Today was to be one of those useless transit days, driving from Shiraz to Zein-o-dein, an old caravanserai (hotel for caravans). Luckily there were a few interesting highlights to punctuate the otherwise uneventful 7 hour drive.
We left bright and early with our driver Hojat and guide Ali. Hojat treated us to a wealth of yummy snacks he had prepared, including Iranian sweets and fruits. A well prepared guy, we discovered during the trip that Hojat had the ability to always have something up his sleeve when you needed it, including a watermelon, oranges, cucumber, car sick pills, mint water, a knife. You name it, he had it, stashed somewhere in his van.
Our first stop was Parsargadae, which was the capital setup by Cyrus the Great, the guy who started the first humungous Persian empire that took over the known world (India to Macendonia, biggest empire ever at the time). There isn't much to see at Parsargadae apart from a very nice looking tomb that was recently concluded to belong to Cyrus. However, our guide Ali always managed to take something seemingly dull and make it come alive. This time it was with a look into the governing
Aberkouh Ice House
Amazing things. They keep ice frozen for a year in the middle of 50 degrees desert heat!
practices of Cyrus.
Cyrus's claim to fame apart from having a massive empire, was that he drafted the first bill of human rights. This actually came to world attention when the Shah of Iran claimed this in the 60s. Apparently Cyrus granted individual freedom of opinion, freedom of worship and other human rights that were considered millennia ahead of other countries (Cyrus lived in 500BC). Its contentious though whether this is true, with others claiming this is rather just over-exaggeration of a one-off edict that Cyrus drafted on a cylinder found in Babylon. Regardless though, from Cyrus's life, he was well loved and went down in history as a benevolent and tolerant ruler. Cyrus is the guy who freed the Jewish people from slavery and sent them back to Israel with support to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
After Parsargadae, we stopped at Abarkooh for lunch. Abarkooh had a bunch of sites relating to old Iran, but we spent time at only two interesting places. The first was super interesting - an ancient fridge called an ice house. The area is a desert, and these clever Iranians decided that making ice in the middle of the desert was
a good idea. How did they do it? They built a big circular pyramid and then waited till winter when the desert got cold. They would lay down water in pits during the day, then let them freeze overnight, and then bring in the ice blocks into the ice house. The ice would then be covered with sand and dust to insulate it. And that's it. That would preserve the ice for a year, even during the summer when temperatures get up to 50 degrees (and a nearby part up to 67 degrees).
We also saw the the second oldest tree in the world in Abarkooh, which is 4000 year old Cyprus tree. Looking at the tree, it looks as sprightly and young as a recent upshoot.
The last leg of the journey was to Zein-o-dein. This took us through some proper desert country and we were lucky enough to see a sand tornado in the distance. No wild camels or ostriches running around though much to the disappointment of our kids.
We pulled into Zein-o-dein just before sunset. Zein-o-dein Caravanserai is one of 999 caravan hotels built to ease travel through Iran (back in the 1500s
I think). Today they are all in disrepair except for this one, which was renovated into an interesting hotel mainly for tourists. The premise is simple - you are given a room with beds on the floor. You live the way travelers of old did ... well kind of. Its obviously more plush and you don't have your camels and donkeys sleeping beside you. Its set in the middle of nowhere and there isn't much to do than sit on the roof and enjoy the beautiful desert scenery around. The workers in the caravanserai are Baluchi people from the east of Iran near Pakistan. So dinner did include some mild curries as well. The staff here are really nice, and late evening once everybody has settled down, they hang around in the courtyard area and are keen to chat. I had fun talking to one guy who used to work as an oil smuggler from Iran to Pakistan. The police can only detain one tanker at a time, so they used to get 20 tankers together and run the gauntlet. Only one would get caught while the remaining 19 would get through. Zein-o-dein is a beautiful place to spend a
night and the wife and kids absolutely loved the ambience. Its definitely more for the women though.
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