Thursday, 11 November 2010

Days 58 - 71: Beneath the veil

Lahore, Pakistan

Since it's been nearly a month since I last posted, this is going to be a rather brief whip through Iran. So having been joined by Ian in Shiraz we proceeded on a whistle-stop tour of the big 3 in Iran: Shiraz (for Persepolis), Esfahan and Yazd.

Persepolis was impressive but they've made a few weird decisions with how they look after the sight and I wasn't quite as wowed with it as I thought I would be. We also headed over to Pasargardae which wasn't much to write home about at all. Mind you, all these sites are 2500 years old so you can't expect too much.

Esfahan was spectacular, particularly the Imam Square.

A very religious town with lots of impressive mosques. Also a lively bazaar in which we splurged on various things. I took the opportunity of having Ian around to pick up a carpet (a Qashqai bread kilim from Mr Ackbar, below, to be precise) and some camel-bone carvings which I sent home with him.

Chatted to a lot of people here including one young mullah and lots of english teachers (although I suspect some of them might not have been english teachers at all, one for instance, under questioning couldn't name a single english novel). Nice bridge in Esfahan too. Also in Esfahan we went to see Zerhaneh ("house of strength") which had been billed a an Iranian martial art. In reality it consisted mostly of lots of men doing splits press-ups and then twirling huge wooden clubs around. You have to see the pictures. Also met my second air force colonel.

For Yazd I had two aims: ride on a camel and eat camel. I achieved both objectives. Also went on a trip out into the desert to visit Meybod (an old castle), Chak Chak (the holiest Zoroastrian site perched on the side of a mountain - really picturesque - piccie of the inside of the temple below) and Kharanaq (a run down old town).

Ian and I also assumed to roles of retail consultants for the evening as we were dragged off by the owners of the local "mall" (think Somerfield in the 1970s) to advise them on how to attract more customers. Not exactly either of our fields but hey, it was different.

After bidding Ian a fond farewell I headed down to Kerman with Dallas and Mary who I'd met in Yazd. The next day we headed into the Kaluts with Mahmoud our guide in his old BMW. The Kaluts are an amazing place. Check out pics on the internet. I'll post if I can. A sandy desert with huge rock mesas. We were visited by some wild foxes during the night. Photo of us hunting foxes is below...

I decided to sleep out in wilds under the stars, despite the foxes. A very cool experience. I was undisturbed by the foxes but at one point I heard a rustling and shone my torch in the direction, to see lots of little lights shining back (like eyes reflected in the dark). Turned out to be a crisp bag. My home for the night is in the photo below...

After Kerman I headed on alone to Bam, where they're rebuilding the old adobe citadel which was previously spectacular but was pretty much destroyed in the earthquake of 2003. Rebuilding is coming along. No other tourists there, although the Iranian Minister of Transport was, bizarrely. Tourism has dried up, according to Mr Ackbar who runs the guesthouse, by the security fears. A japanese guy was kidnapped in 2007. To be fair, they might have a point and Mr A was very careful to ensure that he knew where I was at all times and gave me a lift to a lot of places himself.

From Bam I headed to the border. Police escort in Bam but nothing after that. I'd been told that the cops would be all over me as soon as I got to Zahedan, the next town, but there were none around. So I jumped in a cab and headed for the border. At one checkpoint the police were quite surprised that I had no escort but hey. Made it to the border in the early afternoon and crossed without any problems. Then Pakistan...but that story will have to wait for another day.

I've skipped over quite a bit here: some massively flirty Iranian ladies on the bus (I may be developing a headscarf fetish), Mustapha the wizened bellboy at the hotel in Esfahan, dozens of interesting people who stopped to chat, lots of old buildings, some really cool restaurants and a bunch of other stuff. Should have tried to keep this more up to date as I went but there just wasn't time.

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