23.10.2010 - 06.11.2010 26 °C
Silk Road hostel
Arriving in the hostel in Yazd was a pleasant reunion with many travelers we met before in Iran. And of course we also met some 'new' travelers. Among them Jane and Letitia, both living in Tehran and on a trip to discover the country they live in. The hostel was great, easy to meet people in the wonderful courtyard and they served nice food as well. And the name of the hostel, Silk Road hostel, remembered me I was traveling the Silk Road. For the first time something remembered me of that, because in fact in Iran they don't market the fact that they are on the former Silk Road. In the Bazaars they don't even sell silk :s
4 types of towers
Yazd is a real dessert town. Flanked by Iran's two great desserts, it has been an important caravan stop for centuries. The old town is a maze of mudbrick houses and winding streets. The streets are narrow and flanked by high walls, providing the necessary shadow in the heat of the summer.
We decided to go on an excursion to some surrounding sites. Some ruins of mudbrick castles and villages gave us an idea of dessert life. But we also went to Chak Chak, Iran's most important Zoroastrian pilgrimage site. Zoroastrianism is considered the first monotheistic religion and is relatively well represented in Iran. The four elements; Earth, Air, Fire and Water play an important role in Zoroastrianism. The site itself is not much more then a cave turned into a temple where some water is slowly dripping into two buckets (Chak Chak means 'drip drip').
On the excursion we also learned that in Yazd and it's surrounding one can find four types of towers; 1) guard tower (no explanation needed). 2) Pigeon tower (a tower that is ideal housing for thousands of pigeons. They kept pigeons for the meat, but especially for their guano (shit) to fertilise the land) 3) wind tower (a tower designed to catch the wind and create ventilation in the underlaying building. An intelligent ancient air conditioning system, highly appreciated in hot summers. The rich cooled their houses this way, but it was for example also used on the water reservoirs to keep the water fresh) 4) tower of silence (according to Zoroastrianism it is not allowed to bury a dead body (polluting the earth) nor to burn it (polluting the air). Therefore they have the tower of silence, open towers where they put the dead bodies until the birds cleaned the bones)
I saw the first three towers mentioned, for the fourth one I had to do another excursion, so I skipped that one.
The morning after it was time to say goodbye to Henk, after traveling together for about twoandahalf weeks. Henk got a ride to Shiraz from where he would continue to Dubai, India, Nepal and further.
That evening I took the nighttrain to Kerman and directly continued by bus to Bam. But before I left I arranged with James and Simon (two Australian solo travelers) to meet again in Kerman one day later to share an excursion to the Kaluts.
In the bus to Bam I was happy when my neighbour left, so I could stretch my legs a bit. But that comfort lasted only for a few seconds. A young Iranian guy decided to switch seats to sit next to me. Bummer, was my first thought. But he appeared a nice guy, speaking decent English and born and raised in Bam. When he heared I was only dayvisiting Bam, he offered to show me around. I accepted his offer and after meeting his family, we drove around a bit, visited the Arg-e Bam and had a drink.
Behruz (that's his name) told me a lot about life in Bam and it's history. Especially interesting was how he experienced the devestating earthquake in 2003. Though the subject is hardly avoidable, I noticed he wasn't very comfortable talking about it. Very understandable when you have a look at the terrible facts:
27 December 2003 an earthquake with 6.8 on the Richter scale turned Bam litterally into dust. An estimated 31.000 people died (out of about 200.000 people living in the area) and not one building survived. The Arg-e Bam, the world's largest adobe structure, one of Iran's main tourist draws and the pride of every Bami, crumbled into nothing more then a dusty ruin.
Despite rebuilding the town and beginning the restoration of the Arg, the economic and psychological impact of the earthquake is enormous. Bam will never be the same gain. The only thing that withstood the earthquake are the thousands of date trees of Bam, and with that the 'oasis town feel' still remains.
In the bus back from Bam I got to taste some fresh dates, offered by a local. In the bus I also soon discovered that I was in the border area where a lot of drugs is smuggled into Iran. Several police controls had to make sure the bus was 'clean'. They searched the bus thouroughly and during the last check they were a bit too enthusiastic. While searching they damaged an electricity circuit and the bus could not continue (second technical breakdown). We had to wait one hour for another bus to pick us up. well, that is we minus me.. When the police saw me, they ordered me to go out and they put me on another bus, within five minutes I was on the road again. Soon after i arrived in Kerman, played some cards with James and Simon and slept in the worst hotel ever!
After lunch in a former hamam (bathhouse) we met our guide and were ready to go to the Kaluts (dessert with rockformations shaped by the wind). While we were ready for it, the car needed a little push first...
We arrived just after sunset (wonderful timing), set up our 'camp', had some great food cooked by our guide and slept in the open air. It was nice, though the sleeping was not very comfy, especially because it was a bit windy (James!)
The next morning walking around in the Kaluts was wonderful.
On the way back to Kerman we stopped at an old caravanserai (overnight resting place for camel caravans) for breakfast.
After the afternoon in and around the Kerman bazaar we took the nightbus to Shiraz.
Spiritual but not religious
In Shiraz we met Henk again, he stayed a bit longer in Shiraz then planned but was leaving that same day to continue south. Before leaving he briefly introduced us to Shiraz and especially advised us to go to Hazez' tomb in the late afternoon. And so we did. The tomb is situated in a nice garden and in the late afternoon and early evening many (young) Iranians go there. Hafez was one of Iran's great poets and he is still very popular among Iranians. Everyone in Iran has at least two books at home, the Koran and the Divine of Hafez (the collection of his work). Off the record, some people say the Hafez book is the most important for them. In everyday speech people often quote lines from his poems and many know his work by heart.
At the tomb people randomly open his book and read the poem on that page. They believe that within that poem they can find the answers to the issues they are facing in their life. Many emotions are involved in the whole process, and tears are not exceptional. It was beautiful to watch the whole ritual and new people kept arriving. Altogether the tomb and the rituals create a very spiritual atmosphere, which I really liked, especially as it is not linked to any religion.
The garden around the tomb is also very pleasant to stroll around and it is the favourite spot for young Shirazis to flirt. A perfect place to meet locals and drink a tea.
Persepolis, the ancient capital of the Persian empire built by the great king Darius and his descendants, is just outside Shiraz. A visit to Iran would not be complete without visiting the ruins of this majestic city. Though time took it's toll and Alexander the great did as well. When Alexander conquered the city he burned it down as a revenge for damage caused by the Persians. The result is that the ruins consist mainly of pillars and stone carvings. Luckily, our guide was able to tell a lively story which made the visit very interesting. Just to give you an idea, Persepolis was the capital of the Persian empire that at that time covered a big part of Central Asia, the Middle East and a part of Africa.
In the last weeks I experienced the Iranian hospitality, truly fabulous! But now I was going to enjoy some British hospitality in Tehran. Jane, who we met in Yazd invited us to stay at her chalet in the courtyard of the British embassy (she is deputy head of mission at the British embassy in Tehran). She was very welcoming and we (Simon and I, James stayed in Shiraz) could use all the facilities and western luxuries.
During the day Jane had to work, but in the evenings we spent some time together. The first night she invited us for a restaurant, where Letitia (the Australian lady we met in Yazd) joined as well, it was really nice. The next evening we cooked a meal for jane and us (our budget doesn't allow inviting people to restaurants ).
During the day we went to the national museum, where they had the Cyrus cylinder on display. The Cyrus cylinder (normally in the British museum) is considered the first human right charter. On the Cylinder Cyrus the Great wrote the rights he granted to the people living in conquered areas. A replica of the cylinder is in the headquarter of the United nations in New York, illustrating the historical importance. As such, the cylinder is a national pride.
The next day was the birthday of the Islamic revolution. Traditionally this is 'celebrated' with demonstrations at the British and former US embassies. So we were advised either to stay in or out the whole day. I went out to meet Rose again. I came back to the embassy in the afternoon to have a look at the demonstration (from a distance), but it was already finished. I missed all the fun, I only saw the eggs, tomatoes and stones that were thrown over the fence. From the embassy staff I heard not many people showed up this year.
The last night we were invited for a party at Laetitia's place. She lives in a big 'palace like' house with a big garden and swimming pool. A beautiful setting for a great party. All ingredients were there, nice people, delicious fingerfood, beautiful cocktails and good music. I had a wonderful time and it was a perfect end of my visit to Iran, thank you Jane and Letitia!