Travel is also not particularly agreeable because just at this season the cargo and passenger traffic on these boats is at its height. The cotton has been picked everywhere; the fruit and vegetables of the fertile oases have been gathered and dried; the caracul sheep have been sorted; and the inhabitants of the regions through which the Amu Darya nows are all travelling on it. Some are returning to their villages; others are taking their cheeses to market to exchange them for articles needed for the short winter; still others are going on pilgrimages or to their relatives.
That is why, when we came on board, the boat was so crammed with passengers. Among them are Bukharians, Khivans, Tekkis, Persians, Afghans and representatives of many other Asiatic peoples.
In this picturesque and motley crowd, merchants predominate; some are transporting goods, others going upstream for supplies of cheese.
Here is a Persian, a merchant of dried fruits; here an Armenian going to buy Kirghiz rugs on the spot, and a Polish agent, a cottonbuyer for the firm of Posnansky; here is a Russian Jew, a buyer of caracul skins, and a Lithuanian commercial traveller with samples of picture frames in papier-maché and all kinds of ornaments of gilt-metal set with artificial coloured stones.
Many officials and officers of the frontier guard, and fusiliers and sappers of the Transcaspian Regiment are returning from leaves or from their posts. Here is a soldier’s wife with a nursing baby, going to her husband who has stayed for an extra term of service and has sent for her. Here is a travelling Catholic priest on his official rounds, going to confess Catholic soldiers.
There are also ladies on board. Here is the wife of a colonel, with her lanky daughter, returning home from Tashkent where she has taken her son, a cadet, to see him off to Orenburg to study in the cadet corps. Here is the wife of a cavalry captain of the frontier guard who has been to Merv to order some dresses at the dressmakers there; and here is a military doctor’s wife escorted by his orderly, travelling from Ashkhabad to visit her husband, who is serving in solitude because his mother-in-law cannot live without ‘society’, which is lacking where he is stationed.