Page images

To the north is Tobolsk, to be connected by a branch railroad with the Great Siberian Railway. Tobolsk was the old capital of Siberia. The old town is now going to decay, and its wooden roads are becoming unsafe.

One of the most notable sights in Tobolsk is a famous old bell which has had a strange history. A rebellion, or riot of some sort, occurred in the Russian town where the bell was hung, and by ringing it the rioters gave signals to their companions who were outside of the town. This occurred at a time when criminals were publicly flogged before they were sent into Siberian exile.

After the rebellion had been put down, the bell was placed on trial and condemned for having given aid to the rebels! It was then solemnly flogged in the public square, and afterward was sent to Siberia. It was also forbidden to ring again. But in later years it was pardoned, and its tone was soon heard calling the people of Tobolsk to church. It is now preserved as a relic in the public museum. Such is the country through which the great railway

When once the rivers have been bridged and the mountains tunneled, the wealth of Siberia will be open to the world. Her magnificent forests, her rich petroleum wells, and her mines of coal, gold, and silver can then be turned to profit, and will, it is believed, attract settlers to make their homes in this distant land.

The rich agricultural region in southern Siberia, through which the road is to pass, will furnish wheat not alone for Russia but for the other great markets of Europe as well.

is to pass.




“ Persia ! time-honored land! who looks on thee,
A desert yet a Paradise will see ;
Vast chains of hills where not a shrub appears,
Wastes where no dews distil their diamond tears.

[blocks in formation]

Pomegranates hang their rich fruit in the sun ;
Grapes turn to purple many a rock's tall brow,
And globes of gold adorn the citron's bough."

We have now come to a land strewn with the ruins of palaces, royal tombs, and massive walls; showing where great cities once stood.

On all sides are reminders of its former greatness, which serve only to make more conspicuous the present desolation and ruin of this time-honored land.

This is Persia — a land of lofty mountains and farreaching deserts. The greater part of the country is a high plateau crossed by many chains of mountains. Between the mountains lie valleys of wonderful fertility. The land bordering upon the Caspian Sea is low and very fertile.

The waves and the winds together have formed great sand hills, or dunes, along the coast; and the rivers, rushing down from the mountains and meeting these barriers, have, in many places, spread out in great lagoons, whose banks are covered with a dense growth of trees and vines of every description.

From this narrow, marshy plain we come to the lower slopes of the Elburz Mountains and find here a region of surpassing beauty. These slopes are covered with forests of oak, walnut, cypress, and cedar. Vines of luxuriant growth clamber over the trees, and flowers of brilliant hue cover the ground beneath.

In the fertile valleys, lying between these wooded slopes, are villages and towns. Here wild fruits grow in abundance; while oranges, lemons, peaches, quinces, and melons are easily cultivated.

Above the forest belt tower the bare, bleak mountain tops. Thus from the shore of the Caspian Sea to the summit of the Elburz Mountains is found every variety of climate, from the moist, steaming heat of the lowlands along the sea to the ice and snow of the mountain peaks.

Leaving this fertile section, we soon discover a great change in the appearance of the country spreading be

In place of luxuriant vegetation we see only

fore us.

the barren desert on every side. Fully three fourths of this land is a desert. In days gone by, a large part of the desert land was made to produce rich crops by irrigation, the water being carried in canals which extended for a long distance from the mountains. The same rich crops might now be obtained if the people would exert that same thrift and energy. But these canals were neglected and long since became useless. The land soon lost its moisture, and was then but a part of the desert.

In the eastern division of Persia is an immense tract which no system of irrigation can ever make fertile. This is the Great Salt Desert. But few travelers attempt the journey across this desert, and a brief account of the dangers encountered by one of them will make the reason plain :

“ The last gleams of daylight had now disappeared, and the moon was shining brightly upon our way. All round us lay a boundless expanse of the most brilliant white salt, glimmering like snow in its light. Not a sound was to be heard except the tramp of the animals and the clang of the mule bells. The effect of the moonlight upon the white ground was to render things less discernible than had we been on land; and we could understand how easy it must be to lose one's way here, for once or twice, getting separated from the caravan, we found that the only guide to its position was the sound of its bells.

“The track, moreover, was of the vaguest description, the only signs by which it could be distinguished being the traces left by previous caravans, and these occasion.

ally failed us; so that more than once we found ourselves, to our consternation, wandering off the route onto a surface which had apparently never been touched by man or beast.

“We crossed the margin of the salt, on our entrance upon it, about 6.30 P.M., and, marching steadily at an average pace of not less than three and a half miles an hour, we found ourselves at the other side about 3 A.M., and must thus have traversed a distance from edge to edge of about twenty-five miles in a straight line. From the view which we obtained at various points of the vast hollow in which this incrustation is accumulated, and from the accounts of the people dwelling near, we reckoned that the total extent covered by it could not be less than about four hundred square miles, if only it stretched in the direction from east to west as far as it did in that in which we had crossed it from north to south; but, as far as we could judge, it must have extended much farther.

" It is difficult to explain the origin of this strange phenomenon. It may be that this incrustation is the deposit accumulated in the vast low-lying plain in the course of centuries upon centuries, during which the rainfall and the annual melting of the snows upon the mountains, besides the perennial streams which all drain into this basin, have brought down in their waters, from the strata of salt through which they have passed, these incalculable quantities of salt in solution. The summer sun has dried up the water by evaporation, and left the salt deposit lying upon a soil more or less saturated with moisture.

« PreviousContinue »