Continuation of the Author’s Journey
through the Desert to Medina.

IN the month of Shawal the pilgrims assemble in the city of Damascus, and the Pasha of Damascus is always appointed by the edict of the Emperor of Turkey, Meer Haaj or conductor of the caravan of Mecca. Without a considerable escort it would be impossible to pass the desert; and even when the cara­van is strongly guarded, and the pilgrims are very numerous, the wild Arabs hang in such a manner upon their march, that if any straggle from the caravan, they are sure to be plundered. Another advantage from the appointment of the Meer Haaj is, that by obliging every one to pay implicit obedience to the regulations for marching and halting, the confusion is prevented, which would otherwise be unavoidable amongst so large a body without a head. The fol­lowing are some of the regulations for the caravan. Every one has his station assigned him in the line of march, which he must preserve during the whole jour­ney. The people of Iran, and their camels, always form the rear. When the caravan halts, a particular spot is assigned for every string of camels, and where the master of them is allowed to pitch his tent. No one is suffered to infringe any of these regulations. When the stages are very long the caravan travels day and night; stopping an hour at each of the five stated times of prayer, when the camels are allowed to lie down with their burthens upon their backs; and at mid­night they halt in like manner another hour. In order that those in the rear may know at night when the caravan is going to halt, the Meer Haaj lets off a rocket. This nightly halt is called Awafee. The troops of the Meer Haaj guard the caravan on all sides; and the reason why he acts with such vigilance is, that if he conducts the caravan in safety, to and from Mecca for seven years successively, the Emperor promotes him to the office of Grand Vizier*: and therefore particular care is observed in appointing to the government of Sham, a person duly qualified to fill the Viza­rut, the highest office in the Turkish empire.

When the caravan arrives at Musseeret, the third stage from Damascus, they pur­chase necessaries for passing the desert, which the wild Arabs bring to that place for sale; after having bought what they want, they pursue their march. The stages of this journey are longer than what are travelled in any other country, insomuch that the camels of Syria, which are larger and more powerful than those of any other place, are fatigued almost to death. At the same time, the zeal of those pilgrims who go all the way on foot, keeps up their spirits, and they perform the journey with surprising ease and alacrity.

We travelled as mentioned in the route, till we came to the pass in the mountains where the tribe of Thimud hamstringed the camel of the prophet Salah. Here the caravan discharge fire arms, beat their drums, and shouting and clapping their hands make a most astonishing noise; and the camel-drivers pretend that if they did not do this, their beasts would expire from hearing the lamentations of Salah’s camel. In the neighbourhood of this city are seen the ruins of a great city, said to have been turned upside down, at the command of God, in punishment of the disobedience of this tribe to the word of his prophet. And here are also said to be the caves which they made in the mountains, to shelter themselves from the divine ven­geance.

The castle of Ala is situated in these mountains. In its vicinity is the castle of Khyber, which was conquered by Aly. Here are still many Jews and Christians, who believe that nothing can be more pleasing to God than the death of the pilgrims of Mecca, and for the attainment of any particular object, they make vows to murder them. Notwith­standing the Meer Haaj took every pre­caution in his power to protect the cara­van, these assassins of Khyber robbed three of our pilgrims, and shot them with pistols. The Meer Haaj wanted to assault the place, and revenge the death of our unfortunate companions; but was dissuaded from the enterprise, by the interposition of the principal people of the caravan, who represented to him, that in case of delay, the season for the performance of the pilgrimage would elapse before we could reach Mecca.

The journey across the desert is exceed­ingly fatiguing, on account of the great length of the stages; and the travelling charges run very high: yet this part of the way is not without its delights, for the number of links which are along with the caravan, every camel having one, form a beautiful illumination; and the songs of the camel-drivers, called Hooddee, enliven the pilgrims and enchant the camels. After all, the fatigue would be supportable, were it not for the continual dread of the wild Arabs. If I was to relate all the stories that I have heard of these fellows, I should swell my narrative to a large volume, and those who have never had an opportunity of seeing their tricks, would suppose me to be deceiving them with fictious tales. I shall therefore content myself with men­tioning only two or three of their feats, that are most commonly practised. During the night, when from the fatigues of the day the greatest part of the caravan are asleep upon their camels, half a dozen wild Arabs will get on each side of a beast that is richly laden. It is necessary to observe, that in loading the camels, all the merchandize is packed on one side, and the provisions for the journey on the other. Whilst some of these thieves are ripping open the bottom of the merchan­dize pack and taking out the goods, others support the opposite side with the provisions, to prevent its slipping off, and waking the rider, who would alarm the caravan; but the instant they have taken out all the goods, they run off, when the camel, frightened at the sudden fall of his rider, and the remainder of the load, runs about in a rage, pulling the string to get lose from his companions; and frequently in the scuffle the poor man is trodden to death*. The swiftness of these Arabs is astonishing, of which I shall give two instances. In the plain of Arafat, at noon, Hajee Mohammed Cazviny had pulled off his cloaths to bathe, and whilst he was desiring Aka Aly to take charge of his Kezlebash girdle, in which were 300 gold mohurs, an Arab snatched it out of his hand, and although the rogue was instantly pursued by horsemen, he made his escape. Another day Mehdy Beg Shirazy, was performing his ablutions, when an Arab came behind him, and seizing the ewer flew away with it like an arrow.

In the desert of Khyber, Mirza Mohammed Yacoub died of a consumption; and we buried him in the sand.

From Ala we proceed as mentioned in the route, till we reached Medina; where we paid our devotions at the shrine of the holy prophet, and other sacred tombs in that neighbourhood. When we had performed all the usual ceremonies at Medina, the caravan pro­ceeded; and on the 6th of Zulhejeh we arrived at Mecca.

When I had completed my pilgrimage, I visited the most remarkable places in and about Mecca. At present the pave­ment round the mosque, as well as the place where the prophet was born, and the Mejed ul Gin*, are considerably below the level of the city: probably this is the original level, and the city may have been raised by the accumulation of rub­bish from delapidated buildings: I have made this observation in several other places of antiquity. The women of Mecca wear green apples about their necks, and think them very ornamental. Masoud, the present Shereef or governor of Mecca, is a man highly respected and beloved by all ranks of people; and the pilgrims in particular, have every reason to be satisfied with his conduct.