iran 9: nain, abyaneh, kashan—travelling through the desert

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I’ll be leaving in a couple of days; I have been in Iran for two weeks now. How easily we are able to change our habits. Two weeks and I now feel uncomfortable going out in public without my hejab, kebabs have become my staple diet, and salams and merci come easily. One more week here and I would be all chadored, going na na every time someone wanted to take a picture of me.

Travelling through miles of desert is an extraordinary experience. It also teaches you not to be fussy. Bathrooms are invariably behind a sand dune, at a little booth in a caravanserai, or in a thicket. So when you emerge you learn to check your front and backside as well so that there are no twigs sticking out of your hejab. It gives a whole new angle to the “going to the ladies” ritual.

There are two main deserts in Iran—Dasht-e Kavir and Dasht-e Lut—and they are both dotted with tiny little towns built around ancient mosques. Nain is the most charming with its carpets and 9th Century Jameh mosque decorated with stunning yet simple stucco-work. Continue reading

iran 7: the desert city of yazd

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I am nearing Yazd. The landscape is stunning. Towering, barren, sedimentary mountains streaked with iron oxides flank both sides of the road. It has been a long day, driving through hundreds of miles of arid wilderness. As I wind my way through the burgeoning city, millions of street lights twinkle in the darkness in warm welcome.

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Yazd is one of those not-to-be missed, no-matter-what, highlights of Iran. Wedged between two desolate deserts, it has long been a prosperous staging post on the caravan route between Esfahan and Central Asia. The city was an important center for Iran’s pre-Islamic religion, Zoroastrianism, and still has the largest Zoroastrian population in the country at 12,000. Continue reading

iran 4: the story of persepolis

“Passer-by, I am Cyrus the Great, I have given the Persians an empire and I have ruled over Asia. So do not envy me for this tomb.”
~ Inscription on the tomb of Cyrus the Great, Pasargade, 6th Century BC

I love rambling through archaeological sites, running my fingers over millennia old ruins, walking down worn out paths where before me countless souls had also passed along. Where history was made and destinies defined. Sites like these are humbling, making us realize how small we are in the bigger picture. And yet such sites also fill us with a deep sense of pride in humanity’s political achievements and artistic endeavors which are a legacy belonging to all mankind.

persepolis_rama Continue reading

iran 3: takht-e soleyman, epicentre of zoroastrianism

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The unspoilt expanse of Western Iran is desolate. Its people simple. Barren red mountains stretch as far as the eye can see, in sharp contrast with the clear blue skies above. Decade-old cars of forgotten makes and models plough highways punctuated with police checkpoints at rapid regularity. I’m on my way to Takht-e Soleyman, the spiritual center of Zoroastrianism, and on to Takab for the night, a minuscule town less than a hundred miles from the Iraqi border. Continue reading

iran 2: soltaniyeh’s mongolian sultans and exotic bazaars in zanjan

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The adventure begins. I’m off to north-west Iran. There is something terribly exciting about visiting places away from the beaten path, meeting people who are not part of the global cloned collectivity. There is somehow always a heartwarming uniqueness in isolated individuality.

Western Iran is largely underdeveloped with a mixed history. Whilst it has enjoyed the spin-offs of being part of the famed Silk Road, it has also suffered the most in the Iran-Iraq war.

Soltaniyeh, a Mongol town built in the 14th Century, is my first stop. The mausoleum of the Mongol Sultan Khodabandeh, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has the world’s second highest dome at 48 meters high and 25 meters in diameter. Continue reading

iran 1: tehran … museums, palaces, bazaars, and mosques

Note: I travelled to Iran in October 2007 for two weeks. Iran has been one of my most memorable travels to date. I am republishing the series comprising 10 posts till this mid-June. Refreshing my personal memories. This is the first post in the series—on Iran’s capital city Tehran and its museums, palaces, bazaars, and mosques. Hope you enjoy the reads. 🙂

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meiran1“Why are you going to Iran???” “Coz I want to.” “But why? You’ve really gone cuckoo. Just look at the current global political scenario!!!” “I’m going because I want to go that extra mile. Cross that extra river. Go beyond preconceptions and expectations. Learn for myself what really is out there.” “You’ve gone cuckoo, period!”

Salaam. I’m off to Iran. It was not an easy task explaining my choice of holiday for the year. 🙂 But, hey, who cares. I’m going where my heart wants me to go. I want to walk through the ruins of Xerxes’ Persepolis, wonder at the beauty of Esfahan, and smile and play with Kurdish children before it is all too late. Before it all becomes another Baghdad, Kabul or Libya. Come along with me? Continue reading