It’s A Woman’s World: Female Travellers To Persia. Ella C. Sykes (1863-1939)

It’s hard to explain how some one from another country becomes interested or curious  with a different  culture which is in sharp contrast to hers or his. Perhaps the answer is in Issa Omidvar’s statement, the great Iranian explorer  who once said we are one family and all the differences that alienate us from each other is fabrication and not real. Omidvar’s spiritual insight comes from years of travelling and living among people around the globe.

Ella’s affection for Persia was not just a strong feeling toward a country with a glorious past, she devoted a good part of her life traveling in Persia and writing on various aspects of its present condition and culture. She became fully aware of all that ailed Persia during her travels and kept it in a terrible state. She must have realised all that was left from a great country was a name and with no fear or hesitation she wrote about its exploitation in the hands of the Qajars.

Ella was born in London in 1863 and like Isabella Bird grew up in a Christian household  and her father was a church minister.   Her first trip to Persia was in 1894 where she spent nearly 3 years traveling to Persian Gulf, Kerman, and Baluchistan.

It took her another decade to revisit Persia. This time she took resident in Mashad with her brother. She authored three books on Persia and wrote numerous articles and gave lectures.

In regard to the pathetic state of the country she wrote, “In this large country, treble the area of France, there are only six miles of railway. Of roads, in the Euro- pean sense of the word, there are only four, their total length, when added together, being about 780 miles ; and these owe their existence to European enterprise. Practically everything is carried on the backs of camels and mules along the rough and often dangerous tracks made by the caravans during many centuries. There is only one navigable river, the Karun, which flows into the head of the Persian Gulf, and on this latter sea the ports are open roadsteads at which it is impossible to land cargo during stormy weather, only the port of Enzeli on the Caspian being important.”

Upon reading the Shahnameh she must have asked herself what happened to the great Persia as it is described by Ferdowsi? she held the Qajars responsible in keeping the country in a squalid condition. She wrote: “Under the system of the Shahs, in which every one in power  “squeezes” to his utmost every one below him, there is no protection for property and no encouragement given to enterprise. Thus the country grows steadily poorer as the years pass by…”

She must have liked the Book of Kings enough to rewrite some of its heroic tales and the result was, Legends of Old Persia (1901) which was illustrated by her sister.

Ella travelled some 2000 miles on a horseback in Persia with her brother which resulted in another book, Through Persia On A Side-saddle

She was renowned in the Royal Geographic and Central Asian Societies for her knowledge of Persia and her extensive travels in the country.

She died at her home in London, 23 March 1939. She is remembered as a traveler who wrote about Persia and its people.

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