A JOURNEY TO MOSSUL
TRANSLATED BY EDMUND VON MACH, PH.D.
[This is the forty-third letter of Moltke’s Letters from Turkey, and is dated from Dshesireh on the Tigris, May 1, 1838.]
I told you in my last letter that we should be going on an expedition against the Arabs. This did not materialize. Nevertheless, I had the opportunity of making the acquaintance of a very interesting part of the country. On April 15, von Muehlbach, I, and two fully armed agas of the pasha, together with our servants and dragomans, embarked on a vessel built in a style well known even in the times of Cyrus, a raft supported by inflated sheep-skins. The Turks look upon hunting as a sin, they despise venison and beef, but eat an enormous quantity of sheep and goats. The skins of these animals are cut in front as little as possible and removed from the carcass with great care. Then they are sewed up and the extremities tied up. When the skin is inflated (which is done quickly and without touching the skin to the mouth) it is exceedingly buoyant and can hardly be made to sink. From forty to sixty such bags are tied together in four or five rows under a light framework of branches. There generally are eight skins in front and eighteen in the back. The whole is covered with a litter of leaves over which rugs and carpets are spread. Taking your seat on these you glide downstream with utmost comfort. Because the current is swift, oars are not needed for progress, but only for steering the raft, keeping it in the middle of the course, and avoiding the dangerous rapids. On account of these rapids we had to tie up every night until the moon was up, but in spite of this we covered the distance, which by land would have taken us eighty-eight hours, in three and one-half days. The river, therefore, must flow with an average velocity of almost four miles per hour. In places it is much swifter, and in others decidedly slower.
The Tigris leaves the mountains near Argana-Maaden, and flows past the walls of Diarbekir, where it is apt to cause slight inundations in summer time. It then receives the Battman river flowing in a southerly direction from the high Karsann-Mountains and carrying more water into the Tigris than this river contained before. Immediately after the union of these two rivers the Tigris enters another mountainous territory formed of sandstone. The gentle curves of the broad and shallow river are transformed into the sharp criss-cross angles of a ravine. The banks are abrupt, often vertical on both sides; and on top of some steep, rocky slopes your eye may discover groves of dark-green palms, and in their shadows the settlements of tribes of Kurds, who in this region are mostly cave-dwellers.