Our last post seemed to attract more comments than usual – it’s nice to know you guys are reading and are mildly concerned about our wellbeing!
Rest assured, the famous but initially elusive Iranian hospitality quickly became apparent in the days that followed the first disastrous one. After checking out the once magnificent but tragically destroyed Arg-é Bam, we left Bam behind us and made our way north-west, in the company of Greg, Emma and a new companion, Felix aus Deutschland.
Our first destination after Bam was to be Kerman. However, we decided to ask the bus driver to let us off at a small town called Mahan, about 30km before
Kerman, so we could have a bit of a wander around there before continuing to Kerman in the evening. The bus unceremoniously deposited us at a fuel station by the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere. After walking for a few minutes in what we hoped was the correct direction, a kind local picked all five of us up, somehow loaded all of our packs into the boot of his car and drove us the few kilometres down the road to Mahan. We passed a few pleasant hours here, clambering on the roof of an impressive Sufi mausoleum and debating with a local (ostensibly Muslim) shopowner the rationality of having a belief in God.
It was in Kerman that the differences between Iran and its South Asian neighbours became most apparent. In Iran, things work. They’re clean. People don’t spit (or, heaven forbid, urinate) on the sidewalk. You can drink the tap water. The cities aren’t so congested, the people are generally more educated, more stylish, and, the Iranians (just a tad snobbishly) feel, they have faaar more culture. It’s certainly an interesting place! As a woman, I feel more free to walk the streets and to interact with the world here than in Pakistan – although the Islamic dress code there is optional, it can be more rigorously adhered to and in Quetta for example we very rarely saw women in the streets at all. Here, while plenty of women are in the full length chador (cloak), I’ve seen no burkas (so faces are free) and a lot of women are actually dressed exactly the same as any woman would be in a Wellington winter, headscarf excepted – fitting jeans, a stylish winter coat that just covers the upper thighs, high heel boots. The mandatory headscarf is often perched quite far back on the head, revealing more than a hint of styled hair and immaculately made-up face. My travel wardrobe is decidedly dowdy in comparison…
In Kerman, so many people stopped us in the street to chat, wish us good travels, give us their phone number and instruct us to ring them if we had any problems. While waiting to use the public telephone we met one man who wanted to hear all about our travels, told us what a wonderful thing it was we were doing and warmly invited us to come and stay with his family in his home village for a few days, showing us pictures of his children, house and garden to persuade us. Unfortunately said village was over 100km out of our way or we may well have taken him up on the offer!
While in Kerman we repeatedly ran into an engaging tour guide by the name of Hossein Vatani, who persuaded us to join him for an overnight trip to the troglodyte village of Meymand. This incredible village in the middle of nowhere is comprised of some 2000 stone rooms (400 homes) carved into the side of a hill, and has been continuously occupied for over 3000 years. At one time it was home to around 8000 people but most of the homes have now been abandoned, as their occupants left to seek jobs. For the past few years, the 200 current occupants have been working hard to restore many of the caves and promote the village as a tourist attraction. The “cave hotel” we stayed in was a captivating mix of caveyness (bare stone walls, Persian carpets lining the rock floor, ceilings blackened by centuries of soot) and comfort (electric lights and a heater). The peacefulness tempted us to linger on for a day or two but our lack of Farsi might have made communication difficult once our guide left, so we too moved on.
Silk Road Hotel in the lovely old city of Yazd has been our home for the past four days – it’s a city in which it is easy to wander, to soak up the atmosphere, to relax, to sip tea… and we have done much of all of the above. One of the highlights of our time here was a day spent with a local Zoroastrian guide discovering the principles and practice of the oldest monotheistic religion on earth. The similarities to Judaism were particularly apparent in the excerpts of scripture that we encountered.
Tomorrow: Shiraz, and the ancient capital of the Persian Empire, Persepolis.