that a large portion of it may flow across the boundary.
On Monday,March 31st, we started at nine for a short day's march of some twenty miles to Karatagan, passing under the boundary cliffs in a north-by-west direction. We then followed along a narrow, barren valley, bounded on each side by sandy hills, where no sign of life was visible, save the sudden appearance of a small herd of deer, which, startled by our approach, skimmed swiftly across the valley and over the hills until they disappeared on the other side of the sandy and sun-beaten crests. After riding about ten miles, a distant view of the outer hills of Kelat-i-Nadiri was obtained, and four miles further on our good, but stony, track turned north, and winding in between some curious sugar-loaf shaped hillocks, brought us at noon, after a twenty miles' ride, to the well-wooded, well-watered,and cultivated village of Karatagan, sheltered in an angle formed by steep, rocky cliffs. This village, which contains about a hundred and fifty Persian families, was formerly, owing to its prosperity, much exposed to raids from the dreaded Turcomans across the boundary, who not only plundered the produce, but carried off many of the inhabitants as prisoners to the slave markets of Merv and Bokhara. Since, however, the Russian conquest of Transcaspia, these lawless 'man-eaters,' the moss-troopers of the Persian hills, have been forcibly restrained from their predatory excursions, but the innumerable towers of refuge dotted over the plains, at a distance from each other of only a few hundred yards, are silent witnesses to the dangers with which agricultural operations were, within the last five years, carried on in these Persian valleys. In those days the Persian husbandman guided his plough and sowed his corn with a musket slung on his back, and at the first alarm he would abandon his work and creep into the nearest small tower, where he would remain in security until the horde of Turcoman horsemen had swept by, harrassing and plundering hamlets and villages, and had returned within their own borders, carrying with them their human and agricultural spoil. The security which these Persian frontier villages now enjoy may be looked upon as some compensation for the severe pressure brought to bear upon the Persian Empire by the close proximity of the ever-advancing dominions of the Czar; whilst the Turcomans, now prevented by an iron hand from indulging in their predatory instincts, are gradually being formed by Russian officers into an irregular cavalry of no mean efficiency, who will, perchance, some day ravage the fertile districts of the Khorassan, not following, as of yore, their own wild fancies, but in more or less strict accordance with the rules of modern warfare.
On Tuesday, April 1st, we started for our final day's march to Dushak; our kind host resolved to accompany us as far as the frontier, but not to go further, in order to avoid arousing the extraordinary susceptibilities of the Russians, who, conscious probably of their present local military weakness, and of their own habit of spying and intriguing in their neighbours' dominions, view with suspicion and ill-concealed hostility the visit of strangers in Transcaspia, more especially when those strangers are of English blood. Accordingly General MacLean left two small tents standing at Karatagan for his own use on returning that evening, but insisted upon our taking all the rest, together with his best servants, so that we might be independent of a possible offer of Russian hospitality at Dushak in the event of there being no train leaving for Samarcand upon our arrival at the railway station. Very dreary those two little tents looked standing on the borders of the wilderness as we started at nine a.m. in a north-west direction over a barren plain, on which some lean and miserable cattle were affecting to brouse. After four miles we crossed a range of sandy hillocks, and passed in front of the eastern face of the great Persian frontier fortress of Kelat-i-Nadiri. It is a strong, natural fortress, consisting of a plateau enclosed by a chain of heights which form a lofty, precipitous wall, penetrable only by certain paths. This plateau is about eighteen miles long, and from six to ten broad, and is watered by a stream which finds its way to the Atok, near Abivard; the general elevation of the plateau is from four to five thousand feet; the whole circuit is about fifty miles, and contains eight small villages, with a population of about fourteen hundred souls. The land is said to be fertile and productive; but no strangers are under any pretext allowed to penetrate this mountain fastness, as it is well known that the greedy eye of the restless Russian invader is fixed with a covetous glitter upon this military prize. Eighteen miles from Karatagan, the valley along which we had been riding, due north, suddenly closes up, leaving but a narrow exit between some high cliffs. Though there was no formal indication of this being the frontier, neither guards nor frontier pillars being anywhere visible, General MacLean decided that it would be advisable for us here to separate. Under the shade of the rocks, near a pool of running water, in which hundreds of sheep, goats, lambs, and kids were slaking their thirst, we lunched for the last time in company with our host. Then, mounting our horses, we waved him a last, sad farewell, as he watched us disappearing over some grassy hills, himself returning to the lonely camp left standing at Karatagan. A ride of six miles brought us down to the vast, sea-like plain of Transcaspia, on the horizon of which we could distinguish the signal tower of the Dushak railway station. Towards this we rode, steadily reducing the intervening distance, though at times to the impatient riders, and perhaps to the tired horses, it seemed as if Dushak would 'never come.' Two miles from the station we passed under the Sarraks telegraph line, and shortly before seven we dismounted at the most southern station of the Transcaspian Railway, and learnt that we should have no train till the next evening, there being only two post trains a-week until the summer service should begin, when there would be three. We accordingly decided to encamp for the night in the immediate neighbourhood of the station, and as soon as the mules arrived, which, owing to the long march, was not till after sunset, we pitched our tents on a small, sandy plot of ground, our operations being watched by a small crowd of inquisitive soldiers and railway officials. The 'Nachalnik,' or station-master, sent us a civil message, offering us the use of the railway restaurant for a night's lodging, saying that it would be much more comfortable than tents. But we held a different opinion, and courteously declined the well-meant, but untempting proposal. The next morning the first sight which met our eyes was that of a Russian officer who lived in a small house close to which we were encamped, and who, apparently, had not seen our arrival or the pitching of the camp after dark, staring with bewildered astonishment from his garden gate at the extraordinary apparition of a row of English tents guarded by Indian soldiers, which had suddenly and silently arisen in the night. The problem was apparently too complicated for the torpid brain of the astonished Slav to solve unaided, so he eventually turned away in disgust to consult his better-informed and more wide-awake railway friends.
We spent the whole of the day at Dushak within our tents, owing to the oppressive heat, aggravated by the scorching desert wind which was blowing, and made the place, as Duffadar Ramazan Ali Khan remarked, 'hotter even than Moultan,the hottest place in India.' Late in the afternoon I paid a visit to the 'Nachalnik,' a Russian of German origin, with a Polish wife, who received me very courteously, and refreshed me with afternoon tea. At 6.30 the 'post' train, consisting only of second and third-class carriages, with a refreshment saloon, and a large van, without seats, reserved for Mussulmans, made its appearance. With difficulty we all four obtained second-class places, as the train was full of military officers, with a few civilians, apparently merchants, going to Merv and Bokhara, and at seven o'clock we steamed out of the station, en route for Samarcand.
It is not our intention to give a lone statistical or historical account of the Transcaspian Railway. Those who desire full information under these two heads cannot do better than consult Mr. Curzon's recent book, Russia in Central Asia, or an admirable paper read by him before the Royal Geographical Society, and published in the proceedings of that Society in May, 1889. For the purposes of this private Journal it is sufficient to note that this triumph of Russian engineering is due to the fertile brain and indomitable energy of Lieutenant-General Annenkoff, who was summoned by General Skobeloff to assist in retrieving the military disaster which in 1879 the Teke Turcomans had inflicted upon the Russian arms under General Lomakin. Begun originally as a purely military railway, which contributed in a great measure to the successful and bloody storming of the Turcoman stronghold of Geok Tepe, the railway, built and even now exclusively worked by officers and soldiers selected from 'the railway battalions' of the Russian army, has gradually been pushed on over sandy deserts, through fertile oases, and across broad streams, until it stretches from Uzun-Ada, on the Caspian, to Samarcand, on the Zerafshan, a distance of nine hundred and sixty-five miles.
The first station of interest at which we stopped after leaving Dushak was one which 'bore the historical name of Merv,' six hours distant from Dushak. By the bright moonlight we could see the modern Russian town on the west bank of the Murghab, whilst there appeared to be, with the exception of a dismantled fort, but little remains of the ancient Merv, which, in the words of Mr. Curzon, 'successively a satrapy of Darius, a colony of Alexander, a province of the Parthians, the site of a Christian bishopric, the seat of power of a Seljuk dynasty, and the residence and last resting-place of Alp Arslan and Sultan Sanjur; a prey to the awful scourge of the Mongol, and an altar for the human hecatombs of Jenghiz Khan a frontier outpost of Persia; a bone of armed contention between Bokhara and Khiva; a Turcoman encampment, and a Russian town, has surely exhausted very revolution of Fortune's wheel.'
When morning broke we found ourselves passing through the howling wilderness between Merv and Tcharjui, on the Oxus. Imagine the Atlantic Ocean during a great storm, when its waves are rolling mountains high,and threatening to engulph the ships riding over their crests, being suddenly transformed from salt water into fine yellow sand, over which the eye can stretch north, east, south, and west without encountering any object save perhaps a solitary pointsman, waving a tattered signal flag in front of his half-buried shanty, or a few desert plants, which have been planted in places along the line in the hope of affording some slight protection to the permanent way, and an idea may be formed of the nature of the obstacles which the Russian engineers had to overcome.
During our passage across the Kara Kum Desert, our train encountered a south-east gale, which blew nearly the whole day, and drove clouds of powdery sand into the railway carriages. After crossing the great wooden bridge over the Oxus, we found the line in many places buried in sand, and our train was constantly brought to a standstill, whilst gangs of men, with spades and shovels, were sent ahead to clear the way. We did not reach the station of Bokhara until nine p.m., five hours late; but next morning we found ourselves, with improved weather, crossing a smiling and well-cultivated country, with trees, gardens, and orchards. We reached Samarcand in the afternoon of Friday, April 4th, and after being delayed for some time at the station by a subordinate Custom House officer, who had carelessly or designedly allowed the railway porters to carry our luggage out of the station without going through the formality of a Custom House inspection, and who afterwards insisted upon making a minute search of all our effects in the middle of the road, surrounded by an insolent crowd, we drove four miles to the modern Russian quarter of Samarcand, and alighted at the 'Hôtel de Varsovie.' The road from the station was broad and metalled, and planted on both sides with avenues of tall poplars. We drove in a small Russian droshky, similar to those which ply for hire in St. Petersburg and other Russian cities, whilst our luggage followed in a one-horse cart peculiar to Samarcand and Bokhara. It consisted of a rough wooden platform, roofed in with wooden hoops and straw matting, and slung upon two enormous wheels, over eight feet in height. The driver, a native Sart, was perched, or rather crouched, like a monkey upon the horse's neck, and the whole conveyance, which presented an irresistibly comic look, rattled along in a way that must sorely have tried even the hardened bones and muscles of Gholam Ali Akbar.
The Russian quarter of Samarcand has only sprung up since 1868, when the town was captured from the Khan of Bokhara by General von Kaufmann. A recent traveller, Mr. Arthur Hardinge, has well described it as:—
'Consisting of a collection of broad streets, or rather boulevards, closely planted on each side with handsome trees, and bordered with one-storied whitewashed houses. These are generally detached, and in many cases stand within their own gardens, and their isolation from one another, and the grove-like look of the whole place, gives it a rural, or at least suburban, character, suggesting rather the outskirts of some continental pleasure resort that the streets of a populous town. The Governor's house, at the furthest end of the chief boulevard, is surrounded by lovely grounds, kept up with evident care, and the shade, the green lawns, and the sound of birds and water, produce a pleasant sense of coolness and repose very refreshing after the dust of the parched steppe. About a verst away lies the Sart, or native quarter, on the other side of a broad, open space, upon which stands the fort, and which serves as a drill-ground for the troops.
'Rich and smiling as is the surrounding country, and full of villages, orchards, and gardens, the old Sart town itself is mean, squalid, and ill-built. The Bazaar is small and poor, and the seamy side of European influence is clearly visible in low drink-shops, kept by Jews and Armenians, and in an entire quarter of native houses of a still worse description. In the midst, however, of these shabby streets and lanes tower three splendid mosques, forming three sides of the Reghistan, a small square, which is the chief market and meeting-place of the town. Attached to each is a medresseh, or college, for the students of Mussulman theology and law, who are lodged for a small pittance in rooms, or cells, opening out into the courtyards of the mosques. Though devout worshippers still crowd them every Friday, there was a decayed, deserted look about these buildings, as compared with those of Bokhara, which seemed to speak of a decline of religious zeal, and in general of all energy and life, in what, in old days, was the chief home of Mahommedan culture in Central Asia. A knot of youths, chatting or reading in a corner, and gladly leaving their books to earn a copper by showing the Christian stranger over their mosque, and a few aged Mollahs, half-dozing over their Korans, or laboriously painting, rather that writing, on long rolls, fresh copies of the sacred text, appeared the only representatives or survivers of the great legal and ecclesiastical class, once so famous for its religious learning, its fanaticism, and the political power it was believed to wield.'
We found the Hôtel de Varsovie, where we secured several rooms, tolerably clean and comfortable, and furnished with chairs, carpets, curtains, &c., all of which appeared wonderfully luxurious to travellers accustomed to Persian chapar khanehs. The proprietor was a fat, heavy Russian, with a buxom, good-natured wife, and amongst the servants we found a youth who spoke Persian, and who proved very useful to us as an interpreter. In the afternoon I called upon General Bibikoff, who commands the garrison in Samarcand, and to whom I had brought a letter of introduction. He received me very civilly in his small, one-storeyed house, and expressed regret that Madame Bibikoff, following the custom of all Russian ladies, would be unable to receive any visitors during the Holy Week, as she was busily engaged with her 'devotions.' In the course of conversation, General Bibikoff informed me that Ishak Khan, the Afghan rebel and Pretender, is living quietly at Samarcand, under Russian protection, and is in receipt of an allowance from the Russian Government of 10,000l. a-year (100,000 roubles).
On the following day, Saturday, April 5th, I called on the Governor-General, Yafimovitch, and left a card, which was taken charge of by the porter, a fine,burly Sart, dressed in a long robe, and wearing a huge turban. I also called on his 'adjoint,' Colonel Poukaloff, but failed to find him at home. In the afternoon we hired horses and rode through the native quarter of Samarcand, passing numerous booths, crowded with white-turbaned Orientals, bartering, chaffering, smoking 'kalian,' or water-pipes, and drinking tea out of Russian samovars and china teapots. We dismounted at the Reghistan, a quadrangle, surrounded on three sides by medressehs, or religious colleges. The ruined facades are still covered with the most magnificent dark blue, light blue, and white tiles, forming the most lovely designs. The courtyard was crowded with Mollahs, reading and expounding the Koran, who watched our proceedings with inquisitive interest. Mr. Curzon has declared that the Reghistan of Samarcand was originally, and is still even in its ruins, the noblest public square in the world.
'There is nothing,' he says, 'in the East approaching it in massive simplicity and grandeur, and nothing in Europe, save, perhaps, on a humbler scale, the Piazza di San Marco, at Venice, which can even aspire to enter the competition. No European spectacle,indeed, can adequately be compared with it in our inability to point to an open space in any western city that is commanded on three of its four sides by Gothic cathedrals of the finest order. For it is clear that the Medresseh of Central Asian Mahometanism is both in its architectural scope and design a lineal counterpart of the minster of the West. Instead of the intricate sculpture and tracery crowning the pointed archways of the Gothic front, we see the enamelled tiles of Persia framing a portal of stupendous magnitude. For the flanking minster, towers, or spires, are substituted two soaring minarets. The central lantern of the West is anticipated by the Saracenic dome, and in lieu of artificial colour thrown through tinted panes, from the open heavens shine down the azure of the Eastern sky and the glory of the Eastern sun. What Samarcand must have been in its prime, when those great fabrics emerged from the mason's hands, intact and glittering with all the effulgence of the rainbow, their chambers crowded with students, their sanctuaries thronged by pilgrims, and their corporations endowed by kings, the imagination can still make some endeavour to depict'
The other sights of Samarcand which we visited during our stay of one week in that place can only be briefly mentioned. The mosque of Bibi Khanoum, the Chinese consort of the great Timour, is rapidly falling into complete decay. Here is to be seen the great marble lectern, on which formerly reposed the gigantic copy of the Koran, said to be eight hundred years old, which was carried off by the Russians after the storming of Samarcand, and deposited in the great public library of St. Petersburg. A smaller, and far less ancient Koran, is carefull preserved in the cluster of the mosques and chapels forming the mausoleum of Shah Zindeh, which, too, is so rapidly decaying that in a few more years, unless some archæological society comes to the rescue, little will remain of any of these glorious monuments of ancient Samarcand, 'with their turquoise and sapphire, and green and plum-coloured, and orange tiles, crusted over with a rich, silicious glaze, and inscribed with mighty Kufic letters.' In the Citadel is to be seen, by special permission, the 'koktash,' or great stone throne of Timour Lang; and a short ride from the town, beyond the mounds of Afrasiab, leads one to the 'Tomb of Daniel.' It is a stone and plaster coffin-shaped construction,eighteen yards long, situated on a hillock, alongside of a small mosque, surrounded by trees, and overlooking the river. Around the tomb are planted long poles, surmounted by horses' tails, the standards of departed Uzbeg and Sart chieftains. Our guide would not allow any doubts to be cast upon the legend which names this spot as the last resting-place of the Prophet Daniel, and upon our remarking that the tomb was unnecessarily long, he retorted that it was well known that Daniel was a very big man.
Socially Samarcand is an exceedingly dull place. The Governor, General Yafimovitch, formerly an officer in the Chevalier Gardes of St. Petersburg, is a hipped and discontented valetudinarian, with a young wife, who does little or nothing in the interests of society; whilst his second in command, Colonel Poukoloff, is a heavy, middle-aged officer, who served under General Kaufmann at the capture of Tashkent, in 1865, and has been vegetating and rusting at Samarcand since 1869.
The bazaars of Samarcand are both interesting and tempting. Here may be bought quantities of fine silks, of native manufacture, as well as fur, sheep, and lambskin caps, embroidered saddle-cloths, and silver horse-trappings. All this native industry could be greatly developed if the Russians, themselves after all only a half-civilised nation, did not treat it with the same ignorant contempt with which they view those magnificent relics of the past of which they are unworthy custodians.
During our visit to Samarcand, and indeed during the whole of the three weeks we passed in Russian Transcaspian and Turkestan territory, we were subjected to a police espionage and surveillance of a most ignoble and petty description. Having, on one occasion, ascended to the summit of one of the Reghistan medresehs, for the purpose of seeing the view, a report was made to the local authorities that we had done so in order to take a photograph, or to make plans of the city and its defences. On another occasion I was honoured at Samarcand with a formal summons to appear at a police court and answer to a charge of having fraudulently endeavoured to evade the Custom House, and of having assaulted a Custom House officer. In vain I protested against the indignity of a British diplomatist being treated in this way; I was forced to appear in person, and to defend myself from a charge that was easily disposed of without any witnesses being called on my behalf, but during which I had an opportunity of closely inspecting a body of thirty Siberian prisoners, dressed in their convict uniform of long, grey cloaks, with big yellow crosses embroidered on their backs, guarded by a strong force of soldiers. No apology of any kind was made to me, and we left for Bokhara on Saturday evening, the 12th of April, carrying with us pleasant reminiscences of the beauty of Samarcand and its surroundings, as well of its native inhabitants, but with the worst possible impression of their Russian rulers.
A night's run of twelve hours, spent in a very uncomfortable second-class carriage, brought us to the station of Bokhara. The only incident worthy of note being the conduct of a young military officer, who made himself very disgreeable, by talking in our presence against England and English people in general, until he was forcibly stopped by the indignant interference of some of the passengers. Excuses were eventually made to us, on his behalf, on the ground that having been recently bitten by a mad dog he had taken to drink, and was consequently not altogether responsible for his actions.
On arriving at Bokhara station, at 7.30 in the morning of Sunday, April 13th, we found a close carriage waiting for us, which had been sent, together with a cart for our luggage, by M. Klemm, the kind and hospitable Russian Acting Political Agent, resident at the Court of the Khan of Bokhara. The carriage was drawn by three horses, harnessed unicorn fashion,and each horse was ridden by a Bokhariot postillion, dressed in gorgeous coloured flowing silk robes and large white turbans, whilst a Russian Cossack rode beside the carriage as an escort. The drive from the station to the tower is about ten miles, over a shocking road. We passed numbers of Bokhariots of all ages in their brilliant native dress, leading and riding camels and donkeys, and after passing through the crowded bazaars, where our passage was constantly blocked by inquisitive and staring natives, we reached the hospitable doors of the Russian Political Agency. We were received by a native porter in a striped silk dress, who led us across a dreary yard, and showed us into a long room, containing two beds, three or four chairs, a narrow table, and a carpet. This was the guest-chamber, and two small rooms in addition were allotted to us, one for Chivers, and the other for Ali Akbar. Our room, which looked out into a large wilderness of a garden, was swarming with ants, but otherwise it was fairly comfortable. In the course of the morning we received a visit from M. Klemm, a rising and very agreeable young diplomatist of Danish origin. He was dressed in full uniform, as it was Russian Easter Sunday, and he was engaged in giving an Easter breakfast to his guard of twenty Cossacks, and in receiving official visits of congratulations from Bokhariot ministers and Russian residents. At noon we adjourned for luncheon to his quarter of the Residency,and made the acquaintance of Madame Klemm, her mother, and several Russians.
During our three days' stay at Bokhara we remained the guests of M. Klemm, who placed all his servants and horses at our disposal. We visited the bazaars, which we found crowded with most tempting wares, silks, embroideries, arms, and brass and copper ware of quaint native manufacture; among the sellers were many Jews and Hindoos, the latter being distinguished by a red caste mark on their foreheads. Bargaining in the Bokhara bazaars is a work of considerable labour, as the buyer is surrounded by a crowd of spectators who take the liveliest interest in the proceedings, and vociferously express unasked their opinions with regard to the quality of the goods and the prices demanded.
Bokhara, on the whole, is for a tourist a disappointing place. The streets are rough and narrow, with high mud walls, and but few buildings of any importance. The numerous mosques and medressehs are in a state of great dilapidation and decay. Bokhara is, of course, connected in English minds with the tragic death of Stoddart and Connolly, who, being sent in 1842 on a political mission, were cast into a subterranean dungeon, or pit, where, after suffering months of torture, they were eventually beheaded. This pit has now been filled up, and the Bokhariots profess to know nothing about it, or of the tragedy of which it was the scene, but there can be little doubt that the dungeon was under a small hillock, on the summit of which now stands the modern prison. This prison we visited, and found in it some twenty prisoners, ordinary criminals, several of whom were chained to the walls like dogs to their kennels, and all plaintively begging for food. In accordance with the usual custom we bought bread from a perambulating baker, which we gave to one of the prisoners, who distributed it fairly among his comrades, by whom it was quietly and thankfully received. In justice to the Bokhariots it must be said that this prison, though not exactly an abode of bliss, or in any way coming up to the standard of an English prison, is not by any means the noisome dungeon which one might naturally expect to see.
The Amir of Bokhara, whose acquaintance M. Klemm did not seem to wish us to make, is a young man of about thirty, who is allowed by the Russians to manage the internal affairs of his country as an independent sovereign, on condition of leaving his foreign relations, and, if necessary, placing his small, and not particularly efficient, army entirely in Russian hands. Wedged in between the Russian dominions of Turkestan on one side, and Transcaspia on the other, and traversed by a military railway, which, as a great concession on the part of Russia, does not pass within ten miles of 'Bokhara the Noble,' the Amir is nothing but a humble vassal and servant of Russia, which does not occupy the country, because she derives all the benefits from it, which she can wish to obtain, without incurring the expense of its administration. The capital, which is about twelve miles in circumference, is still a great city, for it contains a population of about one hundred thousand souls. Of these, according to Mr. Curzon, only one hundred and fifty are Europeans, nearly all of them Russians, Germans, or Poles. The majority of the native population are Tajïks and Uzbegs, and the gorgeousness of their apparel, even the humblest of them wearing the most gaudily coloured, and, in European eyes, the most costly of silk robes, lends an extraordinary brilliancy to their surroundings. Mr. Curzon has pointed out that Bokhara has long set the fashion in Central Asia in the matter of dress, and that it is the great clothes mart of the East. 'Here the richness of Oriental fancy has expressed itself in the most daring but artistic combinations of colour, the brightest crimson and blue and purple and orange are juxtaposed or interlaced, and in Bokhara Joseph would have been looked upon as the recipient of no peculiar favour in the gift of a coat of many colours. Too often there is the most glaring contrast between the splendour of the exterior and the poverty it covers. Many of the people are wretchedly poor, but living is absurdly cheap, and your pauper, undaunted by material woes, walks abroad with the dignity of a patriarch, and in the garb of a prince.'
We left Bokhara by the 7.30 morning train on Wednesday, 17th of April, driving to the station in the same carriage and with the same escort with which we had arrived. The Klemms travelled in our train on their way to Tcharjui, on the Bokharian frontier, in order to make arrangements for the approaching arrival of the Prince of Naples, the heir to the throne of Italy. The train was, as usual, crowded with military officers, and as there were neither coupés or lavatories, the discomfort was great, and the heat in the desert was very oppressive. We arrived at Askabad, the capital of Transcaspia, at noon on Thursday, the 18th of April, and were met at the station by M. Rodziewices, a secretary of General Annenkoff, who drove with us to a comfortable little house about a mile from the station, where rooms had been secured for us by Madame von Schoultz, the English-born wife of a Russian artillery general. The Schoultzs' are a Finnish family, whose acquaintance I had made ten years before in a country house in Finland. At that time Askabad was a mere Turcoman settlement, and I little thought when I parted from them in the forests of Finland that our next meeting-place would be in the Steppes of Central Asia.
Askabad is a flourishing modern town, built in the ordinary Russian style, with broad boulevards, one-storeyed, whitewashed houses, and possessing a church with the usual green roof. The town lies in a barren plain, which in the spring contains a certain amount of scanty herbage, and it is about six miles distant from the Kopet Dach range of mountains, which here form the Persian boundary.
The following day we went to the station to witness the arrival of the Crown Prince of Italy, a young man, aged twenty-two, to whom we had been presented in 1887 at Malta. He was received by General Komaroff, the Governor of Transcaspia, a short, square, bald-headed man, who looks more like a university professor than a military commander. Indeed, his only military exploit has been the Khushk affair in 1885, when, with all the odds in his favour, he attacked and defeated a detachment of Afghans during the sittings of the Afghan Boundary Commission, and by so doing nearly embroiled England and Russia in a war. The trophies of this 'victory' are four English field guns, which were captured from the Afghans, and which, still surmounted with a V.R. and the crown, form the principal ornaments of Scobeloff Square, Askabad, and are proudly pointed out to travellers as being 'les canons anglais.'
In the afternoon of the one day which the Prince of Naples spent at Askabad a review and a sham fight, representing on a small scale the storming of Geok Tepe, was held. The troops consisted of two battalions of sharpshooters, some Cossack cavalry, artillery, and Turcoman irregular horse. The point of attack was the Turcoman village of Cashi, about three miles from Askabad. It is a lovely oasis, with trees and water, in the middle of the great Steppe. The most interesting part of the review, to a stranger, was the manœuvering of the Turcoman militia, or native irregular horse. They have only recently been enrolled into the Russian service,and although at present consisting of only a few hundred men, could easily, it is said, in case of war, be increased to ten thousand. The men receive twenty-five roubles a-month and their arms, but they supply their own horses and wear their own native dress. During the sham fight which we witnessed this irregular cavalry executed a series of wild charges right into the kabitkas, or tents, of the villagers of Cashi, giving vent to blood-curdling and cat-like screams and yells, eminently suggestive of blood and rapine.
During our two days' stay at Askabad we were most hospitably entertained by Madame von Schoultz, whose husband was absent at St. Petersburg, and by her daughters. In her pleasant house we met Colonel Levashoff, the chief of the staff in Transcaspia, and his wife; and it was through Madame von Schoultz's intervention that we obtained,for the first time, a separate railway compartment for ourselves on the Transcaspian Railway.
We left Askabad by the mid-day train on Saturday, the 19th, occupying a very comfortable compartment furnished with divans, tables, and chairs, and having a lavatory and servants' compartment attached. A couple of hours' run brought us to the station of Geok Tepe, close to which is the celebrated Turcoman fortress where, in 1881, the Akhal Tekkes, to the number of forty thousand men, women, and children, made their last heroic stand for freedom, and were hopelessly defeated and cruelly massacred by General Skobeleff. The fortress is simply a gigantic square earthwork four miles in circumference, surrounded by a deep, broad moat, and defended by high, massive mud walls and towers. The two breaches made by the Russian artillery, through which the infantry charged, are still visible, and no great effort of imagination is required to depict the bloody scene which was enacted in the interior of this now deserted Turcoman fort. We reached Uzun-Ada at seven on Sunday morning, the 20th, and as our steamer did not leave till the following day, we accepted a kind offer made to us by M. Samozensky, a lieutenant in the railway battalion, holding the post of district inspector at Uzun-Ada, who kindly placed his small, wooden, three-roomed house at our entire disposal.
Uzun-ada, which is the present starting-point of the Transcaspian Railway, well deserves the description given of it to us by a Russian lady, 'Un trou sablonneux.' It consists of nothing but hills and valleys of deep yellow sand, which contrasts brilliantly with the dark blue of the sea and the lighter blue of the sky. Not a tree or a vestige of vegetation is anywhere visible, and life here in the small wooden huts which constitute the 'town' must be utterly dreary. The only excitement appears to be the bi-weekly arrival of the post-train from Samarcand, and the occasional arrival and dispatch of a Caspian steamer. When, as it seems likely, the starting-point of the railway is shifted further north to Krasnovodsk, which possesses better harbour facilities, Uzun-ada will disappear as a European settlement even more rapidly than it has come into existence, to the infinite delight of the unfortunate officials, civil and military, who are now compelled to make it their headquarters. The wharf of Uzun-ada was encumbered with innumerable bales of cotton, which is grown in great and in increasing quantities in the Tashkent and Kokand districts, whence it is conveyed on the backs of strings of patient camels a distance of over two hundred miles to Samarcand, and transported in the Transcaspian Railway for conveyance to Baku and Astracan, en route for Moscow. The steamboat agent told us that last year 25,000 tons of this cotton were shipped, and this year a consignment of double that amount is expected.