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Excerpt: A Princess’s Pilgrimage (1863 -1864)

From Nawab Sikandar Begum’s travel memoir to Mecca, a description of the region and people in the mid 19th century.

The City of Mecca the Exalted is very wild and desolate-looking, and is surrounded by lofty hills, quite destitute of trees. These hills extend, I am told, to a distance of four or five marches on all sides of Mecca; and I found on the ‘Amrah road that this was the case. The road runs between the hills, being in some places so narrow as to admit of only three or four camels going abreast, and in others wide enough for five or ten.


The months of February and March were cool during my stay in Mecca (whereas the weather at that season in India is hot); however, the people told me they had not had such cold weather for the time of year for eighteen or nineteen years, but that the heat had been intense (lit., “it had rained fire”). During my visit we had cloudy weather about every two days, alternating with warm weather for two days, and occasionally it rained for an hour to two; once, too, we had hail for a day or so.


There was a great deal of severe sickness, and the inhabitants of Mecca suffered considerably. Nine people in my suite were attacked with various complaints, such as dysentery, fever, and tumours in the leg. On the pilgrimage, I lost eight altogether, four of whom died on board ship and four at Mecca and Jeddah. In the caravan that separated from me and went to Medina, a great many people died, some on land and some on board ship. Two persons also disappeared out of my suite, and were never found again: one was a woman who we lost on the pilgrimage, and the other a water-carrier who went to Medina. I do not know what became of them.


In the country round Mecca, there are neither lakes, rivers, nor streams, there are only springs, and in these no travelers are allowed to bathe without payment. People of the poorer classes are beaten and driven away from them, sentries belonging to the Sherif and Pasha being posted over them. The water is sold at the rate of half a kurush a skin full. A chief, or person of rank, who is acquainted with the Sherif and Pasha, can obtain a sufficient supply of water for the needs of establishment. I had permission to receive as much as I wanted. There are magnificent baths in the city, those for men being separate from the women’s.


The plan on which dwelling-houses are built is very objectionable, the sitting and sleeping apartments being close to the kitchen and other domestic offices, so that one is annoyed in sitting-rooms by smoke from the kitchen. Notwithstanding this drawback, the furniture of the rooms, as regards carpets and divans is excellent; but the arrangements for lighting them are bad, the chandeliers and wall lamps being few in number. The houses are amply provided with crockery and vessels of brass and copper, and are built on the hills in the same way as they are at Raisen – buildings cover the hill from foot to summit. The houses are without courtyards, and are built in flats or stories, capable of being added to at pleasure; no house had fewer that three stories, nor anymore than seven. Some of them have door-frames, and some are without them; those that have door-frames have no doors, and where the latter are used there are neither chains nor hasps, locks nor bolts, not even hinges, the doors being fastened with a sort of wooden lock make in the shape of a cross, such as Christians wear around their necks. Houses belonging to people of the upper class have vestibules of masonry in front, those that are used for dining in are generally without roofs, on account of the heat.


I made enquiries respecting the price of building materials, and found that the tariff was as follows:-
Lime (in Mecca itself) 12 measures, or one chest . . . 4 kurush
Bricks, 1st quality, per 1000 . . . 2 rials, 10 kurush
Do. 2nd quality, per 1000 . . . 1 rial, 5 Kurush
Do. 3rd quality, per 1000 . . . 1 rial
Stones, 1st quality, per 1000 . . . 4 rials
Do. 2nd quality, per 1000 . . . 2 rials
Timber for beams, from 1 rupee 8 ananas each to 1 rupee 4 annas
Do, for rafters, from 5 to 6 kurush each.



The sanitary arrangements of the city are very much as I described them to be at Jeddah, the streets being dirty and ill-drained; in some places they are broad, in others narrow.


The population is considerable, there being about 20,000 houses.


There is a fort in Mecca mounted with gun, but the guns are dirty and the ammunition is bad. The Turks are very dirty in their habits, and gross livers; I do not know whether they are well set up or not when in uniform or at drill, but in their houses they are very dirty and untidy in their dress.


Camels are bred very extensively; cows, bullocks, goats, and sheep are perhaps about as plentiful as they are in India, but there are more of the thick-tailed sheep. There are no buffaloes. The horses are very superior and costly, but their trappings are not so, nor do the people ride well. I have heard that the Turks do, however.


Donkeys, mules, cats, flies, mosquitoes abound, also kites; but I saw neither common nor musk rats.


We saw on the hill on the road to ‘Amrah a great many locusts (which do considerable injury to the crops); they were in such numbers, that one could not see the ground for them. The Bedouins gather them in baskets and use them for food.


There is a great consumption of meat, tea and ghee, which latter is made from the milk of the cow and thick-tailed sheep….


…There is no salt used in cooking in this part of the world, but besides pickles and chutneys, they make sweet dishes without number.


There are more inhabitants of Delhi in Mecca than of any other place. Fermented liquors are sold, but not openly, and the Turks and natives of India drink them.

The military and other subjects of the Sultan of Turkey who come on the pilgrimage to Mecca are much feared by the inhabitants of the illustrious city, and consequently have less trouble there than the pilgrims who come from India.


After prayer-time and the ceremony of Toaf, there is a great noise in the sacred precincts.


There is no fixed tariff in the bazaar; every shop has its own price – they get what they can.


Everybody, whether high rank or low, goes on foot.


Cheating and lying prevail to a great extent; and the children are very disorderly and noisy. There are no colleges or schools for affording them instruction, and the men and women are a worthless set of people.


There is no particular dress worn; Arabs and others all wear the costume of their respective countries.


I noticed on the hill Jabal Nur, which I visited, small pebbles of all colours; some red, some green, some golden. The people who come from Java to the pilgrimage are said to extract gold from them.


The jungle round Mina is very dense and wild; and I heard that many poisonous reptiles, such as scorpions and snakes are found there.


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