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Published: November 5th 2007
Saffron is one of the specialties in Mashad.
Crossed the border from Turkmenistan to Iran on the 15th October. A much easier undertaking compared to the previous one, except now the ladies had to cover their hair with scarves and wear long shirts/coats. First stop was Mashad where the ladies in the group hit the shops to purchase long robes or manteaus (knee-length coats) and head scarves. Considering that the only form of self-expression fashion-wise is the different coloured head scarves you wear, one could easily develop a bit of a scarf fetish in Iran.
The main attraction in Mashad is the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza (the 8th Shiite Imam and a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed), which is the holiest pilgrimage site in Iran. There was a lot of construction activity as they are spending millions to build the Shiite equivalent of Mecca. As non-Muslim foreigners we were only able to access the main courtyards and Main Museum (with some strange exhibits like musicians made of mussel shells). No bags or cameras are allowed inside; but they will let you bring in mobile phones with inbuilt cameras. The ladies had to wear a "chador", which is essentially a large sheet with an elastic band at
the head that you have to hold together with your hands. Quite hot and uncomfortable. We were stopped a number of times by the fashion police (chador patrol) as they kept on slipping.
Afterwards we visited Tus (the birthplace of Firdowsi - the famous medieval Iranian poet); plus Omar Khayyam's private garden (renowned historian, astronomer, mathematician and poet).
Then it was onto Shiraz. Major highlight was the magnificent Achaemenian palace complex of Persepolis, which was commenced around 518 BC by Darius I. Conceived to be the seat of government for the Achaemenian kings and a center for receptions and ceremonial festivities, the wealth of the Persian empire was evident in all aspects of its construction. However the palaces were looted and burned by Alexander the Great in 331-330 BC.
Alcohol is strictly forbidden in Iran. You can only get this revolting malt-based non-alcoholic "beer" drink, which is slightly improved by adding lime juice and salt. Card and dice games (like backgammon) are also outlawed; but chess is okay. You'd still see people flouting the laws by playing cards in tea-houses.
Yankee products are also banned. But since there are no copyright laws in Iran, there's no
stopping them ripping off the KFC brand. Didn't see any Macca's though - obviously considered too American. The great irony is that they still bottle Coca-Cola under license, and the manufacturing plant is owned by the mullahs from the Mashad Holy Shrine!!! Plus the almighty greenback is king - don't even consider bringing any other currency to exchange.
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