Methuselah On The Move - Update 9 (Tehran to Shiraz)

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Middle East » Iran » South » Shiraz
October 3rd 2013
Published: October 4th 2013
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On THe RoadOn THe RoadOn THe Road

Shiraz, our destination for this leg.
Tehran to Hamadan and Kermanshah, and onto Shiraz

Well your now reading the ramblings of one pissed off little vegemite. For the Rome and Phoenix connections: when we were kids there was an advert on TV for Vegemite (similar to Marmite – Americans – google it). The theme of the advert was kids running around to a jingle – we’re happy little vegemites. Anyway why am I pissed – tell you later. I have to catch up on two days, so here goes.

Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th September:

We left Tehran heading for Hamadan about the same as driving from Canberra to Sydney. Again, as Saturday was an odd day, we had to taxi to Emir’s car. Once there we picked our way through the Tehran traffic and headed sort of west. Trip was great – perfect roads. The roads here are on par with Australia, but sorry to say better than in the US. The biggest hold up was trucks, toll booths and accidents. Just after leaving Tehran we ran into a logjam – a car had rolled. How? God (or Allah) only knows – straight stretch of road. Later saw a
Ali Sadr CavesAli Sadr CavesAli Sadr Caves

Truly an amazing place. An underwater lake with stalactites looking like coral above your head. Quiet a popular place for Iranians to visit. Propulsion of the boats is very labour intensive.
truck on its side on the other side of the highway – dual carriageway with three lanes each way. We also had to make frequent stops for CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) which is what Emir runs his car on. Also on the agenda were a couple of tea stops – Emir needs his tea while driving. I didn’t mind let me have a better look at the country. There were also a large number of hidden police cars with radars out which also tended to keep traffic to the speed limit.

We were due to do a side trip to a place called Qazvin to see a 12th Century Mosque. Emir, the evening before suggested that we give it a miss as it wasn’t that interesting. Checked Lonely Planet – their opinion was that if you’re in the neighbourhood!!! The outstanding feature of the building was its roof –Mogul style trimmings. I decided that a 100 km (approx.) diversion just to see a roof was a waste, so told Emir to skip the mosque. Later in the day Emir suggested a 90 km detour to visit some caves closer to Hamadan. I agreed – sort of glad I did.
Mausoleum of Avicenna (Bu Ali Sina) Mausoleum of Avicenna (Bu Ali Sina) Mausoleum of Avicenna (Bu Ali Sina)

Bu Ali's unfinished missile. The old guy's grave is directly under the middle of the "dome". The area under the tower (the mound) is in fact quiet a large building housing along with Bu Ali a museum and library as well as administrative buildings.

The Ali Sadr Caves – actually an underground lake with crystal clear cool water. Apparently they were only discovered 50 years ago. The Iranians have made them very tourist friendly (mostly their own people) with marble walkways, pontoon walkways, and boats to get around. At its deepest the lake is about 15 metres deep. Once underground you follow the path to a “wharf” where you board your boat for a tour of the cave. Boat! Actually it’s four or five plastic, four seater row boats tied together in a daisy chain. Propulsions is quiet ingenious: at the front towing is a “tug” – a two man paddle boat similar to the ones on Lake Burley Griffin. You were towed about 700-800 metres underground to another wharf, where you could either get off and walk, or stay in the boat for the return journey. The walk was about 1 km long following a marble/concrete footpath and a metal floating pontoon walkway. In the main chamber you could either climb 148 stairs to a viewing platform or take the “invalids” rout which bypassed the chamber. I took the former, hey it was only 118 steps down (don’t ask – I don’t
The Tomb of Esther and Mordecai The Tomb of Esther and Mordecai The Tomb of Esther and Mordecai

Emir (on the left) and the old Rabbi inside the "tomb" - actually a mausoleum. Mordecai's "box" is out of picture to the left of Emir. A very cramped space with Jewish and Aramaic scripts around the walls. By the way the Rabbi collects foreign biros (pens), so these make good tips. He'll also ask for a donation for upkeep of the site.
know). Once back at water level you continued your walk ending up at a third wharf opposite the second. Back in the boats for a trip back to the start following a different tunnel. Hanging from the roof were stalactites (or are they stalagmites – can never remember which is which), which all came down to the same level – sort of like looking at an inverted coral reef.

Anyway, once on the surface it was back into the car, for a 45 km ride to Hamadan, arriving at about 19:45. We headed off to find somewhere to eat and were directed to a “fast food” outlet that sold burghers, pizzas, sandwiches etc. Now I must say the Persians have given a new meaning to the term “fast food” (not).

Up again early so after breaky went for a stroll. Visited a mausoleum that was open – sign said Imamsadeh Hadi Ebne Ali. Quite a pretty little place to rest – all mirrors and tile (sort of like the Golestan Palace). Went inside (after taking off my shoes) and noted that there were two prayer sections: one for men, other for women. Didn’t know which was which so
Anahita Temple in Kangavar Anahita Temple in Kangavar Anahita Temple in Kangavar

Moi standing beside the north wall of the Temple, taking advantage of the shade - mad dogs and all that!
went into both. Noted that there was a shit load of cash lying around the tombstone (inside a cage). Then walked on around the Mausoleum of Avicenna (Bu Ali Sina) a scholar born in Bukhara (Uzbekistan) over a thousand years ago. In 1954 the then Iranian Government tore the old building down and built a new one. Lonely Planet sarcastically describes it as “looks something like a vast, unfinished concrete missile”. Emir said during a later visit to the interior that it looks like a pncil. When I told him what Lonely Planet said, he looked around at the structure, smiled and said – yes it does. The mausoleum is the iconic place in Hamadan.

Prior to leaving Hamadan we visited a number of other historical sites, with the most noteworthy being The Tomb of Esther and Mordecai – read ya bible. The tomb is not original – it would be well over 2,000 years old – this one isn’t. It’s been rebuilt several times and in the past was a major Jewish Pilgrim site. We were met at the door by the caretaker who was also the local Rabi. Apparently there are a total of 25 Jews living

I'm still pissed off!
in Hamadan. They have a new Synagogue a short distance from the Tomb. It was of note when leaving Emir was approached by a local who saw I was a tourist. He asked if the building was the Tomb of Bu Ali – he was surprised (gob smacked would have been too strong a term, but close) when he was told it was a Jewish shrine. There are about 26,000 Jews living and working in Iran – quite freely and without any hindrance (officially).

After Hamadan it was off to points south – the next overnight stop is Kermanshah. On the way we had a number of places to visit. First up was the Anahita Temple in Kangavar – the ruins of a Ziggurat which has had archaeological excavations and some restoration work carried out. The temple predates the Islamic period and was destroyed – not by Genghis Khan, but by the Arabs (Muslims). Worth the stop. I think Emir was a bit bored – but for the archaeologist!!!!!! Next stop Bisotoun. Bisotoun, one of the places I had come to see, a place that is to me in the realm of Petra, Samarkand, The Forbidden City. Just before
On The Road AgainOn The Road AgainOn The Road Again

And Emir tells me there isn't a drop to be had. Boo Hoo! Now I'm really .......
the town of Bisotoun I asked Emir to stop so that I could get some pics of an old disused stone bridge – probably built in the late 1800s. Emir never saw it till I pointed it out to him.

We arrived and started to tour the World Heritage site starting from one end and visiting the various sites as we went. Emir bailed out after a while – I think he was tired from driving and not drinking tea. Anyway – the sites: the most important - Bas Relief carvings on the cliff face. The Parthian Relief of Mithrades II, the Seleucid carving of Hercules (with a new head), and the iconic Persian Darius I carvings and story. The latter is of great historical importance and what I had actually come to Bisotoun to see and there it was in front of me. For those unfamiliar with Persian history Darius was one of the greatest kings of the Empire (google him if you want to) and a bit of a braggart to boot had the story of his victory over the Medes inscribed on the cliff face forever, and there it was in front of me. The one
Kermanshah to AhwazKermanshah to AhwazKermanshah to Ahwaz

On top of one of the smaller passes we had to climb. The views were spectacular - mind you the safety barrier was covered in exhaust soot - took ages to get my hands clean. It was either that or get cleaned up by a truck.
thing I really wanted to see – and I’m pissed off – there was a major scaffolding structure erected in front of the carvings and I couldn’t see the f***ing things. Truthfully I nearly cried. I did swear though.

As well as the Bas Reliefs at the opposite end of the World Heritage area is a beautiful Caravanserai, a partially built Sassanid Palace (with underground storage tunnels), a uncompleted caravanserai (later period to the other one). And I’m still pissed off!!!!! Onward to Kermanshah – booked into the hotel – not a well appointed as the earlier hotels but clean and comfortable. We are in the provinces here.

Tomorrow onto Ahwaz for one night. Lonely Planet says the only reason to go to Ahwaz is to get on an aeroplane at the International Airport there. Look forward to whatever is in store. Now I’m up to dat. Won’t say it again but I’m still……………

Monday (Is It Really Monday?) 30th September

First up Emir took me to one historical site that we didn’t get to yesterday due to our late arrival. It was a pretty site, again Bas Reliefs set into alcoves. The whole
Taq-e BostanTaq-e BostanTaq-e Bostan

Bas-reliefs showing coronation of Khosrow II (top) and his defeat over the Romans (lower).
site could have fitted at one end of a double garage. Size doesn’t matter (at least in this case). The name of the site is Taq-e-Bostan and was of Parthian but was later added to by the Sassanians. The main alcove contains a number of images: a hunting scene where elephants are used during the hunt; coronation of Khosrow II (ruled 590 to 628 AD). Also shown is the image of Khosrow III who defeated the Roman (late Roman/Byzantine) forces under Emperor Julian the Apostate. Khosrow II was described by Lonely Planet (again that stupid book) as Khosrow III’s Roman stomping grandfather. Both kings were noted for their defence against the Romans. After that it was a long haul to Ahwaz (about 550 km).

Along the way we passed through some very rugged, arid mountainous country. The geology is predominantly limestone, with huge mountain ranges formed by the tilting/folding of the limestone deposits by seismic activity. The ranges were interspersed with fertile valleys used for agriculture and pastoralism. The latter is carried out by nomadic herdsmen (and women and kids). Their camps dotted the valleys and in many places their sheep were grazing on the stubble left by farmers.
Kermanshah to AhwazKermanshah to AhwazKermanshah to Ahwaz

One of the many Iraqi tankers on the road. No they're not in convoy. A few miles back the Iranian Traffic Police had about 10 pulled up and were checking their papers. These probably got away together.
A process that has been going on for thousands of years. The nomads themselves (I didn’t see them up close) are more like the Bedouin of the Eastern Mediterranean area than those on the steppes and desert to the north (Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan).

One of the sites I wanted to visit on the way was an old bridge at a place called Pol-e Dokhtar. The site came up suddenly as we rounded a bend. I thought it was off on a side road. No! It was right on the main road. However it is not in use – the mid spans are missing. Rounding the corner and seeing the bridge I went WHOA! WOW! I was not ready for the size of the thing. As I mentioned the middle spans are missing, however some of the piers are still standing. There are also two lying in the river. I could go on for ages about the bridge. Suffice to say we were able to walk up the bridge approaches to the remnants of the deck on the first span. The modern road goes under that span. The view was stunning. No OH&S in those days – no guard rails,
Kermanshah to AhwazKermanshah to AhwazKermanshah to Ahwaz

This little beastie was leaving a ordnance depot and as it was on the open highway - snap. Driver even waved.
no walls, just a flat deck (rock and dirt fill). The approach ramp and a few small spans on the opposite bank were still insitu. Oh! Should have mentioned the bridge dates to the Sassanian period so is roughly 1400 years old. Now you might understand why I was Gob-smacked.

Back in the car and off heading to our next visit site with the day getting on. We passed through a number of small towns and villages. In one town (I think it was called Andimesnk) I saw my first train (or to be precise – railway wagons). There they were about 10 loaded ballast hoppers and a few high sided open wagons (gondolas). Now you all know I’m a train nut who won’t pass up the opportunity to take a picture of things railway – so did I take any? No bloody way! Not in a country that is paranoid about cameras anywhere near a military installation, not with one of the biggest ammunition/explosives storage areas I have ever seen behind the wagons, not with watch towers every 250 metres along the boundary fence, and definitely not with armed diggers in those towers. And in a town that
Zigurat of the Tehoqa ZanbilZigurat of the Tehoqa ZanbilZigurat of the Tehoqa Zanbil

Sun setting behind (more or less) the Zigurat.
was bloodily occupied by the Iraqi’s during the Iran-Iraq War. NO. Call me gutless – but I haven’t finished living, nor do I want to see the inside of an Iranian Jail. No – sanity prevailed in this case.

We arrived in the vicinity of our next stop late in the arvo (17:45) to be told by all and sundry that the place would be closed. Bugger! Emir thought it was worth driving the 25 km and take our chances. Good decision we arrived and they were still open (actually I think it’s always open). The site was the old city of Shush. I came to see the Ziggurat of Tehoqa Zanbil. It really was worth the visit even if we were pressed for time and daylight. An old guy who I think was the night watchman showed us around, even lifting, or dropping the fence wires and taking us into one part to show us some huge door hinges and locking mechanisms.

Overall the site is in good condition. Extensive archaeological investigations have been carried out and some repair/conservation work done. It was interesting: we were shown a section of the original paved footpaths by our guide/watchman.
Zigurat of the Tehoqa ZanbilZigurat of the Tehoqa ZanbilZigurat of the Tehoqa Zanbil

Amazing experience watching the sun set behind the monument and then viewing it under the last glow of day and floodlights.
One of the clay pavers had the footprint of a small child impressed into it. Due to the lateness of the day I got some stunning photos with the setting sun shining on the mud-brick walls. We tarried until about 19:00 (half an hour after the sun disappeared) and again got some great pics with the last glow of daylight and the walls lit up with floodlight. Well worth the experience. And watching the sun set behind (more or less) the structure was truly spectacular.

A late arrival in Ahwaz – then we had difficulty finding the hotel (its name had been changed). Whilst on the topic of finding things, there is one thing that Emir does that annoys me. Now I don’t know if it’s a Persian thing, but, he’s always asking people for directions. Like tomorrow (I’m writing this tomorrow) he pulled up to ask a chap (taxi driver) for directions. Before Emir could say anything the driver pointed down the road and said Shiraz that way. Emir asked how he knew that was the question he was going to ask. Answer – everyday people pull up at that taxi rank to ask the way to Shiraz.
Ahwaz to ShirazAhwaz to ShirazAhwaz to Shiraz

One of several oil wells we passed on the way south. The wells can be spotted well in advance by the tell-tale smudge of black in the sky. Also saw a couple of drilling sites.
Even I knew that was the way to Shiraz. How, there was a bloody sign saying Shiraz this way. Things had improved a bit today as I finally got my road map of Iran out of my bag in the boot (trunk for the US connection). I also noted that Emir has a road atlas of Iran in the boot. Don’t know why he doesn’t use it. As I said must be a Persian thing. Everyone he approaches is friendly and helpful.

Another thing that comes to mind with regard to traveling in Iran. Until today I had not seen a dirty toilet. Today and tomorrow I did. Today’s was absolutely putrid. The other just dirty. I was thinking after the second dunny - both were in locations that lacked a female touch. Both were at 3rd grade Gas Stations (Natural Gas not petrol). Mind you I have seen toilets just as bad back home in Aus. Again in 3rd Grade Petrol Stations or mechanical workshops. Must be a bloke thing.

Since leaving Tehran I noticed road signs showing the distance to Karbala which is in Iraq. Karbala is one of the Shia shrines, I think in the
Bishapur (Bishapur's City)Bishapur (Bishapur's City)Bishapur (Bishapur's City)

No not a train wreck. Mining trollies used during the excavation of the city. Hey they had flanged wheels, ran on rails ........
top four. It is also the place that gets bombed by the Sunnis every year during a Shia religious festival which a lot of Iranian attend. As we were entering Ahwaz there were signs to a camp identified as Karbala Camp. We drove past and it is an old military facility that has been turned into a camping area for people travelling to Karbala. Also on the road as far as Ahwaz were hundreds of fuel trucks. These were bigger and newer than the normal Iranian fuel tankers. I hadn’t noticed until Emir pointed it out – they had Iraqi registration. The vehicles which were heading east (loaded) and west (empty) were transporting fuel to Afghanistan. I asked Emir if it was for the Afghan people of for NATO/US. He chuckled and said civilian use only. He then told me about an event 3 or 4 years ago when the Iranian Government began to get suspicious that the fuel was being used by US and NATO forces.

The Iranians immediately and without notice shut both border crossings: western one between Iran and Iraq and eastern between Iran and Afghanistan. The tankers were and still are, allowed to use only
The Chogan Gorge. The Chogan Gorge. The Chogan Gorge.

Close to Bishapur this relief documents Shapur’s Investiture as king (he is being handed the regalia of office by the God Ahuramazda).
one border crossing on each side of Iran. The effect was that hundreds of tankers were trapped on both sides of the two borders. The Iranian said that they would only open the border crossing if both Iraq and Afghanistan gave solid, confirmable assurances that the fuel was for Afghan civilian use only. Apparently the Americans were spitting chips, but there was little they could do. The borders stayed closed for about 20 days until Iran got the assurances. Apparently in the months after the reopening the monthly tally of tankers had dropped. Hmmm!

Because of the late arrival at Shush we didn’t have time to see a third site: Sassanid (not Sassanian) water wheels. I had a bit of an argument with Emir as he wanted to backtrack in the AM and see them. I eventually put my foot down and said “Inshallar” – I was not meant to see them. He accepted that.

Tuesday 1st October:

Another long driving day today. Down south to Shiraz – the original home of the Shiraz grape. On the way we were to visit the Ruins of Bishapur. More later. The drive again was very interesting –
Shiraz - The Citadel of Karim KhanShiraz - The Citadel of Karim KhanShiraz - The Citadel of Karim Khan

The leaning tower of Shiraz. Note the repaired tear in the wall just to the right of the tower - the bath house is in this section of the Citadel.
most of the morning we were travelling through the area of Iran where a lot of their oil wells are located. You couldn’t miss the wells – the first hint one was there was a greasy black smudge in the sky, next the flare where the gas was being burned off from the well head. Also saw at least three drilling rigs working away and numerous oil pipes crisscrossing the landscape.

We arrived at Bishapur with a couple of hours to spare. Walked around the site – again quiet spectacular, especially the main temple complex. Bishapur – Shapur’s City (Shapur 1) . The place was built by Roman Prisoners of War captured after their defeat in 260 AD – Valerian the then Roman Emperor died in captivity in the city. As with other places there has been some restoration carried out, however much is just ruins with the debris removed. The main structures were the ruins of the Palace and Anahita’s Temple (Zoroastrian). There was a stairway that led about 6 metres down to what was once an underground pool. In reality a “wading pool”. There are four doorways leading off which go into four enclosed and connected passageways.

Inside the Hamman that has been turned into a museum. The use of wax figures to illustrate the activities that would have taken place is excellent. Mind you missing is the damp, the steam and the noise.
There were other area within the complex that time did not allow us to visit. They were further afield. One place that we did visit was the museum on the site: small but well laid out (and new).

Whilst on the site I actually photographed a train, well three wagons one of which was derailed. They were mining skips that had been used to move dirt and rubble around the place during excavations. There are some of the tracks still insitu as well. Hey they ran on rails, had flanged wheels, and the tracks were there so they qualify as a railway.

Across the road was a set of three Bas Relief carvings on the cliff face – the Chogan Gorge. The reliefs document historical moments such as Shapur’s Investiture as king (he is being handed the regalia of office by the God Ahuramazda) as well as his victories over the Roman invaders. The reliefs have a deep groove running through them about half a metre from the bottom of the panels. The groove was caused by a powerful flood in 1960. One place I would liked to have visited was the Tang-e Chogan – about 7 km from the City. The place consists of a 7 metre high statue of Shapur I and is located in a gorge. According to the people at the office at Bishapur there is about a seven hour climb to get to the statue. We worked out that by the time we got there it would be nearly dark, probably dark in the gorge. Inshallar.

A very late arrival in Shiraz (according to Emir there isn’t a drop to be had), sort of getting onto 21:00. Lucky tomorrow is a day in Shiraz and we spend another night here. So not an early start tomorrow. Oh yeah! At Bishapur we bumped into a mature age couple who were obviously European – Netherlands. They are sort of doing the same tour as they were in the same hotel in Ahwaz last night.

Over the last 2 or 3 days we have done a lot of driving, but have seen some amazing scenery and spectacular sites. After Bishapur we had to climb a pass to get to the plateau on which Shiraz is located. What a drive – the road climbed up an immense gorge winding back and forth. Nearly saw a head on accident. A Traffic Police Car was racing uphill on the wrong side of the road with its blue lights flashing. Approaching a blind corner he nearly had a head-on with a car coming the other way – another Traffic Police Car with blue lights flashing. Must have been shift change time. In some parts of the climb we were down to a crawl (loaded truck had the lead). Mind you in such a dangerous setting Iranian driving habits don’t change. The trip in daylight would have been amazing: the scenery. I got some idea of it in the half light and dark. The view back down the road of a stream of lights snaking their way up and down the mountain showed the extent of the engineering required to build the road.

Wednesday 2nd October:

I think I’ve got the road crossing bit sorted now. Driving in last night I noticed people crossing the road sort of stared at the driver with a “dare you to hit me” look. Tried it today – I wasn’t hit, so until proved otherwise, the system works. For those who have travelled in Asia and the Middle East will find the driving habits of the Iranians unsurprising. They have that “Allah will protect me” sort of bravado. You get used to it.

One thing I have been meaning to talk about is the general cleanliness of Iran. In a few places, notably Ahwaz and surrounds there was a lot of rubbish lying around (and the two dirty toilets). Emir pointed out that the province that Ahwaz is in, Khizestan, is a predominantly Arab population. When he mentioned it I realized that was something that I noted – a different people. Khizestan’s western border is the Iraqi Border. If you look at a map it is in the lowland areas east of Basra in Iraq. Historically the province probably had more affinity to the Arab world than the Persian. Getting back to the point: I have found that the Iranians are a very clean people and their hygiene practices are similar to Australia. In their Bazaars and shopping areas, butcher shops display their meat more or less the same as other Asian Middle Eastern Areas. The difference is that the meat on display out the front is in a glass enclosed fridge unit. The only meat I saw not in such a fridge was in Khizestan Province. I was thinking today, since I arrived in Iran I haven’t had a dose of the trots – not like in Uzbekistan and China. I must admit that Kyrgyzstan is more Europeanized than their surrounding neighbours. Again (except for the dunnies) generally things were cleaner and better presented.

OK, so what did I get up to today? A shit load of walking. Emir met me at 09:00 (I could have done the touring myself without my minder) and we set off, again with a slightly modified itinerary. The focus of the day was on the area around the Bazar e-Nakil (more or less the central bazaar). Most of the historical sites are either located within or around the bazaar. First port of call was the Arg-e Karim Khan (Karim Khan Citadel). Karim Khan was the last king of his dynasty being replaced upon his death by the Qajar Dynasty. After the Qajar’s took over they exhumed Karim Khan’s remains and took them to Tehran and reburied them under a pavilion in Golestan Palace. His grave was in an area commonly used as a passage/meeting place by the Qajar’s. It was an insult to his memory. As with the Golestan Palace which it resembles in some ways, the Citadel has mirror walled/ceilinged rooms. It was the “palace” of Karim Khan, and as such is probably misnamed as a Citadel. A citadels generally a fortified area within a city, not a palace. Of note is one of the corner towers has a decided lean like the leaning tower of Pisa. When looked at from a particular direction it is possible to see where the adjoining wall has been pulled apart and repaired. The wall suddenly dips in that corner. The cause of the lean is due to the location of the Arg Hamman (bath house), which is near the section/corner where the list developed. What happened was that water overflow from the baths soaked into the ground softening the foundations under the tower. One day it apparently gave.

After the Citadel we walked through the bazaar for about an hour (I bought another silly hat) and then went to the Masjed-e Vakil (Vakil Mosque). Quiet a pleasant building, however repairs are going on with restoration work being carried out on the courtyard paving. The mosque area is open on one side. It is shady and cool in the porticoes – this is what would be termed in Central Asia a Summer Mosque. After that it was a Hamman – Hamman-e Vakil, which is no longer operating and has been turned into a museum. Emir said that there are no longer any public hammans in Iran. The museum is well done: numerous wax figures (full size) have been used to illustrate what happened in such a place: meetings in the entry hall, dentistry, smoking water pipe etc. The next section is the bath house itself. Again wax figures illustrate the workings. According to Emir again this particular Hamman stopped working 10 years ago. Its schedule at that time was 06:00 to 12:00 women only; 12:00 to 24:00 men only.

Onwards we went more of the Bazaar finishing the morning with a visit to Nasir-ol-Molk Mosque. We arrived when prayers were being conducted (about 10 people present, mostly elderly). The Imam was a young guy. We loitered in the colonnades waiting for prayers to finish and then went inside. It was a simple place and had chairs with the clay tablets (Shias place their head on a bit of dirt during prayers) on stools of wooden stands. This is for the elderly parishioners who can’t get up and down easily.

Back into the bazaar to a restaurant that Emir knew. Great meal, again one suggested by Emir. It was a soup/stew – 2 dishes in one. The meal came in a small earthenware jar, accompanying the jar was a metal bowl, a spoon, and what looked like part of a piston. Now the meal, can’t remember the name – will check with Emir is in two parts. The soup and the stew. The soup is poured into the bowl, the stew (lamb, potato, tomato, beans, etc) remains in the jar. The piston like object is to mash up the stew if desired. I did – the two dishes are then ate separately but at the same time. The soup was strongly tomato, but thin and very tasty. The stew tasty and spicy (the spiciest food I have had in Iran). Delicious. Thank god Emir suggested a meal that didn’t have a ton of rice with it. Mind you both the starter (yoghurt with cucumber and dill) came with bread as well (a different sort of bread). Iranians eat a load of carbs – bread and rice just about with every meal. Oh for some steamed vegies. Mind you if someone put a cold pint of beer (any beer) in front of me I’d murder it.

In the afternoon we drove to a couple of places – mentioned in the Lonely Planet – on the edge of town. The Quran Gate and the Allah Akbar lookout. The gate is relatively new and is located right on the edge of the city where the road enters the gorge. OK how come it’s called Allah Akbar – well apparently Iranians use the term more of less like we do Jesus Christ when surprised. When people coming down from the surrounding mountains after many days in the desert they came out of the gorge and saw this very green and pretty town – Shiraz. On seeing the town they would say in surprise – Allah Akbar. So the story goes. On the way back into town we went looking for another bridge. Eventually found it (under a newer bridge). Still used – it’s called The Esfahan Gate Bridge. Only time for a quick stop in a convenient layby – we were on a very busy road.

As an afterthought Emir suggested we visit the Aramgah-e Shah-e Cheragh. Another mausoleum, but hey what a mausoleum. Shah Cheragh was the brother of the 8th (I think) Shia Imam. He died and was buried in Shiraz. The interior of the mausoleum resembles the Golestan Palace: however it is huge, has a library attached, and is a major mosque. There was a courtyard about 150 x 75 metres. There were a fair number of people sitting around talking, eating etc. Technically non-Muslims were not allowed in the Shrine main buildings. Emir said if I didn’t say anything everyone would think I was an Iranian. Yeah and I’m Mickey Mouse. Everyone who saw me knew I was non-Muslim but didn’t seem to mind. I entered the men’s section, visited the tomb (and left a donation) and walked around the room which was divided in half by a curtain (men and women’s sides). I was a little self-conscious about being in there but it was interesting. People were praying, sitting along the walls reading, lying down chilling, or just sitting there. Emir said we could sit for a while but I declined I didn’t want to interrupt people. No photographs allowed – and to reinforce the rule everyone entering was frisked – I had to leave my camera at a “Repository”. If only I had my mobile phone (cell phone Terry and Lee). Locals were using them to take pics. A stunning place and well worth the visit.

Quiet night. These large lunches we have in the middle of the afternoon keep me going. I tend to have breaky and then a late lunch, no dinner. Suits me. However due to the lack of beer I am now doing something I haven’t done for years – sitting here typing and sucking on a can of Coca Cola – mind you it tastes the same the world over. However, its wet, cold and fizzy.

Tomorrow we have an early start – another long drive to Yazd Emir’s home town. On the way we have a few stops to make: Persepolis, Nagsh-e Rostum and Nagsh-e Rajab, and Pasargadae. Pasargadae is the oldest and was commenced by Cyrus the Great – the Founder of The Persian Empire, Persepolis was chosen by Cambyses II but work only started under Darius I. The other two places are close by Persepolis and the first is a group of four royal tombs and the second Rajab is another Sassanian Bas-relief site across the road from the tombs. If time permits I’m also slotted to visit a Caravanserai at Zeinodin about 50 km from Yazd.


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