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Published: December 12th 2017
follow the stairs and don't look down
Saturday. Another day another castle!
Some of our group decided that a day exploring Tabriz would be fun, the rest of us headed for the hills to see Babak castle. This remote site on a crag was three hours from Tabriz by bus then about 20 minutes in ancient four wheel drive jeeps followed by a 40 min walk. Not as strenuous as we thought it might be but the final steps up and across the cliff felt exposed to the drop. The views were worth it when we reached the top. After a good bumble about and picnic snacks we headed back the way we had come.
Back in Tabriz we all went out for dinner, a good 40 minute walk away from the hotel - sadly the restaurant recommended in both the guidebooks had closed down. Fortunately Vahid had a Plan B and we went for kebabs and rice and alcohol free beer! Followed by a late night (ok 10pm but late for this trip) ice-cream on the walk back.
Sun. Tabriz and Kandovan
We spent the morning in Tabriz, seeing the Blue
Spice section in the Tabriz bazaar
Susan and Meg thinking of making a purchase
mosque that had been wrecked by an earthquake in the mid 18th
century and not restored until the 1950s, before an enjoyable meander round part of the largest covered bazaar/market in the world. We looked for golden pomegranate jewellery (unsuccessfully) whilst others bartered for carpets (successfully).
We left Tabriz carrying a bargain slice of pizza/focaccia to drive to Kandovan a village where most of the houses have been carved out of the hillside. We arrived at a windswept, dusty and rather deserted place sleeping in the afternoon sun. I went for a wander to see the village from across the valley as the sun descended behind the hills. Whilst watching the world go by (some villagers gathering leaves in an orchard and beautiful trees) I met a family on a similar wander – and it turned out to be the Danish ambassador to Iran with his Lebanese wife and their kids on a holiday from Tehran. We had a nice chat about a diplomat’s life in this fascinating country and he was quite surprised that we had been to Tabriz and this part of the country. Back at the hotel there was underfloor heating so warm toes
Takht e Soleyman
view across pool with the throne of Solomon hill beyond
all round , the rooms were overheated as usual and some rooms had jacuzzis – we had one but swapped it for a couple of beers! We declined sharing a hot tub. For dinner I tried the Tabriz Kufte – a large meatball with tasty sauce.
October to Takab via Takht e Soleyman
This felt like a long day. We headed southeast aiming for the Zoroastrian site at Takht e Soleyman. Unfortunately we headed down a road that was being “improved” and was actually closed. The detour around the closure was not driveable in our bus so we had to turn round and take another route. Morale on the bus was a bit low as it was now raining hard and the clouds were down. We stopped at a soggy town for a lunchtime walk before we eventually arrived at Takht e Soleyman under lowering skies and in passing heavy showers and a wind! It felt more like a wet weekend in the Lake District. We wandered about trying to work out what was what as the breeze sent mini waves across the volcanic pool. This bleak place
was an important ceremonial centre for centuries. After an hour or so we retreated back to the bus to dry off. It was less than an hour’s drive to our refuge for the night – probably the only hotel in Takab.
Whilst we waited to check in one of our group mentioned that my birthday was coming up. I thought this odd as my birthday is actually in August. As the story unravelled it seemed that Jools had asked the tour leader if anyone in the group had a birthday during the trip. He had misread the date of my passport expiry as my birthday….so a card had been bought and signed…before the mistake had been realised in Ardabil when Susan was asking Vahid about birthstones on a chart next to a shop and I had worked out which mine would be and Vahid had thought I was looking at the wrong one - until he checked my passport….
The hotel was fairly simple place but friendly and had hot water. Just down the road was a really smart cake and nut shop where we stocked up on supplies for the next day before
vintage 4x4gets us up the track to start the walk to Babak
dinner in the hotel. The maitre d’ was Ayob who is mentioned as a guide and travel agent in Lonely Planet. He hadn’t seen the latest edition. He shared photos of the area (curiously all were in sunshine) and his work in progress – a new guest house near Takht e Soleyman.
Tuesday 31 October Trick or treat
Not my birthday! Back on the bus in the sunshine again we set out for Hamadan. En route we stopped to go through the Ali Sadr caves – partly by boat , partly on foot. Quite fun
Hamadan is another former Persian capital (a few remains of mud brick Ecbatana exist). We arrived early afternoon and saw the sights: the Alavian shrine (impressive stucco), the tomb of Avicenna (the poet), the lion of Hamedan and, a highlight for some, the tomb of Mordecai and Esther.
This is, we were informed by the local guide, an important site for Judaism and pilgrimage. Interestingly inside the building the ladies of the group were invited to remove their headscarves. It was an interesting spot and the fact that the
total Jewish population of Hamadan is now down to 13 was also food for thought.
After checking in to another very nice hotel I went for a walk to recce a restaurant for the evening. I found the road but couldn’t find the place until inevitably I was walked to it by a friendly local. A locked up doorway but my new friend asked in the neighbouring shops when it would open and I managed to understand that it would open at 7pm – I knew learning the Farsi numbers from zero to 10 would come in handy one day. Back at the hotel most of the group met up for dinner and we tackled the traffic. After securing a table at the Delta restaurant the next challenge was the menu -all in Farsi and no pictures, fortunately the owner spoke enough English to explain roughly what was on offer. After eating we ended up in conversation with an Iranian family at a neighbouring table. Atana, the elder daughter who was still at school, spoke almost perfect English and we exchanged contact details. We were invited to their house the next day but sadly had to explain
that we were only in Hamedan for one night. Susan rounded off her evening with a lovely coffee icecream – I think the shop owner had a very good 15 minutes as he sold lots – I think Sheila tasted most before making her choice.
Wednesday 1 November Hamadan to Esfahan
Another day on the bus as we headed south east. Lunch stop was at a restored caravanserai - now a smart hotel. We arrived in Esfahan by mid afternoon - see next instalment
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