National Geographic : 1947 Mar
I Become a Bakhtiari BY PAUL EDWARD CASE As assistant to Dr. Luther M. Winsor, formerly an American adviser on irrigation to the Iranian Govern ment, Paul Edward Case was given a wartime assignment to meet the chief of the Bakhtiari, a practically ungoverned tribe of central Iran, and to obtain their cooperation for construction of a road and a dam in their territory. He relates how, with the help of an Iranian business man, he accomplished his job-THE EDITOR. " TI HE PEOPLE of Isfahan can't manage with the small supply of water they now have," I said to my friend in Iran. "Dr. Winsor has told me to get packed and see the Chahar Lang chief. Wish me luck. Anything you can tell me will help." This friend had been a long time in Iran and had excellent judgment about the management of the assignment I had at hand. We both had worked for more than a year among the Arab sheiks of the south while facilities were being improved for the shipment of war supplies to Russia through Iran.* A Mission Fraught with Danger Because of the bad reputation of the Bakh tiari, this projected work had a strong atmos phere of adventure. All I knew was that there were two tribes, the Chahar Lang and the Haft Lang (Four Feet and Seven Feet). On a bright Thursday in April I left Tehran in the cab of an American truck. We drove out the lower end of town into the Iran I love. With many buildings of Western architec ture, Tehran is European in appearance, but Iran outside the city is different in every way. I never feel that Tehran is really Iran (Plates I, III, IV, VI, VII, X). The incessant hornblowing of the city eased off until none was heard. As we drove over a railroad crossing bridge, farms stretched far ahead of us and on all sides. To my left was the shining gold dome of a small mosque. Looking back toward the east, I saw the pure white peak of Demavend, rising 18,550 feet into a puffy cloud (map, page 329). Fragrance of clover was wafted to us across elm-shaded lanes and waterways. Wheat and barley grew in thousands of acres corru gated by irrigation ditches. Farmers followed their rude wooden plows, preparing fallow land for crops of grain, potatoes, and beans. Many passing trucks had palm leaves from the south stuck in the radiator guards. Now and then the regular mounds of qanat lines stretched toward the mountains, from the base of which clear, cool water is brought to the barren desert by these underground tunnels an irrigation system of great antiquity in Persia. Here real plant life (and, for that matter, all life) extends to the last irrigation ditch only; beyond are the thorny dwarf forms of the desert. Snow-covered mountains fringed our view on all sides. By 9 p. m. we reached Qum. I remained there overnight in the hotel erected by the late Shah to accommodate visit ing buyers of the produce of the large weaving mill he also built near by. Qum is noted for a kind of glazed pottery, a form of molasseslike candy, and the magnificent shrine of Fatima, sister of Imam Reza. Long before the city is seen from the desert, its gold dome glistens in the sunlight (page 328). To me, Qum is memorable also for delicious kebab (barbecued lamb). After a breakfast of sour milk, flat pancake bread, fried eggs, and tea, I was off for Isfahan, handicraft center of Iran. An old king, Shah Abbas I, put his stamp on this city and left behind more real beauty than numerous heroic planners of other lands, ancient or modern. Some of the design motifs used in the Middle East have their origin in his patronage. An Iranian Bath Is Thorough Since I did not know when my next bath would come, and virtually no hotels have bath ing facilities, I went to one of the special hammams, or bathhouses, common to cities and villages. I undressed in a small room, then entered an adjoining room of the same size to wash under a shower. Men came in to "massage' me, treating me first to a perfunctory stretch ing of arms and legs, and after that a vigorous rubbing of the complete body with a canvas mitten. Surprisingly large rolls of skin and dirt are accumulated under the mitten even from those who think themselves clean. I suspected part of these rolls were from the mitten. The massage finished, the attendant put the soap I had brought with me into a white cloth bag about the size of a salt bag. I had show ered my raw body to wash away the scraped * See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Lend-Lease and the Russian Victory," by Harvey Klemmer, October, 1945; "Mountain Tribes of Iran and Iraq," by Harold Lamb, March, 1946; "Iran in Wartime," by John N. Greely, August, 1943 ; and "Old and New in Persia," by the Baroness Ravensdale, Sep tember, 1939.