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Iran - Kashad - Isfahan PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Smith   
Thursday, 09 April 2009 10:04
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Day 23: Kashad to Isfahan Monday 15th October


The weather's been better than I ever imagined it would be with hazy blue skies and fine warm evenings and today's no different. Left our hilltop hotel and set out for one of the top tourist attractions in Iran: the ancient town of Isfahan or Esfahan depending whether it's spelt from the Persian or not. I noticed Eid also spelt Id.

The beautiful gorge that led to last nights stop carried on for another half an hour up until we came to a plateau. Just before the top we came to a citadel standing guard on a barren outcrop above a long strip of green vegetation. I have never seen an oasis but this gorge had the right qualities.

We arrived at the Suite Hotel Isfahan just after noon and quickly found our way to yet another very clean double room with all the modern features. The double was enormous if I had a signal on the mobile phone it would have made conversation with Anne easier. We also had TV with BBC World News which seemed to be concentrating on Puten's visit to Tehran. What a pity we missed one of the world's great criminals by only day. Unfortunately I have to say the mod cons did not stretch to the internet access. I had to pay 30,000 rial for one hour. To gain access I had to create an account via the network wizard using an account number and password. This was made even more difficult because the keyboard had Farci scrip stuck over it and the spacebar and arrow keys did not work and neither did the 9 on the formula bar. After an hour I gave up only managing to read my emails, delete them and reply to two. I have tried at least three times to send a general message out to all in my address book and it is impossible so far. Last night it froze each time I tried to bring up my address book. It was good to hear from Pete and Val still in India and having a good time and Sharon Anne's colleague from work spilling the gossip.

Anyway back to Isfahan and after a most unmemorable meal of awful soup which had the hallmarks of Bachelors, another absolutely dreary salad of two slices of tomato, shreds of white cabbage and lettuce with no dressing whatsoever and of course bloody chicken we set off on a guided tour with Vali. I have come to the conclusion that the only way to taste the real fruits of Iran is to get invited to someone's house for a meal and there's no chance of that on this schedule.

Out of 37 on the bus only five turned up for the tour of a couple of Chehel Sotun Palace, the Imam Mosque and of course the bazaar. Poor old Vali is completely wasting his time trying to impart his depth of knowledge and love for his country on most of the passengers. I have to admit he's not pitching the information at the right level, it's far too detailed. His descriptions of all the dynasty's over the past one thousand years are completely wasted on anyone other than a graduate in Persian history. The palace was fine with some interesting paintings depicting wars between Persians, Turks and Indians and all riding horses that floated above the ground. I mentioned Stubbs to him and he dismissed him not really seeing the point.

On the other hand the Imam Mosque was gobsmaking in every detail. I had stood in amazement at the Ayasofa ands the Blue Mosque in Istanbul but in comparison they were made by mere mortals whereas this was drafted by Allah. The two large domes, angles, arches, pillars, minarets standing at one end of a 500 metre rectangle of gardens, fountains, polo pitch with stone goal posts and a palace strategically positioned for the Shah to watch the game were all in perfect proportions each other. The massive mosque complex was situated at 45 degrees to the rectangle facing Mecca. The two domes, arches, minarets and pillars were set out to create a square for outside prayer and all incrusted in the most beautiful blue Persian patterned tiles in perfect symmetry and interspersed by a freeze of verse from the Koran. At the far end away from the main entrance and in front of the myhre was situated four smallish stones positioned vertically below the apex of the dome. Standing on these stones Vali clapped his hands and the echo bounced of the dome, the walls and circumnavigated the arches and filled the whole space in eerie omniscience. I have stood in English cathedrals and amazed at the acoustics but this beggared belief. The whole complex was built for Shah Abas in the 16th Century.

Surrounding the main rectangle and situated in the outside wall were 300 shops selling everything from postcards, books, silverware, jewellery etc and of course carpets. Our next stop was to shop selling Persian carpets of the most exquisite quality. We were treated to a master class on the aspects of the Persian carpet from the thread, material and patterns by young man called Abde who had learned his trade from one of the masters.

We learned the difference between the threads; Persian (single knot) and Turkish (double knot) hence the reason that Persian is much finer. While he told us about the patterns; classical of Isfahan with their perfect symmetry and the cruder but no less beautiful nomadic designs from the Turkoman and Baluchistan areas. All the carpets to my surprise were made by women using either cotton (inferior), pure angora wool (better) and finally a combination of wool and silk; the best being pure silk. In excellent English he took us through the various patterns and the meaning of such symbols as the Turkaman cross, the tree of life, hands on the hips, the snake, animals strong like lions and weak like birds and the different flowers. Each carpet he pulled out to demonstrate outshone the one before for colour and quality. He would unfold the example and spin it through the air with a flick of is wrists like a matador flashing his cape at the beast and the object twisted and fell catching the light and changing colour before your eyes before settling on the floor in a triumph of craftsmanship the equal of a Michael Angelo. He finished off by unfolding a masterpiece of silk thread, colour and design made by one of the best makers in Iran and was a bargain at €4500 and I'm not joking. If I had the money it would be on its way home this morning. It's not surprising then that I succumbed to his salesmanship and bought a beautiful example of a Turkaman carpet. Only hope the kids are in when it arrives.

After putting the price of the trip up significantly we made our way to the bazaar to see if Anne could put it up further. Although there were lots of beautiful objects to desire she resisted and we left no worse off. The Imam Mosque has to be seen to be believed and appreciated but there is one thing that is common to all the tribes, provinces, towns and cities of Iran which beggars believe to the unsuspecting visitor and that is the driving. Isfahan is no different for all its reputation of 'being half of the world' and the centre of Iranian art and culture and after our visit to the bazaar we were treated to an exhibition of driving by our taxi, at rush hour, that would make Louis Hamilton retire if it was regularly repeated on the formula 1 circuits of the world. Things were ok until he started the engine and ventured out on to the streets. We'd agreed a price of 15,000 rial which to my estimation meant our hotel was not too. After all a litre of diesel costs the staggering sum of 164 rial a litre. To put this into perspective a cup of tea, when we get back to the hotel if we ever do, costs 2900 rial. So the driver's urgency and aggression is not based on a rising metre and the next pickup as back home but firmly embedded in centuries of riding the open spaces on a camel or a donkey. Once he entered the heavy traffic he honked, put his shoulder and arms outside to physically stop other cars from overtaking. The back end of a bus represented no more of an obstacle than the one way system he belonged to. In order to get round a bus in front he actually turned back on himself across the flow of the traffic. He had no more regard for red lights, which according to Vali means everyone has the right of way especially on the fading zebra crossings, than he did motorbikes which zip in and out and do set of against the flow. At one point early in the experience he attempted to cut off a motorbike which was trying to overtake and which was carrying two men and a women seated between them in the middle holding out to her side a baby feeding from a bottle. I couldn't help thinking clever kid, no guarantee he'd make home for tea. In the middle of all this chaos is the poor pedestrian trying make his way through life. Being a pedestrian in Iran must be more dangerous than the life of a policeman or a soldier. The latter just stand around watching from every corner. After getting out of the taxi and start walking you get a false sense of security until there's a road to cross. As we made our way confidently across a pedestrian crossing showing a green man walking a car driven by a librarian, teacher or some other professional attempted to kill us both together on the spot. When I went to kick the car and gesticulated to the driver through his window about the green man Vali informed it also means both have the right of way.

The rest of the night was boringly spent drinking tea, thumping and f..... and blinding at the keyboard and the speed of the internet access. Bed at 11.00pm came as a great relief.

 



Last Updated on Thursday, 09 April 2009 10:26