Tower of Silence
Where dead people go to be pecked to death by vultures
Yazd has a very precise claim to fame - the oldest continually inhabited place in the world. Folks have been hanging around here for more than 3000 years, though the actual city of Yazd eventuated only 1900 years ago. Given its in the middle of the desert and near one of the hottest places on earth, one wonders why they didn't run away to the pleasant ski resorts of Northern Iran. Instead, they've spent the last 3000 years coming up with some ingenious ways for keeping cool. But more of that later in this entry.
Our day started with a short drive from Zein-o-din caravanserai to Yazd. We were bummed and depressed as we had been hoping to spend the prior night star gazing with a telescope in the light-pollution-devoid desert. However the thick clouds had other plans and obscured the night sky. And just to really emphasize their contempt, they decided to spew forth rain today. It never rains in Yazd. Ever. So I guess we were kind of lucky to witness a rarity ... at least that's the positive spin we tried to put on it. The skies decided to relent though and so by mid morning as
Tower of Silence
The pit that they throw the bones into and then dissolve with acid. No chance for ashes to ashes and dust to dust for the dead Zoroastrian.
we pulled into Yazd, we had beautiful blue skies. If this carried on, then we were hoping to be able to star gaze tonight.
First on the itinerary were the mystically named Towers of Silence, which is fancy-speak for a Zoroastrian graveyard. Zoroastrians revere the elements (fire, water, air, and earth), and thus believe burying dead things pollutes the earth. Instead, they place their dead on top of a mountain inside squat towers of silence, and then let the vultures have their way. Once they have been picked to death, the bones are thrown in a pit and acid is used to eliminate the rest. Thus even in death, they are able to contribute to society and the world. The guys that carried the bodies to the tower had a dangerous job since the vultures used to hang around waiting for their lunch. And they weren't particularly discerning whether their prey was alive or dead. Such sky burials are now illegal in Iran, so the Towers of Silence are purely tourist attractions today.
Next we made a quick stop at an Ateshkadeh, a Zoroastrian fire temple. For those not familiar with them, Zoroastrianism was all the rage in
Iran until the 7th century when the Arabs brought Islam. The Arabs 'encouraged' the locals to cast off their Zoroastrian ways by providing security and protection for anybody that converted. The majority of Persians gladly converted as banditry was rampant (sounds kind of like the 'protection' offered by certain Italians in Chicago). However, the Yazdis were stubborn and refused to convert, and so to this day, there remains a sizable population of Zoroastrians. The fire temple we visited was particularly interesting because it contained an eternal flame - a fire that had been burning since 470AD, and had actually been transported to 3 different homes during the past 1600 years without being extinguished.
We then retired like old people for an afternoon nap to avoid the intense heat. Shout out to our wonderful hotel, Hotel Dad, set in a gorgeous traditional house. Afternoon naps are wonderful. We've never done these on trips, but its all the rage when travelling here to avoid the heat. Perfect for recovering from a belly full of lunch-time kebab.
The evening was spent educating ourselves about water at the Yazd water museum. Okay, so who in their right mind would go to a
water museum. We did ... and we are so glad we did because it was awesome. Consider you are in the middle of the desert. You need water to drink, grow crops, wash dishes and flush your toilet. What would you do. I would just move. But these Yazdis were determined to keep their status as 'oldest continuously inhabited place on earth'. So instead, they built Qanats - which are long underground tunnels that channel water from water sources tens of kilometers away (the longest is supposedly 70km). Digging those tunnels is hard enough. However, once you get it to your city, you want to ensure its used fairly. So they setup water stocks. Essentially you could buy shares in water to gain access. A qanat digger would then build a channel to your house.
This lead to a complex network of water tunnels beneath the city. So how do you control access and ensure folks don't use water beyond their allocation? This was done using a water clock - essentially a bowl with fixed volume and a hole in the bottom. This would be dangled over the water supply and would slowly fill up. It was anchored to
a mechanism such that once it got heavy enough, a gate would shut off your water channel and thus no more water for you. The volume of the bowl was carefully set based on the how much water stock you had bought as well as the rate of flow of water and other physical parameters. Pretty awesome! Water stocks were so important that they were even given as wedding dowries! Qanats not only brought drinking water, but in more affluent homes, there was a dedicated qanat pool for washing dishes, and another one for flushing your toilets.
Qanats also served as air-conditioning when combined with another clever contraption, the Bagdir. Bagdirs (or wind towers) were Persia's answer to the air-conditioner. Essentially these were big towers with vents carefully directed at the most dominant wind direction. This vent would capture incoming wind and channel it into a house. At the base of the tower would be a pool of water (fed by a Qanat). This water would cool the air - and voila - air-conditioning. To get rid of the hot air, there was an opposing vent that channeled it upwards. Since this vent was on the opposing side of
the input vent, the disparity of pressure would make the air flow naturally - input was cool window, output was hot air. Brilliant!
After being sufficiently educated, we turned our attention to getting religiously educated - by watching wrestling. Religious wrestling. This is Koshti, a warrior training regime influenced by Sufism (mystical branch of Islam). People that train in Koshti traditionally did this not just to become awesome warriors, but were also trained in being kind and noble - Islamic knights. Makes me think of Saladin. So basically what they do is hang around in a big arena and do lots of push ups and stretches and yoga poses while a guy sings holy scriptures (I think - sounded like it anyway). Then they pickup big wooden clubs and swing them around (to build up strength). It was kind of interesting to watch ... for the first five minutes. Very quickly though it started to resemble early morning grandma aerobics - Aerobics Iran style.
The night ended with an unexpected treat. The wind had pushed the clouds away and so the skies were clear for star gazing! So at 11pm we headed out to the middle of the
Bagdir at Bagh-e Dolat Abad
One of the more impressive wind towers that make Yazd famous
desert, armed with a humungous telescope. It was simply awesome. We were lucky enough that night to have Jupiter, Saturn and a mega-huge full moon in the sky. Looking at these with your own eyes through a telescope is simply staggering. Saturn looked like a cartoon - the coloring looked so fake that I was convinced somebody was sticking a slide on the end of the telescope. But it was real. Simply amazing to think those big gas balls are hanging around up there in the sky. Yes, I've known that all my life, but to be able to see Jupiter and its moons, or the rings of Saturn with your own eyes .... blows the mind.
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