Into Iran - Shiraz
05.01.2017 - 08.01.2017 16 °C
The Flight Out of The Promised Land
A flight delay of an hour out of Male to Colombo and some very poor parenting (read screaming bloody kids), on the flight didn't help to salve the pain of leaving our little piece of paradise. Little did we guess what we were in for next: Colombo airport, OMG! An awful experience on many levels. It was noisy, uncomfortable and stifling. Cath had the displeasure of using the toilets, where she found half a dozen of the staff washing themselves in the bathroom sinks and spitting on the floor. Meanwhile back in the general area, there were groups of men everywhere on the floor, repackaging duty free cigarettes and jabbering away loudly at each other. The police appeared to just stand around and watch, attempting to intimidate the miscreants with mean looks, which the men ignored with gay abandon.
Any thoughts of catching a drink during the 8 1/2 hour layover were extinguished when we found there was no bar! And the exorbitant prices! Food and drinks were at a premium, with Hungry Jacks taking the cake at $US20 for a burger, they sure must be better! Unfortunately we had to suck it up
as it would have been $USD50 each to get into a lounge limited to only 3 hours. We made a solid vow never to return to Colombo.
Meanwhile, Emirates were having a bad week apparently, with another flight delay out of Colombo to Dubai. The pilot however, had other ideas and had started backing out the plane almost before everyone was seated. It appeared that everyone was glad to see the end of that place. How lovely though, to once again be in the arms of Emirates, they really do it well. We were both totally exhausted and nodded off immediately.
We both awoke half an hour before landing in Dubai, which emerged out of the darkness like a million fairy lights. We landed and then kept going and going and going. Finally the plane pulled into a flight bay somewhere just short of Egypt. After touching down, we were whisked off by bus for what can only be described as the longest bus trip ever undertaken within one airport. Emirates staff soon had us organised onto a further bus which delivered us to the terminal where our next flight was leaving from, this time FlyDubai, a subsidiary, which kept up the standard. It was a very pleasant hour's flight to Shiraz. Whilst Ian enjoyed the spectacularly rugged mountain views out the window, a lovely Iranian man sat next to Cath and had a good chat all the way to Shiraz, already proving that Iranians are a very friendly, welcoming and open people.
We landed in Shiraz with some trepidation, but were glad to finally have made it to the place that had been such a controversial topic with friends and family. We spent some nervous moments as we waited for our visas to be approved, at a cost of 290 euros, but following this we breezed through passport control and customs. Money was exchanged inside the terminal and we walked out into the crisp sunshine with 22 million Rials. That's right - 22,000,000. Luckily we had a note from our guest house in Farsi to hand to the first taxi driver to approach us and in no time we were on our way. On our way that is for the ride of our lives in a taxi. To say the ride was frightening is quite an understatement. For those of you who have braved the roundabouts in Paris and Rome, you ain't seen nothin' yet! Chicken is the national sport of drivers here. Everybody pushes in and the maddest, who in this case was clearly our driver, wins. Slamming on brakes, flooring the accelerator, hooning around four lane roundabouts where the lanes, where visible, are little more than a suggested guideline. Pulling out into the face of oncoming traffic, squeezing through lanes where there was no earthly way to fit. This drive had it all! We would definitely recommend taking up panel beating if you were to live here, a small fortune could be made. We eventually made our way to our hotel, down some streets that were not wide enough for a car but the driver made it fit and total cost? $6. Far better value than the mad mouse at the Royal Show!
90 metres down a labyrinth of alleys, we at last arrived at the guest house. We are staying in a traditional house, called Parharmi Guest House, which is located in the old city of Shiraz or the Vikali area. The house is a mud brick, 200 year old home with a beautiful courtyard, filled with orange trees, fountain, tables, chairs and couches for lounging. Oh good more lounging! It is shaded and during summer must be a haven from the heat. We were greeted by our host Saroush, and offered tea and caramelised dates, which were delicious. We were blessed with the VIP room for the first night of our 3 night stay, which was a pretty room with stained glass windows overlooking the courtyard. However as we arrived a couple of hours early, there was a delay in accessing the room so off for a walk we go.
As we wandered down the street near our hotel we appeared to be the star attraction, everyone wanted to say hello, especially children of primary school age. They are all keen to use English and we suspect a blonde pale woman is a rare beast in this part of the world. In fact in the Vikali Bazaar on our first night, a man settled his fractious toddler by holding her up to look at Cath and touch her! Whilst it is a little unnerving to be looked at all the time, it affirms all that we had heard about the Irani people being friendly, welcoming and interested in the rest of the world.
We visited the Qavam Gardens and Museum of antique objects, including a Shekel that was from 465BC, which immediately sent us into Monty Python territory: "1/2 a shekel for my life story........" We bought lunch from a friendly fellow called Ibrahim, who introduced us to the proper pronunciation of Kebab, Charbob and talked us into not one but 2 with bread, roasted tomato and taro salad. All to take away from his very small shop. And the price, $3 for both of us. The money is seriously confusing with hundreds of thousands and millions being normal denominations.
Kebab in hand we set off back to Parharmi house for a good feed and a lie down. Now Iranians being who they are, when we arrived with our takeaway lunch, they added to it. We were introduced to a sour milk drink flavoured with mint called Door, and some pickled vegetables, Torshi Makloot, which we were informed is always had with Kebab. We organised to have dinner at the house and carried our very fat tummies up the winding stairs to our room, for a nap.
The call to prayer awoke us and we decided it was time for another wander. Not yet game enough to leave the area we were staying in, as most signs are not in English and the winding roads and lanes were dark, we headed off down the main road near where we were staying. What was a relatively quiet retail street during the day had become a mass of lights, colour and people of all ages. It was Thursday night, the equivalent of Friday night in the west and it seemed the whole city had decided it was party time. We wandered into the Vikali Bazaar, unaware that it is THE bazaar in Shiraz, centuries old and still functioning as it always has. It is a riot of colour and people, the fabric stalls go on for row after row, it is a technicolour dream of fabric with intricate hand stitching, beading and a variety of silks, satins and other materials that neither of us could identify. Clearly under the Chador there is some party dressing going on! Spice shops, jewellery shops, leather goods, glassware, pottery and every imaginable food stuff are available and it seems the whole of Shiraz is here to buy it. Alleyway leads into alleyway at any and every angle and in no time we were hopelessly lost. But then a left here and a right there and we unaccountably popped out into the street almost where we started. After that we felt confident enough to cross the road, where the chicken game is on once again. It seems the secret is if you don't look at the car that is about to hit you, it won't.
Dinner time was calling though and we headed back to Parharmi for a traditional Shirazi dinner, Kalam Polow Shirazi and Dizi with sides of salad, pickled veg and bread. More than enough for two, we are starting to get the idea that ordering enough for 1 Irani might actually happily feed 2 hungry Aussies. It's an early night for us, after nearly 24 hours with very little sleep and a large number of kilometres travelled.
Day 2 Persopolis, Pasargad and Necropolis
The lovely young gentleman at Parharmi, Amin, organised a driver for us to head to the Gate of Nations area for our first entry into ancient Persia so we were up and about early to eat breakfast and head off. We were greeted by an elderly Iranian gentleman for a traditional breakfast of feta style cheese (Cath is almost in heaven), warm bread, cucumber (Ian is almost gagging) and tomato with tea and coffee, which Ian was unimpressed with, as he forgot the sugar. This gentleman speaks not a word of English and yet we feel welcomed and treated like valued guests by him, a truly sweet old man. Ian was rubbing his hands to indicate he was cold, when next thing the gentleman brought out a small heater and motioned for him to sit next to it!
At 8:10, the driver Rahim arrived and although he had very limited English, he could seriously drive and assured us that we would avoid all traffic as he knew the "genuine Sharazi way". He was very keen to explain all the sights to us on the way out of town and in a funny way we are able to understand each other. He, like everyone else drove like a complete maniac, but oddly we felt ok and were soon heading into the countryside. The mountains were incredible, Shiraz sits in a circular valley surrounded by mountains that should be snow capped at this time of year but are barren. There is no sign of winter, it was a bright sunny morning and the rivers and country are totally dry. The man on the plane must have been right, everywhere there are signs of a very bad drought. Rahim provided a commentary on roadside restaurants, shrines and monuments as we headed to Pasargad, the furthest of the 3 monumental sites, for the day. It is about a 2 hour drive and was 6 degrees when we left Shiraz but as we ascended the mountains and reached the plateau, it was a chilly 3 degrees at Pasargad. The sun was shining however and we were off to visit the Tomb of Cyrus the great. Pasargad is a UNESCO world heritage site and in its day - 500 BC, it must have been incredible. That is until Alexander, the not so great arrived and started knocking stuff over! There was little sign of the gardens left but the irrigation channels were intact and if they are any indication Cyrus must have had a great view from the top of his mountain palace. The walk up was arduous and it was only when we took some time to recover that we realised it was possibly the altitude. It was also the first time we felt "watched" from the watchtowers that dot the site. We are sure that they are there to protect important world heritage, but they also appear to pay some interest in tourists, especially those who are clearly not local. I guess it could make you a little paranoid but if you are simply being a visitor and not doing anything "offensive" then bahhh who cares, let them watch! Cath did feel the need to fix her head dress a couple of times though, to ensure she was not indecent. She continues to struggle with the fact that the local girls all look so elegant and comfortable in their scarves and she looks like she has picked up an old rag and attached it to her head. The Iranian people visiting the sites continued to welcome us to their country and were quite surprised we would come this far, "Australia is such a long way".
In all it took a couple of hours to wander the ancient monuments and then we were ready to head off to the Necropolis but Rahim insisted that we have the "best coffee outside Shiraz" in the small town outside the monuments. It is likely that he did not notice that we spotted the "tip" he received from the guy making the coffee. Having said that it was good coffee and a little chocolate on the side didn't hurt either.
The Necropolis or Naqsh-e Rustam is on the way from Pasargad to Persopolis and is the tomb of kings from the Achaemenid and Sassanid periods - Darius I and Darius II, just to mention a couple. The Darius' are the guys who built Persopolis. The necropolis is carved from the side of the mountain and whilst very impressive and quite daunting to think about the amount of work in it, you can actually see most of it from outside the fence and you can't enter the tombs anyway. So like another Australian couple who were there we took some photos, declined buying tickets or over priced souvenirs and went on our way. Rahim did try to talk us into a camel ride and we declined, Cath tried to explain to him that we have plenty of camels in Australia but we are still not sure she got that particular message through. Next, it was Persopolis, a truly ancient wonder.
Along the way Rahim pointed out many Iranian families by the side of the road, sitting on gravel, rocky cliffs or as Ian referred to it the tip, with their carpets out having a picnic. Another English word he was proud to use, frequently saying "picnic, Shirazi people, picnic, water pipe, food, family, good time, good time" with a huge grin and many nods. On arrival at Persopolis he parked, or pulled up next to the road wherever he damn well pleased, as it appears is the custom and off we went to explore. We were immediately met with many "hello's" and "how are you?" from the local people. Cath was approached by three very brave young girls who wanted to practice English and started playing a game of "Where do you think I come from? You guess the country." They had a picture taken and proudly wandered off to share their experience.
It is difficult to explain Persopolis, it blows the mind to think about the engineering, stonemasonry, time, money and hard labour that must have gone into building the structures here. As we are sure we will experience again and again, as we move through the ancient world, there is a sense of awe and wonderment at the people who did this and those who thought it was a good idea in the first place. Google the images and then plan a trip because it is well worth the visit. Again it took a couple of hours to see the site and even though it is winter it was pretty warm in the sun.
On the way out we were again playing the where do we come from game with Iranians and as Cath was calling out the answer to a woman well into her 40s, her husband called out to us "G'day mate", which had us all laughing. We located Rahim, who had found his picnic with some fellow drivers which included a water pipe. He collected his pipe and off we went. Rahim appeared pretty relaxed, red eyed and happy after his picnic and as we enquired what Iranians put in the water pipe, he was very quick to let us know it is not Arabic Tabac but local genuine Shirazi tabac. We both suspected that was not all!!!! Up went the music in the car, dance music never you mind and Rahim had his own little dance party in the front seat for a while before he settled down to getting us home, which he did with no issue even showing some things close to our home in Shiraz that should not be missed like restaurants, mosques and bazaars.
We arrived back to find another party in full swing in the courtyard, ordered a late lunch or maybe early dinner and watched as young women and men posed for selfies, arrived with birthday cake and generally had a good time. Another amazing meal was produced and we are fat, happy little Aussies ready for a rest and some downtime. We did have to move rooms in the house and frankly think that the second room is much better than the VIP room even if it is on the ground floor. The room has a rounded, exposed brick roof, very comfy bed and thankfully a nice oil heater which kept us toasty as the night was quite cool.
And then the toilet broke
Up and about early again to let the staff at Parhami House know that the toilet was broken, we were again presented with a local breakfast dish that was delicious even though we were unable to distinguish what was in it, eggplant or cabbage would be a best guest. And then off to visit Nair ol Molk Mosque, better known as the pink mosque. Cath had misinterpreted the directions and we ended up at Shah Cheragh- a mausoleum of one of the Imams. It was a bit of a procedure to get in, we had to wait at the gate for a guide of the tourism ministry before we could enter, she turned out to be a very polite young woman with a military style uniform under her chador. Cath was to wear the chador and had to enter via a different door to Ian. We were unable to enter any of the buildings as we are not muslim and even if we were muslim but not Iranian muslim we would need to sit an exam before being allowed to enter the tomb of the Imam and his little brother. After wandering in the square closely observed by our guide and admiring the buildings, which are very beautifully covered in mosaic, for about 15 minutes we were invited, to have tea and look at some pictures of the inside of the buildings. The gentleman who was clearly a representative of the ministry was actually quite interesting and very happy to discuss the issues facing Islam today and throughout history but also very keen to reassure us that Christianity is very much a part of life in Iran and that we are all people believing in similar gods and prophets. And then kindly our guide took us to the gate closest to the mosque and gave us directions.
We found the entry to the mosque quite easily and were knocked out by the beauty. The stained glass is actually quite simple in design but the intricate design of the walls, roof and carpets create the most beautiful colours. It felt like being inside a kaleidoscope. It was a little strange to witness the modelling shoot going on though; whilst neither of us are religious, something about it just doesn't feel quite right. The area where you view the pink room is actually a small square and room at the back of the Mosque and we had to find our way through very narrow alleys, with just our noses for directions to the front part where the prayer rooms are. Again the chador was required and separate entries for men and women. The poor woman who was to help Cath into her chador was about 4 feet in height and Cath had to almost kneel so that she could get the garment on in an appropriate way, still pretty sure everyone else looks more elegant than Cath in these numbers. Everyone was very nice and friendly and super interested in an Australian visiting a mosque in Iran. Men and women have separate areas for prayer and so we bravely went our separate ways.
The prayer rooms were breathtaking in their decoration, mirrors everywhere, cut to reflect all the light from every surface, this must be what being inside a diamond is like. Unfortunately there is no photography allowed. Cath met some lovely women who were amazed that she does not profess a faith but was interested in them and were very keen to take her to see the Quran, it was a huge book on a stand in a glass room. It must have been 5ft x 3ft and open to today's lesson, if that is the appropriate term. Cath, like many of us was unaware that inside the mosque there would be small groups of women, sitting together with teachers, we assume learning about the teachings of the prophet or maybe the local Imam. It appears that the man who escorted Ian and the woman who escorted Cath were very keen to share more of their place with us and took Cath inside the men's prayer area- by the back door and behind a screen that the lady removed part of so that Cath could "share in the glory of Iran", not sure if they do this for everyone who visits or not but it is very humbling that they would share parts of their life that others may not get to share.
And then the fun part of the day, CAKE. Cath has been on about Iranian cake and pastry since we decided to come to this part of the world. For someone who doesn't really like cake, she really liked baklava and they have many varieties here. The cake shops are divine and like 2 kids in a candy shop we drooled over all of them before being very responsible and only having a small piece of baklava like dessert.
In an effort to reduce our waist lines we then took off for a stroll to find Valisar square and pretty much got lost, however we lucked it in and eventually found ourselves back in our street. Feeling a bit peckish we purchased a pasty looking triangle from a street vendor, for about 80c each and it turned out to be exactly that: a pasty type thing, filled with potato, vegetables and something a little bit spicy. Yum!
Having covered more than 10kms for the morning it was time to have a bit of a rest, check out the toilet situation and get ready for an evening exploring Hafez tomb and a restaurant for dinner. It turns out that one of the best traditional style restaurant and tea houses is right around the corner and we were keen to try it out. The toilet situation had not been resolved as they have to replace the whole thing, not a quick Papa Lazourou style fix! and we are to try out the 3rd room at Parhami House. Hafez tomb, whilst quite nice was not really as imposing as we expected. We got a taxi back to to the bazaar, but sad to say we couldn't find the restaurant and ended up settling for a rather pedestrian meal before returning home and settling in for our last night in Shiraz. Tomorrow we leave for Isfahan.