Iran 1b- Teheran to Yazd
Our hotel in Teheran was tucked away in an old district that sold car parts and electrical goods. (Ian Stuart would have loved it).
The hotel Khayam had secure parking and we had to manoeuvre down the tightest of alleyways to get into a well hidden parking area. It had the merit of being secure and close to the old centre and they were delighted to have Landy in their back yard.
We got up early to rush off past the caged parrot in reception calling out Salam, to the Turkmenistan embassy to get the long awaited visa. The much anticipated approval had come through by email and we could now collect our visa stamps in Iran. Just in time!
A small line of travellers seeking visas appeared outside, from various corners of Teheran to wait behind the firmly shut door of the Embassy.
These included a family with two young children from Belgium in a Ford Camper, who were travelling and home schooling. They said that the black pop top car we missed near Ishak Pasha Palace near the Turkish/Iranian border were a Dutch couple. They saw them too!
When the Turkmenistan Embassy eventually opened up, the visa transactions were carried out at arms length through a tiny wooden portal, which popped open and shut between conversations.
When it was our turn, they asked for confirmation of our entry and exit dates and unbelievably Jim gave them the wrong dates before the door snapped shut again. He realised his mistake too late, as we heard the loud thud of stamps in our passports behind the wooden hatch. There was no undoing the deed.
This was not a total disaster as we could stay another 4 days in Iran with a guide and hotels (ouch) and still get across Turkmenistan in time to rendezvous with Nora in Uzbekistan. Now we also had to get Iranian visa extensions. Those who know me well, may be feeling sorry for Jim by now!
We then dragged around Tehran looking for SIM cards so we could use access the internet without relying on hotels (or tethering with our guide) which was not a success. The only thing that would cheer me up was lunch!
The two places we visited in Teheran were the Archeological Museum which had some fab exhibits and the huge Golestan Palace and water garden.
From Teheran we drove South towards Esfahan, stopping midway at Kashan, famed for its traditional historic old houses, formerly constructed by wealthy merchants in the 19th Century.
Surprisingly as we drove through the red bare desert landscape bearing south from Teheran, hard rain fell and the sides of the road revealed puddles of red mud, much of which transferred itself to the car.
On arrival at Kashan it had cleared up and under cloudy skies, we wiggled our way down the tiny back streets and parked the car in a dusty car park on the edge of the historic quarter and we meandered along the tiny streets until we found the main drag.
In the centre of the historic heart of Kashan, we were offered tiny plastic cups with samples of freezing sweet Rosewater with herbal essences being sold by vendors who manufactured this fresh cordial in stills behind their shopfronts. We drank gratefully promising to return and made our way to historic house number 1, which doubled up as a traditional lunch! Bit touristy but good food.
After lunch we happened upon a row of massive stills behind the shops, boiling rosewater to condense into essences which were to be bottled in plastic and sold throughout Iran. Amazing to watch as father and son cleaned out the old plant waste and scrubbed the interior before starting to load bags full of plants to start anew. Needless to say a range of plastic bottles are now arranged in our fridge in the Landy.
No visit is complete without the guided visit and here in Kashan we heard the story of the fine preserved merchant houses which had been beautifully restored. From the outside they looked like simple low rise windowless mud and brick built structures, with only the entrance being indicative of what was inside. The thick walls and windowless facades ensured that the sun was repelled in summer and the heat was retained in winter. These were constructed in the mid 1800’s and built by wealthy traders. (Boroujerdi) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borujerdi_House
They were completely modern in their time with the flat roofs bearing a series of wind towers to ensure maximum internal ventilation in the heat of summer.
The structures were constructed partially underground so that the basement quarters were cool in the height of summer and that they were fed by channels of cool water harvested by a canal system which also helped to ensure that circulating air from the series of chimneys was cool before rising to cool the upper rooms. Loved it. The whole layout was arranged with formal spaces for entertaining, a minstrels gallery, separate social space for women or the wives. There were servants quarters where tutors and other paid help resided. They too had pools to help keep the central courtyard cool in the height of summer. The family quarters were spacious etc look at descriptions.
With some trepidation, we arrived at our hotel for the night which, for once, was not ‘traditional’ and actually relatively modern and pleasant. It was so nice having a large comfortable room with a balcony after several days in low budget ‘traditional’ rooms with no windows.
Unbelievably we woke up again to rain and clouds. So the mornings’ visit to the Bagh-e-fin garden, the scene of a grisly high profile murder in 1852 was accompanied by Iranian rain. Luckily I had an umbrella.
As we visited each new town, each revealed itself as more splendid than the previous one. Esfahan was no exception. As we arrived at our hotel, the first impression was challenging. (The less said the better). Being in the older part of town, it was always going to involve squeezing down narrow alleys with the car and happening upon our ‘traditional’ lodgings and in this case with adjacent parking in a sort of derelict looking, but secure space overlooked by CCTV.
Fortunately, our energetic guide led us away from our lodgings for a quick visit in the gloaming, to the nearby Friday Mosque and late afternoon Bazaar with the promise of more to come the next day. We were tickled at the number of stalls selling Chadors. They all looked the same at first glance, but actually they were all slightly different either in design or the subtle patterns in the fabric. I must admit to quite a bit of inappropriate silent chuckling.
Not being able to wait till the following morning, after Reza slipped off to his mates in town, Jim and I ventured out into the dark slightly scary streets alone, to try and find the famous Naqsh-e-Jahan Square.
Needless to say we did get lost (and slightly anxious in my case) but were helped along by a local couple walking home and guided through the dark empty Bazaar until we emerged blinking into the unexpectedly brightly lit Square and adjacent stalls. We found an open cafe and relished the hot chocolate and cake! It was astounding and well worth the outing and all the more surprising given that the rest of town seemed to be largely asleep and in darkness.
Day Two Esfahan
In daylight the Naqsh-e-Jahan Square in the center of Isfahan did not disappoint.
Constructed between 1598 and 1629, it is now one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. It is 160 metres (520 ft) wide by 560 metres (1,840 ft) long and when it was constructed it was used for playing polo. Yes polo was invented in Iran! It was difficult to remember what it was named as people called it different things. After the Islamic Revolution in 1979 it’s colloquial name changes from Shah Square to Imam Square.
On the west side is the Ali Qapu Palace.
The Sheik Lutfullah Mosque is arguably Iran’s most beautiful Mosque. My photos won’t do it justice but it is worth taking a closer look and I have included the Wiki link below.
Every town has its Bazaar and the one in Esfahan did not dissapoint. There are many clothes, scarfs and different types of confectionary, spices and also jewellery and the bone jewellery boxes.
Our third and last day as tourists in Esfahan involved a visit to the two oldest bridges over the river. The lovely Haj bridge was constructed in Esfahan in 17th century. A Pavilion existed in centre for the then, royal family to enjoy the view and entertain.
Beautiful though they were, it would have been much nicer if the river bed had not been totally dry! Apparently melting water from the mountains was being siphoned off or dammed for other purposes plus there had been a drought for several years. We have seen very little water in Iran and where there are rivers, largely there is no water. So far neither households or tourism have had water rationing.
We were told that the local government decreed that the river should flow in Isfahan for the tourist season! However, I can’t believe that the rivers eco system and plant and animal life would survive like that.
2nd bridge 300m x 40m w
After the two bridges, we were taken to visit another Armenian Christian Church on the outskirts of Esfahan. This was a real eye opener as the museum on the site explained about the 1915 massacre of Armenians by the Ottomans. One and a half million were killed in genocide. There was a memorial to those who died. Many women and children. It was heart breaking and relations between Turkey and Armenia remain very tense even to this day. It was viewed as a land grab. Sounds quite similar to other disputes today!
The memorial stone had been constructed more recently. The museum on the site was very clear about what happened.
Earlier the Armenians in Iran were relocated by the Iranians and the Church and its compound buildings were constructed to facilitate the relocation.
On our way to Shiraz, we stopped off at Pasagardae where the tomb of Cyrus the Great is located. There is a story about a Mosque being constructed around the tomb, which is no longer there. What is still standing is a neighbouring caravanserai. Probably worth reading the Wiki description of this important site. It is very popular with Iranians because Cyrus, a very early King believed in tolerance. The current rulers are concerned that his memory might come to represent something of a threat to the current regime.
Tomb of mother of Solomon prophet to protect the tomb from Arab attack. They started to build a mosque around the tomb. But stones been stolen to build palaces off site. Cyrus was deemed by the current government to be too tolerant. Recently people were stopped coming to worship his tomb because the government do not like him to be commemorated.
We had a peaceful lunch near Shrine in a traditional restaurant with freshly made food. Aimed at tourists but actually very nicely done with both indoor and outdoor seating.
We arrived in Shiraz on Jessica’s birthday. We are missing them all and are imagining them all out having a family meal. For once the little hotel we are in is quite traditional but also pleasant and characterful. We found out later that it is owned by one of the Pars Team. Our Room, accessible up some very steep and deep steps, is overlooking the little eating area which has these carpeted platforms where people eat and socialise. Very popular with young visitors. Reza popped home to see his Mum and for a good nights’ sleep and came back later in the evening with dinner for us, cooked by his Mum.
He also brought his neice to meet us and to take us on an evening visit to the holy shrine in the centre of town. It was massive and contained a series of squares and areas for services with the usual separation of men and women.
I had a chador thrown over me and spent the next half an hour getting rather tangled up, particularly with trying to untie my shoe laces and taking off shoes numerous times, under it without dropping it and revealing my under garments. Respect to all those women who shop, work, tie up shoe laces and attend to small children without any mishaps! No wonder some of these gowns now have sleeves to stop them a lipping off so easily.
After the shrine and dinner the rest of our evening was spent trying to get into our bank accounts to help Grace back home with her house purchase plans.
The hotel were helpful and we managed to download a free VPN and like all young Iranians we could now access Facebook plus access our own bank accounts in the UK and we could have a sneaky look at the BBC News website. All a step forward.
The other challenge was getting our portable printer working. Grace wanted us to send her an important letter so we needed to print it out and sign it! We really struggled to get it to work and we were both quite stressed but relieved when we had finished our chores and could go to sleep.
Landy was safe and sound in the hotel car park which had a ramshackle series of awnings straddled over scaffolding poles to keep the sun off some of the parked cars. Reza decided he would use his car for a day to ‘give Landy a break’.
We had a leisurely day wandering around Shiraz, the Mosque and Bazaar. We had lunch where every tourist eats in Shiraz and made a mental note to self to ring the changes a bit.
Amazing Bazaar fabrics
Day two in Shiraz included our special visit to Persopolis- gets a blog of its own. Fabulous. Went on to the shrines of various Darius relatives and stopped briefly to check out the Fars ice store on way to Yazd. Somewhat bigger than the one in Manor Park Gardens in South East LONDON!
We took a day trip to Bam from Kerman. Mainly because it was way to the South and partly because we were due to head North afterwards. The weather was appreciably warmer and for months Jim had been warning me that it gets hot in Bam. However our early start to the trip and the weeks of snow and rain meant that Our few hours in Bam was bearable. Well done Jim.
Amazing place badly damaged by earthquake about 10 years ago and massively restored using original building methods. Much still under restoration with men mixing mud and straw and water in pools to make the Adobe mud walls. What is not reconstructed is covered in mud mix to preserve its bulk or height. It is a total walled city and reminded us of Pompey in Italy. Again worth looking up in Wiki! I wandered round with a brolly to get as much shade as possible as the temperature had shot up to 29/30 degrees.
On our way back to Kerman from Bam we were persuaded to stop in another garden. I was a bit ambivalent about another garden but this oasis in the desert, tucked under the distant mountains was stonking. In the 19th century it had been constructed and took advantage of melting water pouring off the mountains and natural springs to create a multi tiered spectacular water feature with multiple falling pools surrounded by mature trees and framed by beautiful buildings and a terrace for tea. Popular with visitors but still peaceful and a true oasis Surrounded by desert.
In the evening we walked around Kerman - it had the usual Bazaar and special confectionary that we had to try and virility these piles of coloured powders in spice shops. It was explained that these were to help with virility. Natural viagra if you like. Needless to say our guide purchased an ample bag full!
Hotel modern in old part. Car parked outside in quiet residential street.
Because we were leaving Iran later than planned, it was Kerman that we chose to try and extend our Iranian visas. The cop shop had the powers to do this and we had heard that they were reasonably sympathetic. Nevertheless, even with our ever helpful guide it was a palaver. The police station had queues of migrant workers outside from Afghanistan looking to extend work permits. We were ushered past them. Inside there were many offices with numbers on the doors. Firstly we needed permission in principle, then we had to leave the premises and go to a copy shop to find the forms and fill them in (2 lots). We returned and waited again to be told that a 3rd form was missing. Reza went back to the copy shop and got the extra form. After much scrutiny and consideration our visas were extended. It took around 2 hours and cost about 15 dollars. The queue outside of migrants had dissolved by the time we left.
Yazd was the town of wind chimneys, the water museum and vestiges of the Zoroastrian faith including a fab fire temple and the Towers of Silence. We had a nice hotel with rooms into pool courtyard and raised breakfast area. When we arrived it was pouring with rain and it fell on the electrical computers etc in the courtyard, so unused were they to rain. It was there we realised that both of us had lost our rain coats. Rain and rooftop cafe - lots of the cafes with fab views of the ventilation wind towers. Only the seats were very soggy fromthe earlier rain!
Lunch place in old baths. Very nice.
Car parked in Square through tunnel archway
Zoroastrian towers of silence
Until fairly recently Zoroastrian people buried their dead at the top o these towers, where the bones were picked bare by vultures and the remains then tumbled into a large pit st the summit. There were dwellings at the base and a water source and those working with the deceased were segregated from the town in case they were diseased from sick corpses. This practice was outlawed by Muslims and now the Zoroastrian’s have a small graveyard close by and they bury their dead in coffin lined graves to prevent corpses contaminating the earth or water. We walked to the top of these two towers and surveyed the view. Only one had steps!
Little boy loving Jim
Colourful materials and fabrics
Ethnic dress materials