CHAPTER XXII. ASIATIC RUSSIA - ARMENIA, GEORGIA, AND MINGRELIA.

SOPHIA - MARAND - THE RUSSIAN FRONTIER - NATSCHIVAN - JOURNEY OF THE CARAVAN - A NIGHT'S IMPRISONMENT - CONTINUATION OF THE JOURNEY - ERIVAN - THE RUSSIAN POST - THE TARTARS - ARRIVAL IN TIFLIS - SOJOURN THERE - CONTINUATION OF THE JOURNEY - KUTAIS - MARAND - TRIP ON THE RIBON - REDUTKALE.

11th August. The stations between Tebris and Natschivan are very irregular; one of the longest, however, is the first - namely, to the village of Sophia, which occupied us six hours. The road lay through valleys, which were, for the most part, barren and uninhabited.

As it was already 3 o'clock when we reached Sophia, the people there endeavoured to prevent me from going any further. They pointed to the sun, and at the same time signified that I might be attacked by robbers, plundered, and even murdered; but such statements had no influence with me; and after I had with great trouble ascertained that it would only require four hours to reach the next station, I determined to continue my journey; and to the vexation of my servant, whom I had engaged as far as Natschivan, ordered him to saddle fresh horses.

Immediately after leaving Sophia, we entered barren, rocky valleys, which my guide represented as being very dangerous, and which I should not have liked to pass at night; but as the sun was shining in full splendour, I urged on my horse, and amused myself by looking at the beautiful colours and grouping of the rocks. Some were of a glittering pale green; others covered with a whitish, half transparent substance; others again terminated in numerous oddly formed angles, and from the distance looked like beautiful groups of trees. There was so much to see that I really had no time to think of fear.

About half-way lay a pretty little village in a valley, and beyond it rose a steep mountain, on the summit of which a charming prospect of mountain country kept me gazing for a long while.

We did not reach Marand till nearly 8 o'clock; but still with our heads, necks, and baggage, all safe.

Marand lies in a fertile valley, and is the last Persian town which I saw, and one of the most agreeable and handsome. It has broad, clean streets, houses in good repair, and several small squares with beautiful springs, which are, moreover, surrounded by trees.

My shelter for the night was not so good as the town promised: I was obliged to share the court with the post-horses. My supper consisted of some roasted and very salt eggs.

12th August. Our journey for today was as far as Arax, on the Russian frontier. Although only one stage, it took us eleven hours. We followed the course of a small brook, which wound through barren valleys and ravines; not a single village lay on our road; and with the exception of some little mills and the ruins of a mosque, I saw no more buildings in Persia. Persia is, on the whole, very thinly populated, on account of the scarcity of water. No country in the world has more mountains, and fewer rivers, than Persia. The air is, on this account, very dry and hot.

The valley in which Arax is situated is large, and the extraordinary formation of the mountains and rocks renders it very picturesque. In the extreme distance rise lofty mountains, of which Ararat is more than 16,000 feet in height, and in the valley itself there are numerous rocky elevations. The principal of these, a beautiful sharp rocky cone, of at least 1,000 feet in height, is called the Serpent Mountain.

The river Aras flows close to the headland. It separates Armenia from Media, has a terrible fall, and high waves. It here forms the boundary between the Russian and Persian dominions. We crossed in a boat. On the opposite side of the river were several small houses where travellers are obliged to stop and prove that they are not robbers, and especially that they are not politically dangerous. Occasionally they are detained in quarantine for some time, when the plague or cholera happens to be prevalent in Persia.

A letter from the Russian consul at Tebris ensured me a very courteous reception; from the quarantine I was saved, as there was no plague or cholera. I had, however, scarcely set my foot upon Russian ground, when the impudent begging for drink-money began. The officer had among his people a Cossack, who represented himself as understanding German, and he was sent to me to ask what I wished for. The rogue knew about as much German as I did Chinese - hardly three or four words. I therefore signified to him that I did not require his services, in spite of which he held out his hand, begging for money.

13th August. I left Arax betimes in the morning, in company with a customs' officer, and rode to the town of Natschivan, which lies in a large valley, surrounded by the lofty mountains of Ararat. The country here is fertile, but there are very few trees.

I never had so much trouble to obtain shelter in any place as in this. I had two letters, one to a German physician, the other to the governor. I did not wish to go to the latter in my travelling dress, as I was again among cultivated people, who are accustomed to judge of you by your dress, and there was no inn. I therefore intended to ask accommodation in the doctor's house. I showed the address, which was written in the native language, to several people to read, that they might point out the house to me; but they all shook their heads, and let me go on. At last I came to the custom- house, where my little luggage was immediately taken possession of, and myself conducted to the inspector. He spoke a little German, but paid no regard to my request. He told me to go into the custom- house, and unlock my portmanteau.