Published: July 21st 2006July 21st 2006
In Yazd we had one day to sort out ourselves and bikes before setting off to Shiraz. Again we were getting close to the end of our visa and needed to make an extension in Shiraz. We met two Swiss cyclists in the hotel in Yazd. They had come from Kathmandu and we swapped stories and looked at each other’s maps for tips about the roads ahead. I went out to search the many crappy bike shops of Yazd for some inner tubes. You can easily find 2cm wide tubes anywhere, but because both our rear rims were only 1.5 cm we were getting tube failures because the rims were pressing on the tubes. We also bought two new tyres. We found some fake Indonesian Schwalbes for $6 each.
After sleeping in a bit longer than we had planned we left Yazd at about 5.30 am and set off uphill towards Taft. The road was OK but progress did not seem to be that good and the constant but gradual uphill, although not steep, was deceptive. It was a hard morning it was hot and we had not cycled for a while. The road was amazing though, passing a series
You need to watch where you sit in the Iranian desert!
of spectacular, sheer, rocky desert mountains once we were beyond Taft. We stopped at 11 am to have a drink and a rest and promptly fell asleep under some trees. We woke and some families had also stopped and they gave us fruit and a delicious sticky rice pudding called halva which was bright yellow. I think it was made from rose water, saffron and nuts. At noon we cycled on thinking to get some lunch stuff at the next town before everything shut for siesta. We found the bakery and some cheese and the road was just about to start to climb some steeper hills. The surrounding mountains were now really high and despite the temperature being around 40 degrees we could see snow lying in the steepest gullies of the rock faces! It must get really cold here in winter…. We thought we would find a good shady spot for lunch, when Robin’s rear tyre went flat. One of our new tubes had burst and split after only 40 miles!! (it did have “made in China” written on it……..)
We pulled off into some nearby houses and trees, and had just set about fixing it when a
car pulled in and invited us to his home for lunch. We followed his car through the village of AliAbad and found ourselves in a wonderful, peaceful and tranquil fruit garden and courtyard of his house. His whole family was there, since it was a holiday for the birthday of The Prophet’s daughter - Fatima, and chicken kebabs were being roasted over a fire. We were given a tour of the garden which was about 100 years old. The many fruit trees there were buckling over with the weight of the fruit and the huge apricots were mouth watering. We also ate small apples, cherries and mulberries. I have never picked or eaten fresh mulberries before and they are the sweetest fruit I have ever had - just fantastic! The garden had its own water channel running through it from the central village pond, which also helped to keep it the place nice and cool. The family explained that they lived in Yazd, but that in the summer their grandmother lived in this village, it was cooler up in the hills and on holidays they all came up to the garden to escape the heat of the town if they
The 4,500 yr old Cypress Tree in Abarkuh.
After a huge lunch and a sleep we started cycling again, even though the offers to stay in the haven of the garden were very tempting. We were loaded up with homemade bread that the grandmother had been making in the tandoor oven. The road went steeply up and we were happy that the day was now a bit cooler, but our progress was still very slow. The light on the hills was very nice and we enjoyed a very fast and long downhill to the desert and the heat below at the town of Dehshir. We found some shops for dinner and a water tap and cycled out into the desert beyond to camp.
We had a good sleep and woke early. We went back into town to fill up our water as we knew there was nothing on the road for 60km until Abarkuh. We made wonderfully fast progress for the first couple of hours and stopped in a small town to fill up with cold water from the chilled taps that are beside mosques.
In Abarkuh we found a vegetable shop and were looking for the ancient tree that the town is famous for
when Robin got another flat tyre. Another failed Chinese tube!! At a shady roundabout he tried to patch it three times, it failed and we changed the tube in disgust. We had lost a lot of time doing this and the day was now very hot and we were tired. We found the 4500 year old cypress tree (as old as the Giza pyramids…..) and had an ice cream, then decided to find a park for a sleep. Unfortunately our sleep was disturbed by a group of boys playing football who kept kicking the ball into us whilst we slept.
We left town in the afternoon thinking we might make the main Esfahan-Shiraz road but a headwind cruelly made our progress very slow and infuriating. Eventually we found a town, filled up with water and made a camp at the start of the hills which separated us from the main road the other side. We were really tired and Robin did not have a very good time putting up the tent in the wind. Eventually after eating we collapsed to sleep instantly.
The next day another dawn start and uphill we cycle. I had been noticing clicks from
Cyrus's Tomb, Pasargad
Under repair after being raided by Alexander the Great.....
my hub for a while but thought it was just the cones that we were going to have replaced in Shiraz. However this morning the noise from my wheel was getting worse and my progress was definitely slower than normal. Still we made the main road and turned south towards Shiraz hoping to make it to Pasargadae, the home of Cyrus the Great. After a particularly long, slow and steep uphill where my rear wheel was giving me loads of friction we made a stop at a Red Crescent station to get cold water. The ambulance guys set about hacking into a large block of ice so that our water would be cold for us. We finally made it to Safa Shar and we were looking around for a restaurant. I was feeling particularly hungry because of all the extra effort I had been giving to try to pedal my obstinate rear wheel. A guy offered us lunch at his house, he was called Reza and his home was very fancy. It was newly built and it was his second home - his wife and daughter were in Esfahan. He was a geologist and got on with some paperwork while
Back in the Zagros
The amazing road to Shiraz, which cuts straight through the mountains.
we slept after our lunch of chicken and rice.
We decided to stay that night with Reza, even though we really had wanted to go further. We thought we should try to get my wheel looked at. Reza drove us round trying to find a bike mechanic. The first shop was a disaster, the guy had no idea what to do and at this point my hub completely seized and would not turn, so it was good that we had not tried to carry on as I would not have got very far. Eventually we found a mechanic who opened up one side the hub and re-greased the balls. I was sure that he put everything back in the same order. He did not have the tools to remove the block and so the hub was only half greased, however it did move a lot easier than before but it was definitely not right and we noticed when we put the wheel back that the hub was too narrow and that something must be missing from inside. There was not much we could do however so we went back to Reza’s to enjoy a dinner and watch England being
Tombs of Ancient Persian Kings in a cliff near Persepolis. The one on the right is Darius the Great.
knocked out of the World Cup. (Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha, Ok sorry, no I’m not, ha-ha-ha… The only one of them who can score a penalty isn’t even English!)
The early start the next day was good and we easily got up the big hills after
Safa Shar, my wheel was definitely improved and the coolness of the morning made such a difference. However once we got to the plain on the other side of the mountains my wheel started to sound funny again. Anyway we made it to Pasargadae for lunchtime. It was a bit disappointing that the tomb of Cyrus the Great was having restoration works done on it, but the setting of the city was still very impressive and we enjoyed a look around the remains of the palaces there. Pasargadae was one of the original capitals of the Ancient Persian Empire, and the city was founded by Cyrus the Great, who is also buried here. In fact his tomb is the most impressive of the remains, with little else left standing. The size and scale of the city were really impressive though. We had a sleep under a tree near the tomb and enjoyed a very nice melon
The enormous stone platform and entrance stairs to the ceremonial city.
when we woke up.
The cycle onwards was lovely; it took us across the plain and through a narrow gap between wonderful steep, rocky mountains. The road clung to a river and we did not have to climb too much. The road emerged from this gorge to a smaller plain ringed by high, sheer walled mountains, and we passed nomad camps and entered a massive valley on the other side of the plain with huge towering cliffs facing it. We chose to go through a town and keep to the old road below the cliffs. We were trying to make it all the way to Naqsh-e-Rostam that night, since the day before a very friendly truck driver had invited us to his home in a village close to there. However the distance was just too great and the light was fading. We kept getting different advice as to how much further it was to Naqsh-e-Rostam so we decided to camp were we were. Eventually we found a track to the river through some vineyards. It was a good camp since all around us fires had been lit all evening as the farmers were burning stubble and the air was
Example of the polished stone bas-reliefs. Once the whole place was this shiny.
full of smoke, this spot was safe from the fires.
We cycled on in the morning to discover we were only about 10 miles from Naqsh-e-Rostam, but we had not known this the previous day. We visited Naksh-e-Rajab first and were delighted by the amazing bas-reliefs carved into the rock faces. They mostly showed the ancient Persian king Shapur I, but also depicted Magi (high priests) and even showed the face of Ahura Mazda, the God and creator of all!
Cycling on to Naqsh-e-Rostam we could see the massive rock tombs ahead carved into the high cliffs. We arrived to be told that the truck driver, Mr Orange, had been there the day before waiting for us and that we did not need to pay the entry fee!. We felt really bad that we had not been able to get there the night before. The tombs include the tomb of Darius the Great and were very impressive, reminding us of Petra in Jordan, though this site predates Petra by several centuries. One even had a load of little swifts nesting in it and we got really good views of this lovely bird. There are also some very nice
bas-reliefs here too, from the later Shapur era.
When we got back to the gate the sons of Mr Orange were there to escort us to his village for lunch. We were welcomed into Mr Orange’s home and fed a huge feast of chicken and rice. Mr Orange and one of his sons took us that evening to Persepolis. Mr Orange knew a guide there and we got free entrance again and even a brief guided tour for free!
Persepolis is amazing. It was built by Darius the Great and his son Xerxes I as a ceremonial city. Originally the whole thing was covered in black, polished stone, though now the colour has faded and worn and only some bits still show their original black shininess. The scale of the place is amazing. The columns are massive and the palaces must have been awesome. The city is built on a raised platform made from enormous blocks of stone cut and piled together in crazy patterns but with expert skill. Again it reminded us of similar masonry work, this time at Baalbek in Lebanon, but Persepolis also predates this site. Alexander the Great looted and burnt down the city when
he came through and the metal clamps holding the stones together melted and so the city was very damaged. (Alexander is also blamed for stealing the body of Cyrus the Great from the tomb at Pasargadae.) However some parts were covered in sand until relatively recently so their carving has remained undamaged. The bas-relief carvings on the stones were just fantastic they showed so much detail, it was mind boggling to think that every surface would have been carved to a similar degree and all shiny and black. The whole place was covered in Zoroastrian symbols of good fighting evil and the bird man of Zoroaster. Particularly interesting is a stairway that shows all the 28 different races/nations of people in the Persian Empire coming to offer different gifts to the king, including peoples from a far apart as India, Central Asia, Greece, Eastern Europe, Libya and Ethiopia.
We looked around that evening and then went to stay the night with Mr Orange and his family. One the way back to the house he showed us a fire altar and an ossuary store in the cliffs nearby. That night we met his mother who proudly showed us the handmade
Even more carvings, Persepolis
Some of the many subjects of the Persian empire coming to pay tribute to Darius, carved in stone.
carpets she had woven 30 years before, they were really very impressive. The next day we returned to Persepolis and climbed up to the tomb on the hill above the city to get a better view and take a longer look around.
We cycled on to Marvdasht hoping to get to Shiraz that afternoon. I had to tighten up my hub before we left as the wheel wobble was getting ridiculous, but just at the edge of Marvdasht the wheel stated to hit the frame and we realised that it was completely broken. With the bike upturned at the side of the road, the hub dismantled and with grease all over us, we concluded that the hub was finally dead and there was no way I could cycle on. Just then the front tyre, for no reason at all, made a large pop and the inner tube exploded in the heat of the sun. My bike was trying to tell me something - it was dead!
At this point when we were trying to figure out what to do a car stopped and a guy that had been speaking to Robin at Persepolis jumped out. He put my
Robin buys a sunhat at last....
bike into the boot of his car and we managed, with bungees, to secure the lid down, but not closed! I hurriedly gave the pump, maps and phone numbers to Robin and jumped into the car to speed away towards Shiraz, leaving Robin to cycle the last 40 km by himself. The man was a tour guide and he took me to his office in the middle of Shiraz where I could wait for Robin. At the office I phoned Hassan, a friend of Majid who we were going to stay with. Hassan was out of town working but it made no difference, his friend and house mate Keivan came down to be our host. Iranians are amazing; they are just so hospitable. We felt a bit cheeky, never having met Keivan or Hassan, turning up in their home. Keivan had never even met Majid who had put us in touch with them, but soon we were really welcomed into their nice flat. Robin had arrived very hot and tired to collapse to sleep. I was happy chatting to the many friends that visit the flat.
Yes, while Erika got a luxury free ride into Shiraz listening to Persian
Leaning Tower of Shiraz
The citadel of Shiraz, complete with very wonky defences....
techno, then getting to chill out in a nice, air-conditioned office with a water cooler, I was left standing on the roadside still covered in grease and sweating in the heat of the midday sun. At least I didn’t have to worry about Erika’s dodgy wheel anymore and set off for the short ride to Shiraz. I had no lunch and had been told to get there as fast as possible! Only there turned out to be 2 more mountain ranges to cross before reaching the city and 1pm is when I normally like to be sleeping under a shady tree, not plodding up a huge hill with belching trucks passing me all the time. I finally reached the top and paused for a drink, I was so hot I squirted water over my face but nearly scalded myself, it was so hot. On the way downhill into the city a car pulled up and shouted my name - it was our friend Mr Orange again! He learnt what had happened to Erika and saw the address where she was waiting and then guided me into the city to find her. This was a great help as I was exhausted,
Keivan, our host (on the left), serves up a feast in Shiraz.
not having eaten lunch. Following him was hard at times as I would look up to see a street full of identical white Paykans ahead! But we found Erika and he even helped drive her collapsed bike to Keivan’s flat.
The next day we successfully got our visa extension from the police department and had a quick look around the lovely bazaar. I instantly got lost but Robin got us out of there again. We managed quite well on the buses and share taxi’s and found Keivan’s flat again without getting lost. It was strange to have to find our way around in vehicles and not from our bikes and it took us longer than normal to get our bearings. It is so much more confusing to me when you travel in a car than when you are on a bike or walking because then you really know the way around. Keivan really gave us a lot of help trying to find a bike shop with Shimano parts and professional mechanics. Eventually after some phone calls to Tehran he found Channel Plus, a mountain bike club and shop. This place is a God send. It is the only professional
With the river in shiraz having run dry for the summer, Friday sees an exodus up to the mountains to mess about in the river there.
place in town and is on Artesh Street near Artesh Square. Unfortunately they could not fix my hub, but I knew we were in good hands when I saw the guy’s face light up as he realised that we had “XT” hubs. Eventually we decided to fit a “Deore” hub to my bike and it should, with regular re-greasing, last me a long time. The parts had arrived from the bike shop at home and we had Robin’s hub repaired and our front hubs re-greased. We now know that we must re-grease regularly, but nobody had told us this before we started and despite having a so called service in Istanbul no one else had suggested this to us. Once my new hub was fitted we noticed that my rim (which was from Tabriz, Iran) was completely warped. We had to wait 3 days to have a good rim ordered from Tehran.
We spent the time making friends with Kievan’s friends and meeting Hassan who came back to town. We were taken out to meet our hosts’ families, who cooked for us special khoresht; meaty stew and chicken and aubergine stews too. I tried to return the hospitality by cooking,
Complete with the usual tilework and a bulbous dome. Only catch is that you have to be muslim to enter.....
but vegetarian pasta is definitely a new thing in Iran.
We were taken under the wing of Maryam and her family and she took us to the traditional clothes museum and the Holy shrine. The clothes museum was great; it is new and not in the guide books yet. It is set in a traditional old house in the centre of Shiraz’s old city and the clothes are just fantastic, gaudy can hardly describe the looks. There are so many different people in Iran and a look around the clothes museum really brings this home, with all the different ethnic styles of dress over history wonderfully recreated here. When we had been wandering around the bazaar I had commented on who uses some of the really gaudy and dazzling fabrics, but now I had my answer. The Lor and Ghashghayi (a Turkish tribe) people still dress in this traditional clothing and from now on my eyes were much more tuned into the different skirts and apron combinations I could see peeping out from under black chadors. The trend for women to wear pure black is a recent phenomenon that has come from Saudi Arabia, along with stricter interpretations of Islam
Erika models her chador as part of her conversion to Islam.
The Holy Shrine is for a brother of Imam Reza (the 8th Shia Imam who is buried in Mashhad, Iran) and all women must wear a chador. I got mine on loan near the entrance and with Hassan we went in. We were challenged almost immediately and asked if we were Muslim. Robin said yes. So we were allowed to enter the courtyard through the amazingly tiled and mosaic’ed entrance portal. Once inside another man stopped us and seemed more intent on finding us out. He asked for our passports, which we didn’t have. He asked Robin for his name, and he replied “Robin” without thinking. The guy didn’t look happy and was speaking to Hassan in Persian when Robin interrupted and said his Muslim name was Daoud (from his middle name David). The guy asked him directly, in Persian, what his name was, Robin replied in Persian that his name was Daoud and that he was Muslim, and the guy let us pass. We got in and feeling a bit criminal I went into the women’s entrance to the shrine. Inside is like a diamond. There are mirrored tiles everywhere, it is really beautiful. Some women
Tomb of Hafez
People pay their respects to the poet and try to divine their future from his verses.
saw me looking lost and led me to the tomb area where I like everyone else touched the grill and put my head to it. Feeling a bit of a fraud I sat down on the carpet to watch the people. Just then the call to prayer sounded and we realised why maybe the man had been insistent it was only for Muslims. We left the shrine and looked around the beautiful courtyard. The dome of the shrine/mosque is typically tiled with turquoise and gold mosaics but the shape is different it is bulbous, which is a typical Shiraz design we would see on other shrines and mosques. The courtyard is enormous and lined with beautiful archways and tile work. It would have been nice to dwell longer but we thought we should make a quick exit before being theologically challenged again. Hassan seemed most amused by Robin’s quick ‘conversion’ and name change, but told us the guy only believed us because of Robin’s beard!
We also visited other mosques and the tomb of the Shirazi poet Hafez. This is set in beautiful gardens and the grave is under an ornate pavilion where people come to recite poetry and
Keivan and Maryam mime a dance routine, cos dancing itself would be illegal you know.
pay respects to one of Shiraz’s and Persia’s greatest poets. People actually get quite emotional and I was surprised to see them kneeling and touching the grave and kissing it in a similar way people had been acting at the Holy Shrine. Hafez lived in the 14th century but his poetry is very much alive today - verses set to traditional Persian music were playing softly over a speaker system at the grave and people were reading verses to themselves everywhere. There is a custom that if you stand beside the grave and randomly open a verse of Hafez, you can divine your future from that verse. Many people were doing this. We tried it and an old guy helped translate - it was mostly about how people criticised Hafez for not being religious, but for caring only about wine and women. His response was that he was religious, and that maybe the path to God can be found through love and wine, rather than indoctrinated clerics! I don’t know about this telling us our future, but it seems perfectly timely for the youth of Iran today and their religious government. These were common themes in Hafez’s poetry and it
With Hassan, Keivan and Seiovash.
is easy to see why he remains so popular.
In amongst sightseeing, getting our bikes fixed and watching the dismal world cup final, we spent a lot of time sleeping in Shiraz. In fact some days it seemed to be hard to stay awake. We had many late nights; going out for picnics under full moons or along Chamran with Keivan, Hassan and all their friends. Shiraz of course is home to the famous grape, but with alcohol banned in Iran there is no wine industry here anymore. At least not openly; we did find and drink some Shiraz red ‘wine’ but the stuff was more like strong sherry than wine, though it did taste nice. And when that ran out there was a clear rocket fuel distilled from grape juice…. None of which encouraged an early morning….
We decided to stay to celebrate Erika’s birthday in Shiraz, before making a long and fast dash for the Pakistan border. We had a party with all of the friends we had made over the previous 10 days and Keivan led the display of (again highly illegal) Persian dancing. After hours of dancing and eating we had 2 huge, delicious cakes made by Maryam’s sister Azita, and a great day and night was had.
We still have a long way to cycle towards Bam though, and beyond to Zahedan, before crossing the border and another 600km of the Baluchistan desert to reach Quetta.
For now though, we’ll leave the last word on Shiraz to Shams al-Din Hafez:
Shiraz, city of the heart,
God preserve thee!
Pearl of capitals thou art,
Ah, to serve thee
Ruknabad, of thee I dream,
Who so drinks thy running stream
Wind that blows from Esfahan
Whence thy sweetness?
Flowers ran with thee as thou ran
With such fleetness
Right through Shiraz the path goes
Everyone in Shiraz knows
Spend not on Egyptian sweets
Sweet enough on Shiraz streets