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Published: August 6th 2010
After leaving Hamid and his brother in Dezful
I got in a taxi which then took me to a shuttle taxi stop. Not really a stop but where 5 cars were parked underneath a tree on a siding beside the road. My intention was to get to Khorramabad
which had a famous fort above the city. Fortunately Hamid had relayed my destination and instructions to the taxi driver who then relayed them to a shuttle driver. Amusing the local drivers somebody dumped my bad into the boot of a care and told me to sit in the back. I got the poor seat option again and was put in second next to young guy with a bandage around his head. A third man got in front and then the fourth got in next to me. We were soon off but the guy to my right was bugging me; wearing a clean cut shirt and brief case, he seemed to be a ‘business type’ and proceeded to talk loudly into his mobile phone. I set him straight pretty quickly that I didn’t appreciate him in effect shouting in my fucking ear. Slightly shocked by my outburst he toned it down and was
soon off the phone entirely. Cultural ‘sensitivity’ does not interest me in these situations - annoying and obnoxious is universal.
The mountain road was scenic and winding with beautiful mountains on either side of us. Despite the strong sun, the inexplicable occasional closure of windows which caused us in the back to sweat, the scenery was surprisingly yellow and green and very worthwhile
After about 3 hours I finally arrived in Khorramabad and was dropped off at a bus station on a busy road. I then caught a taxi to a Mehmanpazir Iran guesthouse, except the taxi driver despite repeating my words and my telling him the address still took me to the first hotel he came to. It’s at times like this that you really want to shout, “Listen to what I’m saying, man!” Anyway, we finally spotted the place further along and he overcharged me for what was a very very short ride.
The only problem staying in these ‘simple hotels’ is that you have to register yourself at the local police station. After arguing about the price of the room and the fact that I had to pay for a shower, that was locked! I
dumped my bags in the three single bed room went downstairs to get myself to the police station. Luckily, a shopkeeper next to the hotel spoke some English and after explaining my problem said something nasty about the president and then offered to take me in his van. I gratefully jumped in and drove for a good fifteen minutes to a police station that was listed in the Lonely Planet. However, we were directed to go elsewhere so there was another twenty minutes stuck in the rush-hour traffic of Khorramabad. But we finally found it and the soldiers guarding the gated and high walled police station I waited in a small room with a bearded man in a green shirt sat behind a desk opposite me. The Major (pain) examined my passport, asked me if I was English (no, a fucking Greenlander) then wrote my name in a ledger book and we then left - I was mute through the whole ridiculous and cumbersome process.
Thirty minutes more stuck in traffic and winding around the streets only to find they were closed off. The shopowner could speak pretty good English so we talked about Iran and politics, he wasn’t
very complimentary of how the country and the economy was being run - and he should know.
In the late afternoon light I walked around the city to the big thing up on a hill - the Falak-ol-Aflak
or “Heaven of Heavens” - an eight-towered castle which was built in the 12th Century for local warlords the Atabegs. The views from the top and at that time of the day were great - a real highlight of Iran - as I overlooked the city which lay between a long wide gorge. Of course, someone came up to me and asked me in English where I was from and how I enjoyed Iran. This turned out to be a rotund Tehrani in the city for the first time on business (contracted by the government to create training programmes for human resources - yeh there are training bullshitters here too).
Anyway we got talking and he seemed very chatty and we went to get some ice cream somewhere, the most bizarre ice cream parlour I’ve ever been to. It was as the Lonely Planet guide described: ‘a sauna-room tucked behind a party supply shop.’
We had a ridiculously ornate sundae
and a ‘real espresso’ or real bad instant sachet coffee with awful synthetic ‘milk’ on top. Amir was a jolly fellow, always smiling and although not overly political, wanted the government and the whole regime to change in Iran. He also had written a book about investing in the stock exchange as well as translating English books on the subject into Farsi. I keep running into very talented Iranians!
It was night by this time and as usual Iranians can’t help by being hospitable. A good friend of Amir came along and upon hearing about my going onwards to Kermanshah the following day offered to help me book a ticket because his family were involved with the local bus company. So, we are invited into his house, where tea is made, the women freshly cover up with headscarves and our lives are discussed. We weren’t that far apart really; it just so happened that this man’s nephew was studying in England at an unremembered city. In the living room with us was his daughter who was watching a Hollywood movie that was subtitled into Farsi - and it was loud. He bemoaned how his kids preferred this stuff than
books- he loved books and in particular history. However, I wondered what the history books were like in Iran, I didn’t think they would be very good - probably quite dry and not fair handed.
Dinner was proposed, the kids and women were told to scarper but I was knackered after travelling all day long. I needed a shower and a rest - I could use the shower I was told - food had already been ordered! Well, nobody told me!? I was grateful and I would love to feast - just the three of us chatting - Amir interpreting - free delicious food anyone? But, this kind man finally gave in and they drove me back, all the time he pointed out old buildings and a classically old library that was now disused. The imagination wandered...in the car outside the hotel alcohol was joked about - that vodka and gin could be easily obtained - would I like some? Offers and I was very sad to turn them down because it could have been a very fun night. I realised that when I’m tired I am able to refuse all earthly pleasures - I was not happy.
The next day, Amir picked me up from my hotel and we ran around town looking for w Chris deBurgh was put in the CD player - he’s very popular here in Iran mainly because of a collaboration he did with a Persian group. Amir with pure excitement in his eyes declared, ‘Yes, I love Chris deBurgh! Do you?” I’m not sure on that one Amir. He then made a few phonecalls and got his sister-in-law on the phone - she was in New Orleans with her Iranian husband. She seemed amazed that I was in Khorramabad let alone Iran.
We finally found a restaurant that had been recommended to Amir. It was perfectly nice, but I was getting bored of kebab and rice. The salad didn’t really add anything different either. The meal was enlivened by a beardy old bloke who came to chat to me who to all intents and purposes was a king size bed frame with a Persian rug on it. He asked the usual and then asked about why my country hated Iran? Uh, oh. I was wondering when I’d meet the ‘other’ side of Iran - the religious, fundamentalist, right-wing lot who like
the mullahs and being in a good old fashioned theocracy. Poor old Amir, he had to interpret for us as we went back and forth on issues. On no account was I going to apologize for trying to prevent Iran’s government from obtaining nuclear weapons, nor was I apologizing for the sanctions. It was interesting how he made the point that sharia law and making women wear the veil was about ‘differing cultures’ - I didn’t think it was - I thought it was about personal freedom and that I knew many people who hated the oppression of this religious state. Iraq and Afghanistan was brought up - again something I was not going to apologize for, indeed he seemed to admire the Taliban, so I asked him (through the professional Amir) if he approved of banning girls going to schools, stoning to death and blowing up historic monuments for being ‘false idols’. I said the Taliban were a bunch of barbarians and that they were a common enemy to all humanity. Amir did a good job and probably soothed my hostile words but it was quite clear that this large ex-Major in the Army was ‘Sepah’ - or the
Revolutionary Guards - the enthusiastic defenders of the Islamic Revolution. Powerful and hardline in Iran, business-wise too, they are thugs and oppressors of democratic protesters and are much loathed as well as feared in Iran. As we shook hands (well, more like his giant hand crushing mine) the restaurant manager came up to us and complained about this man. How he didn’t like him in his restaurant because he was ‘Sepah’ and talked dangerous and rubbish things. Amir concurred that he was a dangerous man. But, it was good to meet the other side of Iran, I was beginning to think that everyone was anti-regime and anti-Ahmedinijad.
Amir paid for lunch and refused any kind of payment, he then drove me to a shuttle taxi rank where he arranged a shared taxi north to Kermanshah. He made sure that I was not overcharged or ripped off and then topped it all off by insisting on paying for the fare. Don’t let anyone tell you that Iranians are tight. We exchanged details and then I was off, grateful for the random meeting in the ‘Heaven of Heavens’.
My destination was the city of Kermanshah and the shuttle taxi
drove north through deepest Lorestan - an ancient people called Lori who speak a dialect of Old Persian and were responsible for famous artistic bronzes sculpture around 1800 BC. Again, the scenery was beautiful and mountainous - after a couple of hours I had to change to change taxi at a small town. AtNurabad
there were lots of men standing around parked up shuttle taxis - drivers and the bored, waiting for that fourth passenger or a random Englishman; Thick black moustaches, curiously deep looks into my eyes and lots of questions - they goosed about like teenage boys rather than grown men. One man motioned for me to look after my bag within this melee as I waited for the taxi to go. But I let them play with my passport - to prove that I was indeed ‘Engelees’ - occasionally having to prize it back from a dodgy-looking bloke and assassin’s eyes.
I was soon off again and after a couple more hours of scenery I reached Kermanshah - a city of 765,000 people. But my stop would be brief as I was here for Taq-e-Bostan
- a towering cliff inscribed with Sassanian bas-reliefs of varying kinds. The coronation
of Khosrow II (AD 590-628), Shapur II and Shapur III, and Shah Adashir II (AD 379-383) putting his foot on the defeated Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate. Extraordinary is one word to describe the ancient reliefs. Whilst there a bloke came up to me...this blogging about Iran should have the subtitle of ‘and a bloke came up to me...’ as it happens so often. Anyway, he spoke English with a slight Scottish accent because he had spent five years in Glasgow doing his PhD in genetics at the university there. He was on a holiday with his (younger and very pretty) wife and kids. So we chatted a while - he’d studied in Toronto and I in Montreal and he was now a professor of genetics at a university in Tabriz whereas I was just bumming around the Middle East.
I was soon off again - I caught another taxi to the site of Bisotun - another site of bas-relief carvings dating from 521 BC. They’d just received UNESCO recognition in 2006 so I thought they would be worthwhile seeing. So with my full backpack on I trekked up to the reliefs. The cliffs and the mountains surrounding the
valley were beautiful but the first relief was hard to see - Persian king Darius receiving chained supplicants. A British officer in 1835 spent months dangling off the cliff making papier-mâché casts of the texts which accompany the relief. It was these that allowed the cuneiform scripts of three ‘lost’ languages - Elamite, Akkadian and Old Persian - to be deciphered - a ‘thrilling’ major breakthrough. I used the zoom on my camera to get a shot of the relief - and what a relief.
I walked back down the side of the mountain and negotiated another taxi onwards to the city of Hamadan. The driver was reluctant to take me as a requested ‘nah dar baste’ - ‘not closed door’ - because there wasn’t anybody else to share the taxi with. He wanted to take me to Hamadan as a private passenger but that was too much money for my liking. After milling about and fending off questions about England’s demise at the hands of Germany in the World Cup, the driver decided to take me halfway to Kangavar. In the car we communicated in his basic English and my even more basic Farsi - but to my
surprise he showed frustration with his lack of English - he kept shaking his head and mumbling to himself. He was a good guy and despite the communication difficulties we talked about his blue eyes and fair skin, women - his wife was ugly he said - ha! That the economy was bad - that he liked a drink and wanted me to speak to his friend who spoke English. So he passed over the phone and this bloke didn’t speak any better English than him so I passed it back. It was a pretty humorous ride - and this bloke liked to laugh. We then stopped at Kangavar - halfway to Hamadan and he got me another taxi - he had enjoyed my company so much that he refused payment but I insisted and we were soon shaking hands with each other and smiling gratuitously. Hamadan was shouted and the next driver dumped my bag into the back of his car and I got into the front, with two women and a man sat in the backseats. As we drove through the night over the next couple of hours, biographical details were once again exchanged as well as lots
of fruit, dried fruit, nuts and even tea from the elderly mother and daughter at the back. I was soon in Hamadan and yet another taxi, this time my driver making sure what the price was for me and soon enough I was in another hotel...
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