A Travellerspoint blog

May 2007

Yazd (یزد) II

Towers of Silence and Alexander's Prison

sunny 35 °C

To round off our stay in Yazd, we visited the ominously-named Towers of Silence in the desert suburbs of the city itself. These two wide stone towers were built on two opposing hills between which there were ruins of a small Zoroastrian settlement. Having been advised that this place was about as silent as a motocross dirt-track could get we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves completely alone. Ever since the dawn of Zoroastrianism (or rather Mazdaism - c. 1500 BC) and up until the 1960s, the dead were placed in the towers for the vultures to pick their bones clean. Supposedly burying pollutes the earth and cremation the atmosphere and so this curious method was chosen. A priest would stand by the body until the eyes were picked out - if the right eye was first eaten by the vultures omens were good, if the left was picked first eternal torment would await the soul...

Alexander's Prison, despite the mysterious name, is in fact a simple well in a simple well which might or might not have been used by Alexander the Great as a dungeon for his enemies. Anyway, the name keeps bringing the tourists...Souvenir-wise I bought some Iranian music as well as a mourning flag dedicated to one of the Emams - the mourning of long-dead religious figures is big business here in Iran. In the evening we treated ourselves to some delicious Fesenjun, a dish consisting of meatballs in a pomegranate and walnut sauce - and a welcome change from the usual Iranian 'pizza'.

The morning after we boarded the bus to Khur, deep in the Dasht-e-Kavir salt desert...

Posted by ameurice 04:27 Archived in Iran Tagged backpacking

Yazd (يزد)

The Burning Heart of Zoroastrianism

We made our escape to Yazd by a long and boring bus ride through the desert (one of them, and our first of many), to the aincient town of Yazd. The signs say it has "the oldest old city" that people still live in, and it is the heartland of Iranian Zoroastrianism, with about 7000 worshippers of Ahuramazda (Coolest name for a god).

We're now staying in the heart of the old city, in a converted traditional family home. There's a nice courtyard and everything. But of course, we're in the basement-dormitory. This place is really expensive. In Iran, most tourist things are expensive.

Wandering around the old city is really nice, and the mud-brick buildings are punctuated by Bagdirs, which are basically large squat towers filled with shelves and holes. It's an old Iranian thing, which acts as basic air conditioning by creating a breeze inside, which is necessary, because this place gets pretty hot. Wandering around you can always orientate the labyrinthine streets by the minarets of the Mosques dotted around the place. As usual the mosques are big, blue and have nice tiles.

One of the big tourist draws of Yazd is the still functioning fire-temple, complete with an eternal flame which has been burning since long before Islam even started (470 AD apparently). Its a small building, and packed full of tourists, and it didn't really seem very genuine. The bookshop sold some of the most boring books ever. I bought "an introduction to Zarathusta" published in 1980 by some Indian guy (they don't sell well). Almost fell asleep reading it.

Having seen the sites of the city, we decided to go out of town to visit a deserted desert village. Unfortunatley, it's so deserted no one ever goes there, so there were no buses, and a taxi would have cost a fortune, se we decided to go to Chak Chak, a Zoroastrian pilgrimmage site. After a minibus and a taxi ride through huge, barren, unromantic desert (it's flat and grey) we reached some small mountains, and nestled in them were some modern looking buildings.

The compound of Chak Chak is a large set of empty buildings and open spaces, which are needed to house the pilgrims that come during the pilgrimage season (apparently they have one). We eventually reached the inner sanctum, and were at first turned away by the old caretaker because there was a genuine Zoroastrain service going on. After some waiting, we want through the bronze doors bearing the likeness of Zoroaster, into a small room with a marble floor. I say room, but it was more like a cliff-face surrounded by a semicircular wall. In the middle there was a burning brazier (but the fire had gone out...) and out of the cliff was dripping holy water.

According to legend when the Arabs invaded, some Zoroastrians hid here, and had no water. The local princess threw her staff against the cliff, and water started to drip out (Chak Chak means "drip drip"). This water is holy, and the pilgrims collect it in empty coke bottles and buckets...

It seemed that there were only about 6 people in the service (I didn't know what they actually did though, we weren't allowed to look). Of the 6 people, 4 were Indians (we helped them with their retro-camera). I have no idea how they communicated though. Oh yeah, we also had to wear funny white hats, that made me look like a chinese takeaway chef.

From all the people we have met, it seems that most learn English from bad American films. A student studying English here at Yazd says that they went through Dumb and Dumber in class, and a restaurant owner learnt by copying Chris Tucker. He could quote most of Rush Hour, unfortunatley, it was incomprehensible. He's not really black enough.

Thats it so far. Soon we'll be heading into the desert, the first of 4 on the trip. (Dasht-e Kavir, Karakum, Kyzyl Kum and the Taklamakan). It's going to be hot.

Posted by Nomadics 11:36 Archived in Iran Tagged backpacking

Shiraz (شیراز)

City of Poetry, Nightingales and Wine

sunny 30 °C

Immediate impressions of Shiraz were of an extremely laid-back provincial city with a pleasant climate (about 30C and very dry). The city was home to many of the greatest Persian poets and consequently attracts thousands to the tombs of both Hafez and Sa'adi. It is difficult to underestimate the importance that poetry plays in Iranian life - a saying goes that every Iranian household should contain first the Qoran and second Hafez's Divan (and many would even place Hafez over the Qoran!) Hafez's tomb was in a calm garden, of which there are many in Shiraz. To illustrate how deeply poetry is ingrained into every Iranian, we met two young conscript soldiers at the tomb who had chosen to spend their day off here, and as we talked with them in the park they compared Hafez to Goethe (unfortunately their English was not great and our Farsi is worse so we didn't really understand what the point was)! It was also in this park that a girl who had been staring at us for half an hour gathered the courage to ask us for our autograph - do we look famous? Having bought a collection of Hafez's work it turned out that Goethe had been heavily influenced by Hafez himself, having written poems addressed to him and even called him his 'twin'.

The Shiraz bazaar is the nicest I have yet seen in Iran, mainly due to its almost comatose approach to buying and selling. The lunch break is about four hours long (11am-15pm) and even during business hours time seems slower inside the bazaar. Unfortunately most of the souvenirs on sale are made in China...it seems that all the handmade prize pieces were in Esfahan (and well out of our budget). Besides the bazaar we managed to walk into a holy shrine (in theory closed to all non-Muslims) which was a splendid sight. Inside what looks like an ordinary mosque, the walls, vaults and arches are covered in thousands of tiny pieces of glass arranged in patterns, reflecting green and red from hidden neon lights. Everything was arranged so as to awe a believer in the presence of God and whichever Imam the shrine is dedicated to. A nearby medressah (Qoranic school) also offered some great views from its roof.

Persepolis - capital of the Achaemenid Empire - was our main reason to visit Shiraz, and so we decided not to take a tour but to get there via public transport for a hundredth of the cost. The site itself was somewhat disappointing in both size and condition and was busy with (mostly Iranian) tourists. It was almost possible, however, to imagine its previous grandeur before Alexander the Great burned the city to the ground... Nearby there were some huge tombs of the various Achaemenid emperors (Darius, Xerxes etc.) cut into the cliff face and surrounded by Zoroastrian symbols which largely made up for the underwhelming Persepolis.

Back in Shiraz, we bumped into exactly the same tourists we had seen in Teheran and Esfahan (there are few tourists in Iran!) including a Polish tour guide with long, blond dreadlocks who stood out just a little bit from the crowd...That evening while walking past the hotel, we witnessed the darker side of Iran: a vicious fight involving people beating each other with sticks turned bloody when a couple of huge knives appeared and someone was stabbed in the face - we didn't stick around to see what happened next. We did, however, notice a mullah (Islamic cleric) and some soldiers walk past as if nothing had happened.

It was also in Shiraz that we met a man called Reza who at first seemed interesting (and normal). He had a Bachelor's degree in English and had family in many places in the world. But when he showed us his pills - "for my nervous problem" - and told us that he was invincible because of the mini-Qoran around his neck (it's true because his mother had told him) we started to back out of the conversation. Nevertheless he followed us to the hotel and after giving us his phone number begged us to call him back later in the week so that we could talk again. Even though we had said goodbye, he followed us into the reception and repeated "Do not forget!" with his eyes wide open and finger pointing - he must have repeated it ten times.

We never called back, but are now safely in Yazd and out of his reach...We hope.

Posted by ameurice 10:41 Archived in Iran Tagged backpacking

Esfahan (اصفهان)

The "Jewel" of Iran

We spent a few days seeing the sights of Esfahan, which were pretty numerous. There was, of course, the Imam square (the locals say its the second biggest square in the world, but its acutally the seventh biggest) and the two amazingly beautiful mosques it contains, the Jameh and Imam mosques. The moonlit picture Alex put up was the front of the Imam Mosque.

They were pretty amazing, the Imam mosque in particular, which was a complex of intricately tiled buildings around a central counrtyard. The main prayer hall, under it's double-decker onion dome, which was built for perfect acoustics so the prayer leader could be heard by everyone in the mosque. Some carpet salesman showed us around showing the stone that was told the faithful whether it was midday, and the mosque's well. (A high-school litrature teacher showed us around another (very similar) mosque).

We also strolled down to the river, which had some apparently old bridges that were glued together with egg white, accoding to a rag salesman (after chatting about mobile phones). The bridges looked brand new though, and we didn't manage to see the bridge that was some say is over 3000 year old.

Just accross the river we tried to find Jolfa, the Armenian quarter of Esfahan. All we found was one random Armenian inscription, a really good and expensive coffee cafe (decent coffee is very, very rare), and some "churches" that looke like mosques with a cheap cross stuck on the dome.

On the last day, we saw some Shah's palace (very small), and some "shaking minarets" (didn't shake very much, although for a small fee, the shaker man let us try to shake them too), and an aincient Zoroastrian fire temple (mostly rubble, but still pretty cool).

Other than the sights, we managed to amuse ourselver by walking around the bazaar, chilling in teahouses, drinking juice as well as trying to avoid the creepy cleaner of our hotel.

After all that, we got on a bus to Shiraz, which was long and unremarkable. Apart from that we saw one of the dirtiest toilets in the world at a service station. Nice.

Posted by Nomadics 20:37 Archived in Iran Tagged backpacking

Ishan Pasha Palace

This was in Turkey, near Dogubayazit

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Posted by ameurice 11:16 Archived in Turkey Tagged photography

Esfahan

A couple of pictures

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Posted by ameurice 11:03 Archived in Iran Tagged photography

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