—London to Baku—Oil-wells and works—Persians abroad—Caspian steamers—Caspian salmon—Enzelli lagoon—The Jews in Persia—Resht trade—'My eye'—Russian road—The tobacco 'strike,' 1891—Collapse of Tobacco Régie—Moulla opposition.
The Persians, as a people still nomadic in their habits, and much given to long pilgrimages, have good knowledge of the ways and means of making a journey pleasant. Their saying, 'Avval rafîk, baad tarîk' (First a companion, then the road), is one which most travellers can fully appreciate. Accordingly, when planning a trip in the autumn of 1895 to the Land of Iran, I cast about for a companion, and was fortunate enough to meet with two friends, both going that way, and who, moreover, like myself, had previously journeyed in Persia.
We decided to take the Odessa route to Batoum, and we went by Berlin, Oderberg, and Lemberg. At Odessa we found that a less expensive, and more comfortable, though perhaps half a day longer route, lies by Warsaw. On that line there are fewer changes, and only one Customs examination, whereas by, Oderberg there are two examinations, Austrian and Russian. Moreover, through tickets are issued viâ Warsaw, a convenience not provided viâ Oderberg—fresh tickets and re-booking of luggage being necessary there, and again both at Pod Voloczyska and Voloczyska, on the Austrian and Russian frontiers. We came in for a crowded train of first-class passengers going from the Vienna direction to Jalta, a favourite seaside place in the Crimea, which has two fashionable seasons—spring and autumn. These people were making for the accelerated mail-steamer, which leaves Odessa for Batoum every Wednesday during the summer service, touching at Sebastopol, Jalta, and Novorossisk. We were making for the same steamer, and found crowded cabins. The mass of luggage to be examined at Voloczyska caused much confusion and delay, and it was only by discreetly managed appeals to the working staff that we were able to push our way and pass on, without anything being left behind. There appeared to be orders for very special examination of books and papers at Voloczyska, and these were carried out in a foolishly perfunctory manner. In my luggage, the man who searched passed over a bulky tourist writing-case, but carried off to a superior a Continental Bradshaw, a blank notebook, and a packet of useful paper, notwithstanding my open show of their innocence. The man soon returned with another official, who smiled at the mistake, and good naturedly helped to close up my baggage.
We began our journey well by a rapid run to Odessa, arriving there on the day of departure of the fast boat, and landing at Batoum in six and a half days from London. The steamers on this service are about 2,500 tons, 2,400 horse-power, with large accommodation for passengers. The cabins are comfortable, and the saloons excellent and well served, and all are lit with the electric light. These boats are, I believe, Tyne-built....