Published: August 6th 2008August 6th 2008
The next day we had been told to be at breakfast at 6.30, early for me! While most of the women were there, none of the men were! Great door knockings and retributions ensued, though all fairly good natured! So we got off a bit later than planned, first stop Takht-e Bostan/ Taq-e Bostan, just outside Kermanshah.
This site has three well preserved Sassanian bas-reliefs showing the crowning ceremonies of the rulers. The first shows the kings Ardashir I and Shapur I ,
Khusroe II is shown on a charger, looking like a medieval European knight, the horse is his favourite Shabdiz, whose name means ‘like the night’. The story goes that Khusroe loved his horse so much that he warned that whoever told the king of his death would be put to death himself. Years later when Shabdiz did die, the stablehands and servants were petrified to tell the bad news to the king. They came up with a plan so that they might keep their heads. Barbad, the king’s composer created a song for the death of Shabdiz that relayed the information to the king.
At either side of the arch are two angels which look almost Renaissance in their loveliness. I wondered on what heavenly trajectory might have taken these angels from ancient site in Iran to medieval Florence?
At Taq-e Bostan I met some Zoroastrians from Yazd, who were so happy to hear that I had visited Chakchak, their holy pilgrimage site. The two teenage daughters lived in the US. They spoke how they were discriminated against here in Iran, and how America offered them new opportunities. One of the women took a liking to me and kept on kissing my hand, she asked how old I was and whether I was married! Then came the inevitable pity when they found out I was still single!
Later, in the evening we ate huge kebabs under the trees near the site. The place was magical and lit by lanterns. We ate on carpeted platforms surrounded by cushions. I felt relaxed and very oriental.
From Kermanshah we drove down into the foothills of the Zagros Mountains towards Qasr-e Shirin near the Iraqi border. The name means the Palace of Shirin. Shirin became the lover of the Sassanid King, Khusroe II. However there are folktales told about her love for Fahad, a stonecutter.
The land is bare, dry and mountainous, looking like what it was: the wild and windswept frontier region which had intermittantly been the border between two empires / cultures for over 5000 years. I had read about the nomadic mountain tribes coming down from the Zagros and raiding the settled cities in Mesopotamia below. More recently this land was hard fought during the Iran / Iraq war in the 1980s. Tanks and soldiers’ graves reminded us of the area’s bloody history.
One man from the tour, T, spoke to me about how this bleak border country made him feel slightly scared and on edge. It was true, the land held many memories and much suffering. Shown by the soldiers’ graves which dotted the roadside and gathered in cemeteries. They could be spotted by the Iranian flags which flew over the stones.
A line from electricity pylons had one large ball in the centre; I guessed to stop low flying (fighter) planes from becoming ensnared in the electric cables.
However much of the land had changed little in the last century, we saw crops being sown and reaped by hand, using scythes and animal traction. The villages we passed had simple houses. One I remember with an old table football table outside, deserted now, but I could imagine it being played on by the village boys in the cool of the evening when the day’s work was done.
We stopped at a Kurdish village called Rizaw in Kurdish or Rijab in Persian. It is set in a lush green valley, soothing the eyes after the miles upon miles of dusty beige ground. Walking through the village and seeing men with their baggy trousers, worn by Kurds and the women in long blue dresses often with white flowers and blue head coverings. Other women wore long, brightly coloured sparkly dresses, looking like exotic birds against the drab ground while they worked in the fields and went about their daily lives.
I learnt more about the Kurds, how they were separated between Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. In Iran they are popular with the other Iranians, who see them as the descendents of the ancient Iranian tribe, the Medes. However the Kurds are not supported by the current government, which is why Iranian Kurdistan is so poor and under-developed.
As we walked down a pretty street, with houses on our left and a stream and orchards to the right, some women called out to me and wanted to know where I was from; to have a group of Iranian students was one thing, but they were surprised at my presence there! I spoke to them for a few minutes and they invited us all up to have a drink of water with them, (it was proper hot, about 38º C), when I asked them if I could take a photo “aks, aks”, they vanished. Even I as a woman was not allowed to take a picture of them, oh well!
We followed the street down, to a diving pool and spring set in the mountains. The men, bare-chested and in baggy trousers, were jumping off the rocks to laughter and shouts, trousers ballooning up as they hit the water. I and the rest of the group sat and paddled in the stream. Iranians love taking pictures, especially where there is water, so you can imagine that there were quite a few photos there!
I spoke to S, a Kurd who was studying philosophy, his English was excellent and I was impressed when I heard that it was his fourth language, after Kurdish, Turkish, Farsi and Arabic. He read Bertrand Russell, the English philosopher in the original. He greatly respected Russell and admired the clarity of his prose (rare among philosophers)! He was sitting next to his lovely girlfriend M in front of me in the bus; both were really interesting to talk to. He told me about his preconceptions of English people being cold, serious and unfriendly, which he told me that I had changed as I was always smiling and laughing (easiest thing to do, when you can’t really communicate / don’t understand what is going on)!