Living the opulent life in Yazd

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November 26th 2007
Published: November 26th 2007
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Well, we’re currently sitting on a carpeted platform (divan sort of thing?) and sipping tea in the central courtyard of our hotel in Yazd. It’s a beautifully restored house in the middle of the old city, covered by a huge tent which diffuses the light and protects the central pond and cluster of bougainvillea, banana and orange trees. If there was a setting for Persian opulence and decadence, this is it…

Yazd is superb. One of the most ancient cities in the world, the old city comprises of a myriad of narrow mud brick alleyways running off in all directions. It’s so easy to get lost, but I suppose that’s half the fun, wandering down these ancient laneways and suddenly appearing in a courtyard or public square. The people are excruciatingly friendly, the food is sublime and the laneways and architecture add a beautiful and almost mystical quality to the place. It would be so easy to get stuck here for weeks…

We arrived here a couple of days ago from Shiraz - the centre of Persian poetry, nightingales and a focal point of the Persian empire, most notably Persopolis. Shiraz was okay, but felt a lot more reserved and a lot poorer than the other places that we’ve visited. There also seemed to be a lot more Arabs there, potentially due to the fact it’s the furthest south we’ve ventured. The traffic was a nightmare as usual (in Yazd there’s hardly any at all - indeed you can almost cross the street without looking at all - almost). We spent our days wandering around the various gardens and visited the tomb of Hafez, one of Iran’s greatest poets, where locals come to pay tribute and ponder his words. The usual practice is to bring a collection of his poems, ponder some problem in your life and then open the book at random. The resulting verse is supposed to provide some guidance in regards to your particular dilemma. We bought a book ourselves and spent a lovely time, basking in the sunshine, reading his poems to each other, although I reckon his guiding light might only work for locals…

Persopolis was without a doubt the highlight of our time in Shiraz. Built by Darius and his subsequent sons, about 2500 years ago when they ruled much of the known world, and as a showcase capital and a place where his conquered realms came to pay tribute, it is a true historical wonder. Unfortunately, Alexander the Great destroyed much of it in revenge for the sacking of Athens, but a vast collection of ruins, doorways, columns and tombs still remain and we spent most of the day just wandering between them. It really is remarkable and Jane got a real kick out of passing through the very doorways Xerxes would have walked through two and a half millennia before us. Oh, and I also experienced another round of mobbing, this time not by third graders but by a horde of soldiers. I reckon they are all brought here collectively to inspire them with the proud military history of their people and we’d spotted them outside one of the tombs, loudly singing various nationalistic songs. I was lining up a shot (photo that is) and trying to make the most of the superb late afternoon light, when one private sauntered over and asked where I was from. Suddenly it was just like that palace and there was a mob of forty or so all crowded around, yelling ‘hellos’ and trying to shake my hand. A large video camera was thrust into my face and I was asked my opinion on Iran, the people and the sabre-rattling of Monsieur Bush. It was bizarre enough when it was a bunch of ten year olds, but to receive the same attention from a platoon of soldiers was something else altogether. And instead of the teacher pulling them back by the scruff of their necks, their major had the role of peacemaker, although his barked orders certainly had an affect that the teachers’ harsh words hadn’t…

We also went to the final resting places of these kings, Naqsh-E-Rostam, a collection of four massive tombs carved in cruciform designs into the sides of a cliff. Thankfully, old Alexander must have missed these altogether as they were still in perfect condition and as they would have been all those thousands of years ago.

And then to Yazd. Our first couple of days were just spent wandering through these alleyways and just enjoying the completely laidback atmosphere and wonderful people. Jane has finally found a consistent source of delicious vegetarian food and I can recommend the camel burger - like beef but chewier. I even managed to catch a couple of English football matches, although the commentary was in Farsi. The halftime entertainment is the real kicker thought, as the coverage flicks over to what we’ve coined ‘Martyr TV’ - whereby the fifteen minute break is dedicated to one of the great Iranian youths who lost their life in the Iran-Iraq war. A series of home movies, photographs, stirring commentary and music recount the life of this individual and the greatness of their sacrifice. Admittedly, it is a bit bizarre, particularly when the coverage stops and you’re suddenly back at Old Trafford and watching United get beaten by Bolton.

We then scuttled down to the internet café in the hope of finding out about the election. Admittedly, we both felt quite nauseous at the prospect of opening up the SBS website to see that little Johnny had somehow managed to pull off another coup, but erupted into joyous shouts at the result. The poor bloke who ran the café looked quite shocked, but we explained what had occurred and he congratulated us whole-heartedly.

Yesterday we hired a driver, Mehdi, to take us on a bit of desert tour. We arrived at Chak Chak which is the most important Zoroastrian pilgrimage site in Iran and which is nestled halfway up a huge cliff in the middle of the desert. The setting was breathtaking, these massive rocky mountains scattered throughout the barren desert and we slowly began the long trek to the shrine itself. After numerous switchback roads and masses of steps we finally found ourselves at the entrance of the shrine where a group of five elderly pilgrims sat taking tea. They smiled and asked where we were from in halting English. “Australia” we replied. “Ah…Kevin Rudd must be a very happy man today…” We both did a double-take, with what must have been startled looks on our faces - here we were in the middle of a desert in Iran, halfway up a cliff at a remote Zoroastrian fire-shrine and the first thing we hear is the up-to-date situation in Australian politics. As it turned out, the five were brothers and one lives in Sydney, so after a laugh we sat down with them, sharing cups of tea, pomegranates, cucumbers and mandarins. After shedding my shoes, and most likely scaring off any local fauna and potential pilgrims in the process, I wandered through the cave, careful not to slip on the water - ‘chak chak’ means ‘drip drip’ in Farsi and buckets are strategically placed to capture the drops as they fall.

Our final stop was the deserted old desert city of Kharanaq and we again wandered through the narrow, winding alleys between abandoned and crumbling mud-brick houses. It was similar to our first stop, the abandoned village of Abu Abas where drifts of sand settled in doorways and along the walls, a ghost town in every sense. The photos will probably do it more justice than any explanations so I’ll leave further descriptions until our return.

So, having been utterly captivated by the charms of Yazd, we’ll probably stay here for a few more days before jumping on the train and heading west toward Kashan. Hope that you’re all well and will be in touch again soon…


26th November 2007

Thanks for great writing. Can't wait to leave home tomorrow heading to Iran
27th November 2007

nice blog
Hey mate. Very interesting text. I wish more Australians and Kiwis were traveling to Iran to see how it really is from inside. I was surprised to see how little, people in that part of the world know about Iran while I was living in Sydney. What they know mostly comes from mal-intended media. I am happy you guys are having a good time there and thanks for sharing your experience with us. Cheers!

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