Methuselah On The Move - Update 12 (Esfahanto Tehran)

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October 9th 2013
Published: October 9th 2013
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Esfahan to DamghanEsfahan to DamghanEsfahan to Damghan

Just out of Esfahan and stopped for hot water. The structure behind the trucks is a Pigeon Tower which holds about 800 birds. I thought who in their right mind keeps 800 pigeons. Short answer - there used to be hundreds of these structures across Iran. The birds were kept for their poo - a fertilizer.
Esfahan to Tehran

Couple of things I failed to mention yesterday. We drove past a mosque that had the odd name – The Mosque with the Shaking Minarets. Didn’t go in. Apparently if someone in one minaret can get one to sway (apparently relatively easy) the other sways as well. Emir said he can remember being at the top of one as a kid when it started swaying – some young lads in the other were making theirs sway. Now no one can go up the minarets. I guess too much damage could be done. The other thing involves a mosque as well. I had heard about this one and was looking forward to see it, and trying an experiment.

The mosque in question is the Masjed-e Shah (now Masjed-e Imam). In the main prayer hall under the massive dome are four small blocks of stone which form part of the floor. They are directly beneath the centre point of the dome. If you click your fingers, cough, or stamp your foot you can hear several echoes. If you move away from the blokes you can’t hear the echoes. Apparently the engineering is so perfect that all
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In the small village of Anarak (Small Pomegranate Tree) - OH&S at work.
sound is sent back to a central point. Whilst there a party of Chinese (with more camera gear than Cecil B. De Milne) came into the dome. Their guide was trying to get them all around the stone to demonstrate for them. Would have done better with a sheep dog. Anyway one of the security guys walked over to the centre stood on the blocks and did the call to prayer. He really had a beautiful voice – and the echo. His call brought the Mullah out to see what was happening. Earlier on when I was standing near the blocks on my own, I didn’t hear Emir come up behind me but there was a squeaky noise echoing from the dome. Emir asked “What’s that sound?” My reply: “That’s called a fart”. He had a good laugh.

Monday 7th October

Today we did a roughly 650 km trip from Esfahan to Damghan. The first part of the trip was back over old ground. We took the road back to Naein and then headed off across the desert. It looked like being one of those boring long drives. Pretty soon I was dozing (didn’t sleep too
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Anarak - sipping tea in Iran under a eucalyptus. Who would have believed it?. Well I did the same in California.
well last night). Woke up a couple of time when the car slowed. Once was for fuel at the last CNG place before the desert proper. The second was at a lovely little village called Anarak.

Anarak has two parts an old area and an ugly modern town across the stream. We spent some time in the village driving around looking at the old mud-brick buildings, and some of the just about as old inhabitants. We stopped at the local bakery and chatted to an old guy who said that the old town is inhabited by retirees. Most used to work in the nearby marble mines. We bought come bread (straight out of the oven), some of which we ate then – the rest went into the back for lunch. During our drive around we came across a building site – some guys were renovating part of one of the mud-brick houses. We stopped again for a chat. Emir asked what the population of the village was and the foreman (must have been he had a white shirt and was clean) laughed and replied: put it this was if someone dies, we have to wait for people to come
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Dasht-e Kavir. Hot and dry (very dry).
from the surrounding villages so we can have a funeral. Whilst at the renovation site I was impressed by the high level of OH&S they were practicing.

Anarak means – small pomegranate tree. We stopped for lunch among the cultivated areas outside another small village called Chupanan (Shepherds). Going back a fraction whilst in Anarak we had some tea and dates. Never thought I’d go all the way to Iran to have a cuppa in the shade of a Eucalypt tree (bush really). The bloody things are everywhere.

Back on the road and I settled in for the long haul. Shortly after Chupanan we entered the desert. It was typical desert most of the way until we hit an area called the Dasht-e Kavir. The only way to describe the area is as a salt desert. One description for the desert is “… one of two deserts dominating the landscape of eastern Iran, is a mix of sand and salt …”. When we made a stop for a rest I walked out into the desert about 100 metres and just stood there, no vehicles were around and I just listened to the silence. Continuing from before: “… mix

The Pistachio capital of the world. There are about 10 different varieties of pistachios in the pic.
of sand and salt is as blinding in its whiteness as the desert is deafening in its total, unimaginable silence.”

The “soil” is quite interesting. Near the road there is a lot of disturbance due to road works and laying of a gas pipeline. In this area I noted that the ground under my feet was springy, had a hard crust and looked like cattle had trampled it. I thought the indentations may have been caused by a “Padfoot Roller” - roller with lumps of metal on the wheel. I went past this zone and found the whole desert was like that – like a heard of a million cattle had trampled past after the last rain. The crust was quite brittle. Further on there were darker patches appearing. Emir asked if they were moist areas. I didn’t know so we had a look. No, it was the coarse sand that was lying below the thin crust. I broke some of the crust up and the same sand was there. Everything was dry. There were no plants to be seen for hundreds of miles.

The next area of interest we hit was a low range of hills –

The ruins of Tapeh Hesar first excavated in the 1930s.
sort of outliers of the Alborz Mountains which line the northern fringe of the desert and separate it from the Caspian Sea. There were some very interesting shapes and erosion patterns in the hills. A most intriguing place.

We made good time and got into Damghan at about 1:30 (we left at about 08:15). The hotel I am staying in is quite new and is built in a feaux caravanserai style. It is more a upmarket motel than a hotel. It is clean, comfortable – the only problem none of the staff speak English. One speaks French – that’s close. When we arrived I crashed on the bed for a couple of hours and woke refreshed so had a shower and went for a walk around town: walked through he shopping areas and found the bazaar which was still open (at 20:00). When I got back to the hotel I had some dinner and have just relaxed. Now there’s a bloody kid throwing a tantrum down the hall. No I’m wrong, sorry – its two bloody kids having a go.

Tuesday 8th October

Well, I’ll admit it I was wrong. It was three bloody kids

Train heading from Tehran to Mashhad leaving Damghan. The rail line cuts the ruins of Tapeh Hesar in two parts.
– all girls – triplets. Saw them this morning at breakfast. Had a really great night’s sleep as did Emir I found out. He was asleep at about 19:00 and didn’t wake till 06:30. Today was a great day. Saw some amazing things that were planned, and one event that wasn’t that despite my doubts turned out to be very enjoyable.

I spoke yesterday about the two mosques in Esfahan. Went to another mosque in Damghan that had a surprise in store. It was the Jame Mosque and has four sections, all dating to different periods. The mosque looks new but in fact dates back about 1,000 years. It is unusual in its design as the “mirab” the niche pointing toward Mecca is set at an angle – most Iranian Mosques have the mirab flat against the back wall. The Mosque is aligned to the mirab. In this case it is aligned to the street layout. There is a brick minaret that dates to the 11th Century BC.

The original section which is made of fired mud brick is located on the western side of the complex. The north section is new dating to about 60 years

And another one.
ago. This is the only part of the complex with any decoration. It is also the part used for prayers, some people were doing such during the visit. The south building is also relatively new dating to about 80-90 years ago. The fourth section and the most interesting is on the eastern side. This is known locally as the “Underground Mosque” as it is on a lower level to the rest of the building. This prayer room, again with the mirab at an angle is quiet cozy – cool in summer, warm in winter. There is an interesting feature with this room. Built into the columns are recesses on the corners. Now if you stand with your face in the recess and you whisper something anybody else with their face in another recess can hear what you say, almost as if they were standing beside you. No-one else can hear what is being said – only those with their face in a recess. Amazing.

We started the day visiting the ruins of an old citadel – the Tapeh Hesar about 3 km south east of the centre of Damghan. The area was excavated in the 1930s by a German

Detail of the decorations on the Tower at a village called Mehmandoost. The tower is 14.5 metres high and is 900 years old.
crew led by Professor Hertsfeld, and later by a Doctor Schmidt. These two believed that the citadel and surrounding mounds/ruins were the remains of the ancient city of Ashkanin the capital of this part of Iran. The old City of Damghan was destroyed by, no not Genghis Khan, and no not the Arabs either, but by the Afghans in 1723. Spent about an hour and a half walking around both parts of the site. By parts I mean – the city ruins are split in two because in the past the Germans and Americans built a railway through the middle of the city ruins. Yay! A railway line up close and guess what it was train time. Four passenger trains headed through while we were there. All were heading west to Mahshad, a holy city near the Afghan border. In both sections, especially the old city area south or the railway there is a dense scatter of pottery shards across the entire area.

From there we spent a couple of hours looking at very old and interesting mosques and “towers”. The towers a cylindrical and generally hollow and have a height of about 13 or 14 metres. Apparently they

Inside the underground mosque at the Damghan Jameh Mosque. Emir is standing with his face in one of the recesses and whispering to the caretaker who is out of shot on the right. The acoustics are so good the second person can hear the whisper.
were tombs for important entities. All date to 900 to 1000 years ago.

There was one place that was on the itinerary that Emir couldn’t find and no one in Damghan had ever heard of it. It was recommended by the Iranian Tour company I was travelling with. Emir decided to go to the local heritage office and get advice. That guy is a marvel. I ended up sitting in the Departmental Head’s Office eating grapes and sort of discussing the history of Tapeh Hesar. The head is an archaeologist and she has just completed translating a report she had done on the history. She also showed me papers she had in English and German discussing the archaeology of the site. Two of the papers I had already read. Anyway while there we were invited to a “wedding”.

No it was not a real wedding it was a display of local customs (pre-revolution) that they put on. It ws designed to illustrate to young people how marriages used to be carried out. Before they can run the demo they have to get approval from the Morality Police (ie the Mullahs or Clerics). I was a bit wary about

Idol - Persian Style. Mind you he didn't have a bad voice.
going but agreed as I didn’t want to offend. While waiting for the show one of the guys from the office drove us around the old walls of the city which apparently date to the Median Period (728-550 BC), the Parthian Period (224 BC to 248 AD; and Sassanid Period (250 BC to 651 AD).

The show – well what can I say. When I got there I found out that the “wedding” was part of a much bigger show. The concert (for want of a better word) was sort of a cross between Young Talent Time (an Aussie TV Show from the 1970s), Persian Idol, a talent guest and Red Symons Red Faces (Phoenix and Rome don’t worry about it – too difficult to explain). It turned out to be an enjoyable evening (17:00 to 19:00). There was one young chap (a good looking lad who obviously had some female fans) wasn’t a bad singer. After his second routine the compare (sort of Eddie McGuire of Persia) asked the girls up the back to stop dancing. Apparently there were Morality Police in the audience and the organizers didn’t want to get shut down. Girls aren’t allowed to dance
Damghan to TehranDamghan to TehranDamghan to Tehran

Our first clear views of the Alborz Mountains. It was coll on the plain and judging by the clouds, bloody cold in the mountains.
in Iran. I was given a seat in the front row, and the compare came down and welcomed me. I turned to Emir and said “I’m not getting on the stage” which he translated to the compare. The reply came back – only for two minutes. I dug my heels in. The audience was mostly (95%!w(MISSING)omen and kids).

Okay after that it was dinner time and now I’m back in the room. Tomorrow we head off to Tehran. Emir’s new friend at the Heritage Office, and another guy working in the back room gave him an idea of some places to visit on the way to Tehran. Couple I have jotted down as well. We head off at 08:30 for a 350 km trip. Emir wants to be in Tehran by 14:00 to beat the traffic (midday mums picking up kids from school, 16:00/17:00 afternoon Peak).

Wednesday 9th October:

OK we’re back where we started from on, now when was it? Oh yeah, 25 September (checked my diary/schedule). Writing up early this evening, it’s just after 17:00, dinner won’t be till about 20:30. Restaurants here shut at 15:00 and don’t reopen till 20:30. Makes
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The caravanserai at Gouseh. The building is in very good condition - again Emir says it would make a great hotel. Here I have to agree as it is on the main Tehran-Mashaad Road.
for a late dinner. Anyway I’m still getting over one of the scariest rides I’ve ever had in any city in the world. No not Emir, a kamikaze taxi driver. Had his hands off the wheel most of the trip, head over his shoulder talking to Emir in the back, nearly collected a total of three cars and two bikes. Nearly sandwiched a third bike between us and the car in front. Then there was the old lady crossing the street at a pedestrian crossing. I really thought she was going to be a hood ornament, or come through the window and join us. When we got near the hotel got caught in a traffic jam. The cause – bloody traffic police booking cars and bikes left, right and centre lanes. Must be revenue raising time.

The trip from Damghan was an exceptional trip – I think I’ll call the day Caravanserai Day. We left at eightish and headed off. I had a couple of places (3 actually) noted that if time permitted I would like to visit. Emir also had another place that a guy in the Heritage Office in Damghan told him about. I may have mentioned
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The entrance to the stone caravanserai at Ahowan. The pic is of the interior of the gate.
it earlier but the spelling in English of place names is not consistent on road signs. Today within the space of 500 metres there was directions to the turn off back to Damghan – all three had different spelling.

One good thing about today’s trip – the dust haze had cleared and we had excellent views of the Alborz Mountains. The dust returned when we dropped over a small range and back into the desert to the south. I think the wind in the Damghan area was responsible for clearing the haze. One thing I will remember about Damghan was the wind. It blew the whole time we were there – and I don’t mean a little breeze. It made it cool enough that we had to put on warm jackets. I actually saw one lady come out of an alley and her chador was blown of and ended up in the electricity wires. Emir said he came out of a building and ended up chasing his spectacles down the footpath. I walked out of the bazaar and was blown backwards. The locals apparently like it as up till last Friday it had been as hot as hell. The
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The second caravanserai at Ahowan.
wind cooled things.

So what did we see? First stop (unscheduled – all stops were) was in a small village called Gouseh. Emir read a sign at the entry which translated into “Welcome to the ancient village of Gouseh”. This is the location that the heritage office guy said there were the ruins of an old city. Hmmmmm! Maybe he was talking about Gouseh itself (Ha, Ha!). The village is about 70 km east of Semnan putting it about 40 km west of Damghan. The attraction was a Caravanserai of a design that neither Emir nor I had seen before. It was in very good condition and unused. Mind you there was some very un-Islamic graffiti on some of the walls including quite explicit drawing. Nearby was the ruins of something that could have been an old citadel (walls too small); a caravanserai (compound too big); an old farmstead with enclosed walls; or none of the above. I think it’s most likely the third as there is a similar smaller structure in the village and made of the same materials (mud-bricks and mud). Again based on similarities in design of the entrance gate the two farmsteads may date to
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The interior of the newer caravanserai at Ahowan. This pic shows "the loading dock" for camels. Well that's my interpretation anyway.
the same period as the caravanserai. I won’t go into details of the design of the caravanserai but Emir said it was the nicest he has seen.

A little further on we came across another two caravanserais – both within close proximity to each other. They were in a small town called Ahowan (aka Ahuan, aka Ahoowon etc, etc). The first we visited was again of a design that neither Emir nor I had seen before. It was also different in that it was made out of stone river pebbles and cobbles held together with mud. The exterior was in good condition, however the interior has suffered the ravages of time (and robbers looking for treasure). Many of the interior walls had collapsed but there was enough still in place to be able to see the layout of the place. The second caravanserai was about 100 metres to the west of the first and was definitely newer. It was out of use, in relatively good condition. Its design was similar to the one at Gouseh – with one exception. That exception was the layout of one of the “stables” loading areas. This stable had a narrow walkway along the

The minaret wanting to be a contortionist. The bend and twist is quite evident in the structure which dates to about the mid 1400s (I believe).
floor with built up platforms on either side. My guess was that the design was a later modification that allowed for easier loading of camels (there was enough room for a camel to walk between the platforms). Ahowan was on my list of visits.

The next place I wanted to see was the Jame Mosque in Semnan. I didn’t actually want to see the mosque I wanted to see its minaret. We picked our way through Semnan (with the obligatory asking for directions) and parked within view of the Minaret. To get to it we had to negotiate through another mosque complex consisting of three iwans opening onto a courtyard in front of the mosque (an iwan is a vaulted hall – there are normally four – the fourth being the mosque itself). Had a look at the decoration which is quite austere for the period it was built: Gajar Dynasty and dating to the 1820s. Got to the Minaret which I had asked to see. Why? Quite unusual but adorable. The thing is 21 metres high and the last couple of metres have a sort of lean and then the top kinks the opposite direction. Se the pic I’ll put in. We also stooped for a quick look at the Qajar Era Citadel Gateway which is all that is left of the Citadel. Don’t know who destroyed it but it wasn’t Genghis Khan, The Arabs or the Afghanis. Probably locals to make way for building space.

After that it was onto Tehran passing some very interesting geological formations, and different coloured hills. We passed another caravanserai in a town called Lasjerd. I had it down as a possible stop but as we flashed past (it was right beside the highway) I saw that the doors were shut and locked. When we hit the outskirts of Tehran things really got interesting: Tehran traffic. My first scare was on a freeway heading into town when two of the ubiquitous blue pick-ups decided that they both wanted to be in the space that our car was in: one from the left and one from the right. First time I had heard Emir swear as he planted his foot on the brakes. There was millimetres in it. Emir said that in Tehran the blue pickups are usually driven by Azeri’s who he said were notoriously bad driver.

Well back in the same hotel as before except I’ve had a rise. I’m on the 14th instead of the 11th floor. I also have a different view as I am now in an even numbered room so look out the other side of the building.

Tomorrow we head of, hopefully at 07:00 (to beat the traffic) on what I’ll call the Caspian Sea loop: Tehran-Klardasht-Chalous-Anzali Port-Masouleh-Rasht-Tehran. Emir said that if time permits tomorrow we might make a side trip (rather a long one) to Gorgan to see the Sadd-e Eskander – The Walls of Alexander. The wall stretches from the Caspian Sea east to the Northern/eastern end of the Alborz Mountains. They are the second longest historical defensive wall, with only the Great Wall being longer. There is some dispute as to the wall’s origin: built by Alexander; predating Alexander (therefore Persian); post dating Alexander (either Seleucid – a Greek empire in Asia, or Sassanian). Not holding my breath that we’ll get there. It’s about a 300 km trip one way.


11th October 2013

Glad to see that some things still frighten you: stages and freeways. Keep enjoying the "ride"! Mike

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