In the footsteps of the Persian Empire – Part 2

Part 1 of the travelogue, in case you haven’t read it yet is here.

Feb 26: Iran air operates direct flights between Bombay and Tehran, but for some reason, you cannot book those tickets online. So I had to settle for the cheapest option, Kuwait Air. Before the flight, I had to spend some time explaining to the stupid airline personnel that I am availing of the Visa on Arrival (VoA) facility available to Indians in Iran, and it is NOT THEIR PROBLEM to check that since there is an IMMIGRATION department for that! Apparently hardly any one from India travels to Iran using the VoA so the airline folks don’t know about it. My flight to Tehran had an 8 hour halt at Kuwait, and all I can say is that it was a depressing start to the trip. Kuwaiti Dinar is one of the most expensive currencies, and to buy a sandwich, one needs to shell out approximately Rs.500. I spent some time observing the people there…Arabs, African Arabs, labourers (Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalese, Filipinos etc.) and almost no Persians. As the time for my flight to Tehran drew closer, I started seeing more Iranians, which revived my nose diving motivation levels. The flight was on time and I reached Tehran at 6:30 pm local time. The feeling of reaching Iran gave me goosebumbs. The Visa on Arrival process was very smooth, and took about 45 mins to complete. The man after granting me the Visa said “Nice to see you here, welcome to Iran”.

Imam Khoemini Airport (IKA) is some 70 km outside Tehran, my hosts for the evening were on the opposite end of Tehran too. It took me approximately 38000 tomans (1800 tomans is one dollar as of now) to get there, which isn’t bad since travel/fuel is expensive in India. Just to clarify, the Iranian Rial is a very small currency (not necessarily weak) and is referred to as tomans when multiplied by ten (so 10 Rials= 1 toman). The feeling of getting out of the airport was extra ordinary. I felt very complete when the realization that I am in Tehran dawned upon me. The roads were fantastic though the traffic was crazily undisciplined. My driver, in his half broken English tried telling me about quite a few things, and I in my half broken Farsi tried to ask him many things. I used the driver’s phone to inform Farnaz (my close friend) and Sepehr (my host) about my arrival. I reached Pasdaran (the area where Sepehr stayed) by 9 pm. It was far away from the center of the city, but was a neat and clean area. Sepehr received me and to my surprise, there were three lovely ladies waiting to welcome me apart from Sepehr.

My hosts

So apart from Sepehr, there was Kadereh (Sepehr’s girl friend), her friend Yas, and her friend Niyusha. They were so excited about my arrival…I haven’t seen anyone so happy to see me arrive! I gradually settled down and freshened up. I was VERY tried, but the warmth extended by hosts had already relaxed me to some extent. The conversations began, while Sepehr started cooking for us. During my interaction with him over CouchSurfing (CS), he had assured me that he was a good cook! The folks were very surprised and happy when I spoke to them in Farsi. Kadereh and Niyusha spoke decent English, with Sepehr managing some, and Yas not even trying! As the conversation got deeper, Sepehr and Yas more and more relied on Kadereh and Niyusha to provide translation assistance. Sepehr and Kadereh served us some lovely dinner post which we continued talking about all sorts of things. I slept at around 1 am. Tomorrow, apart from hanging around locally, I wanted to change my currency into tomans, meet Farnaz, and leave for Kashan in the evening.

Feb 27: I woke up at 8 am to some traditional Iranian chai and breakfast consisting of Iranian bread, butter, cheese, cottage cheese, jam, and honey. Very rich. Very tasty. Very fattening. All the ladies dressed up in their white dental outfits and mandatory black head scarves left for the university. Sepehr, and I left for a drive around the place and went to a few banks to change money. Then we realized that due to the US sanctions on Iran, dollars (which I was carrying courtesy the timely arrival of my friend Johann from the US) were in high demand and the ‘market’ rate in the bazaars was 50% higher than the bank (1200 against 1800 tomans for a dollar). So, I had to wait because the local bazaars where one can change dollars were not in the region of Tehran that we were in. We headed to northern Tehran, to the Niyavaran Palace complex (NPC).

The Qajar palace inside Niyavaran, now a museum

Outside the palace, Farnaz greeted us, and it was a wonderful feeling to finally meet here…there in Iran! We spent some time exploring the magnificent palace compound, the structures…all wonderfully maintained and presented. It was quite cold and there were very few tourists apart from us and a huge group of school students.

The NPC also housed the last royal family of Iran, the Pahalvis, of whom we’ve spoken earlier. Their main residence structure was outstanding and we spent some time exploring it.

The Pahalvi palace

Then the first shocker (probably the last!) in Iran came. I was forbidden from photographing because I was using a DSLR camera! What?! Yes, the guards said you can click with non-DLSR cameras. I dismissed it as an arbitrary decision, but complied with it. It was sad though because the palace was extra ordinary. The palace was flawlessly maintained, and housed a private cinema for the king apart from all the usual grandeur. Farnaz left for the university while Sepehr and I returned home for lunch after hanging around the streets for some time. The dentist ladies returned to have lunch with us, but left shortly. We rested for some time and then I made my way to the other end of Tehran, to catch a bus for Kashan. The bus terminal was well-organized, reasonably clean, and spacious. The buses in Iran are the best I’ve seen anywhere in the world, and cheap fuel makes so many things possible. The fares for even the most amazing buses (called VIPs) are quite reasonable. I left at 6:30 pm for Kashan (pronounced as Kaashaan). The journey to Kashan is approximately four hours and was extremely comfortable. We passed through the important city of Qom, which is often related to Khomeini. I did not wish to view any monument related to Khomeini, so had decided to skip it anyway. At around 10 pm, I reached Kashan and was greeted by my host Baba Mohammed and his friend Hamid at the bus stop.

Baba Mohammed (BM), in his mid sixties, turned out to be quite a personality. On our way home, we went to a pizza shop for dinner. Iranians love Italian food, most notably pizzas and pastas. I don’t like pizzas in India that much for their lack of toppings and exorbitant prices, but I was surprised because the pizzas we had were absolutely delicious. We had a post meal walk outside during which BM told me about his experiences in Asia, including India. He had been to India once, around 20 years ago. He was a very well read man, asked me about my religion, and was very glad when I said I didn’t have one. He showed me a couple of shops belonging to Zoroastrians along the street, and quietly criticized the Islamic regime a couple of times.

Hamid drove us to BM’s house. The house was quite a lovely place, with the living area recently renovated. We were greeted by BM’s youngest son, and Gordon, a Chinese traveler who was staying there too.

Gordon, Hamid, BM

Almost instantly, his son prepared some tea and served some dates with it. I was full but managed to have the tea. We spoke long into the night. Gordon was travelling across China, Tibet, India, Pakistan, Iran and would go through Turkey, Bulgaria and Hungary to complete his travel. BM could only speak functional English. but the language barrier did not prevent me from understanding his knowledge and character. There was a stark contrast between his overall behaviour and the fact that his house had a photo of Khomeini, Khameini, and Ahmadinejad! We slept at around 1 am again, and the next day, we were to explore Kashan.

Feb 28: Kashan is an important city in Iran. Historically, it used to be one of the major trade centers, which was famous for its rugs and carpets. It was also along the major trade routes, so the trading caravans regularly stopped in Kashan. Amongst the historical places in Kashan are the old residences of wealthy merchants, which have now become tourist attractions thanks to their history and architecture. After some traditional breakfast at home, BM and I left for our first destination Boroujerdi residence.

Breakfast!

The house of Boroujerdi, belonging to a trading family who migrated to Kashan, was built over a hundred years ago. The construction date can still be seen on the covered inscription of the building, completion of which took 18 years of work by tens of laborers, architects and master painters. Since exceptional attention has been paid to all minute architectural details demanded by the geographical and climatic conditions of the area, the house has attracted considerable attention of architects and recognition from Iranian and foreign scientific and technical teams.

Boroujerdi House

We spent around an hour inside the house, exploring the various chambers and gazing at the painted walls and roofs. There was some restoration work in progress. There were some exceptional stained class paintings too, which are a hallmark of Persian architecture. There was also an underground chamber with elaborate cooling arrangements using air flow, obviously a place for the family to relax in during the blistering summer heat. BM told me about the significance of the domed roofs and the corresponding circular designs directly below them on the floor.

The roof

Briefly, they signify earth and heaven, or life and after life… I’ve explained a little more about this in the documentary that I am making on Iran.

We moved towards our next destination, Hamaam-e-Sultan Amir…or the royal bath of the Turkish Sultan Amir. Persian royalty had three fetishes apart from women. Poetry, gardens, and royal baths. So we headed to this abandoned but well-kept royal bath enclosure, which looked like a mini palace. It indeed was one because the king used to socialize here with others. Yes…like we ask, join me for coffee…they asked…join me for a bath? There were elaborate seating arrangements, and several smaller baths apart from the main kingly bath area. The ceramic work was exquisite and despite the passing years, looked quite brilliant.

Hamaam-e-Sultan Amir

I was lost in thoughts of what this place must have been like when it was in use.

After spending nearly an hour at the bath, we moved to another ancient house, the Abbasian house.

Abbasian House

The Abbasian house is a large traditional historical house built during the late 18th century. The house is a beautiful example of Kashani residential architecture. It is said to have been the property of a famous cleric. It has six courtyards that would fit the needs of different families. One of the chambers has a ceiling designed with mirror pieces so as to give the impression of a starry sky under the nocturnal glitter of candlelight. The house is now a public museum. We spent around an hour exploring the various levels of the house and then moved to the most famous of the houses in Kashan, the Tabatabaie Residence.

The Tabatabaie Residence is a large house with several courtyards, which once belonged to a wealthy merchant.The wind towers, meant for cooling the main living areas still work very well. It consists of delightful wall paintings with elegant stained glass windows and includes other classic signatures of traditional Persian residential architecture such as ‘biruni’ and ‘andaruni’. Like other homes, it had a pool of water in the middle to lend the home a unique feel. There were separate areas for the living, dining, kitchen, a mirror hall and many other beautiful sights. There was a shop within the precincts of the house, from where I purchased a few souvenirs. One exquisitely made hall with lovely ceramic and art work had breathtaking stained glass work near the roof.

Stained glass window

We had lunch at a traditional restaurant, although the food was not up to the mark. We then moved to the famous Fin gardens (Bagh e fin). The Bagh-e Fin dates to the early Safavid era, but its current design began to take shape during the reign of Shah Abbas I (1587-1629), and was restored from 1797-1834 by the Qajar Fateh Ali Shah. Laid out in the manner of a traditional chahar bagh, the garden comprises a large quadrangle of trees and shrubs surrounded by various pavilions and a high wall.

Bagh E Fin

Although the garden appears lush, the site is surrounded by a largely desert landscape. The water found in the garden originates in the aquifers of the Karkas mountains to the south, and is carried by an underground aquaduct called a ‘qanat’ to a reservoir about 1.5 kilometers from the garden. From there, the water enters the garden at the Howz Jushan pavilion and is carried forth around the garden in channels lined with blue tiles. There is sufficient pressure from the underground source to allow for small fountains. As for the planting, each of the parterres have avenues lined with cypruss and plane trees, with varieties of almond, apple, cherry, and plum trees planted as well. Flowers such as lilies, iruses, eglantine, rosebushes, jasmine, amarnth, gillyflower, narcissus, violets, and tulips also are present. Integral to the original design was a bath house (hamaam), which gained infamy in 1849 when Amir Kabir, the great minister under Naseer-ud-din, was murdered at the Shah’s orders.

It was twilight by the time we explored the garden, and the guards were politely asking people to start leaving the premises. After the garden, we moved to our last destination Aagha Bozorg mosque.

Aagha Bozorg mosque

The mosque was built in the late 18th century by master-mimar Ustad Haj Sa’ban-ali, the mosque and theological school (madrasah) is located in the center of Kāshān. It was here where Ustad Ali Maryam as a pupil started his career as a brilliant architect. For obvious reasons, I am not a great fan of mosques, but this one had a great charm to it, which was aided by the receding light. I spent a lot of time photographing the place and discussing things about it with BM. Finally, we walked through the lively bazaars of Kashan and reached home, where BM’s son instantly greeted us with tea. Though I was aware of it to some extent, I was quite overwhelmed with Persian hospitality. We had some light dinner after which we split for rest. Before sleeping BM invited me to his basement section, which housed his family and his extra ordinary library with some 2000 odd books.

BM’s library

The books ranged topic from philosophy to poetry, science to religion. There were also some translated books of Nehru. I slept at around mid night and the next day, I was to depart for the cultural capital of Iran, Esfahan.

March 1: At around 8 am, I parted ways with my wonderful host BM and took a bus for Esfahan (pronounced as Esfaahaan and also spelt as Isfahan). The bus was very comfortable, and the journey was extremely scenic. Since Esfahan is at the footsteps of the Zagros mountains, the terrain was hilly and some higher mountains was ice-covered.

Hilly terrain on way to Esfahan

It was a 2 1/2 hr journey, which passed pretty quickly. From the extremely clean and organized bus stop, I took a taxi for my host Meysam’s house. Ancient Esfahan was part of the Elamite Empire under the name of Aspandana also spelt Ispadana. It later became one of the principal towns of the Median dynasty. Subsequently the province became part of the Achaemenid Empire. After the liberation of Iran from Macedonian occupation by the Arsacids, it became part of Parthian Empire. Esfahan was the centre and capital city of a large province, which was administered by Arsacid governors. In the Sassanid era, Esfahan was governed by “Espoohrans” or the members of seven noble Iranian families who had important royal positions, and served as the residence of these noble families as well. Moreover, in this period Esfahan was a military centre with strong fortifications.

The ride was a short 15 minute ride, but already Esfahan was making its mark as the best city in Iran. Green, tree-lined, beautiful roads, calm, it almost had a European feel to it. I reached my host Meysam’s house. It was a compact apartment where he stayed alone. He wasn’t alone though as a Frenchman Francois was staying there, and later I found out that a Serb would also be joining us at night. Meysam was quite a character, perennially smoking and drinking, was a graphic designer by profession. The house was quite a messy place, but with no other option, I had to make do with what I had. In an hour or so, I left for some sight-seeing. Esfahan has lots and lots of places to see, but the major ones are around the famous Naqsh-e-jahaan square, the traditional center of the city. This square is from the period of Shah Abbas I, and has a length of 500 m. from north to south, and its width being approximately 165 m. Surrounding this vicinity are the Shah Mosque and Sheikh Lotf Ol-lah Mosque, the Qaisarieh portal and the Ali Qapu edifice. During the reign of Shah Abbas I and his successors, this square was an area where festivities, polo, dramatics and military parades took place.

I started off with the Shah moqsue, which used to be a private mosque for the royalty. The architectural work was spectacular, with blue ceramic work being the dominant colour.

Shah Mosque

People familiar with Persian architecture in India might be able to relate to the use of blue on ceramic and tile work in Persian structures.

Stunning architecture

A long corridor took me to the main domes structure, outside which a small stall was selling books and DVDs about the place. The main prayer area was a huge dome structure, with lovely art work all over. The roof was spectacular and the run rays percolating through a specially built chamber gave the impression of a peacock on the roof.

The roof

It was nearly empty which allowed me to take some lovely pictures undisturbed. I also made videos, which will feature in the documentary that I will create about this trip. The use of the colour blue was prominent, a feature of the Safavid architecture. After spending an our there, I moved to the other major mosque, Sheikh Lotf Ol-lah.

The Sheikh Lotf Ol-lah mosque was the ‘public’ mosque during the Safavid era. It was much larger than the Shah mosque, though some restoration work prevented me from getting a clear view of the facade structure. On the entrance, there was a large cauldron like object protected in a glass enclosure. The way to the main square inside the mosque was a little to the right, again an architectural peculiarity.

Sheikh Lotf Ol-lah moqsue courtyard

In the main prayer area, one could stand exactly below the center of the dome and your words would echo very clearly. People were shouting all sort of stuff, including some who were screaming Quranic verses! There was a lovely pond in the center and I spent some time walking around it before I exited the mosque.

I moved along the bazaar and found a nice traditional restaurant to have my lunch. It was a typical Persian restaurant, with table and chairs for guests preferring them around the periphery and more traditional seats (like small beds), on which you can dine bare feet, in the center. The food was excellent. During my lunch, I noticed that the cashier was playing the mouth organ, and incidentally the tune of a famous Persian song that I knew. After my meal I went over to him and he kindly played the mouth organ for me again, while I hummed to his tunes.

The cashier with the mouth organ

He was wearing a Zoroastrian symbol around his wrist, an undercover Zoroastrian I guess!

After finishing lunch, I just moved around the market, clicking photos and tasting local sweets and exploring some old buildings in the vicinity. Also saw the first tourist police check post anywhere in Iran. Then I ventured into the ‘Bozorg bazaar’, which means the main/big market.

Spices in the Bazaar

The market was a medley of crafts, art, carpets, ceramic, sweet, metal ware, and dry fruits. It was a really colourful sight, something on the lines of the old bazaars of Delhi. I also met an old gentleman, Ali Shahriarti, a tour guide who was cycling around the square. He seemed very aware of Iran, and to some extent of India too. I decided to hire him for the next day, so that we could cover a large chunk of places in the one remaining day I had. So, we decided that he will pick me up at 9 am from Meysam’s house.

It was quite windy and cool as the sunset on Esfahan. I went to Si-o-se pul (literally 36 bridge, referring to the number of arches), of one the many beautiful bridges of Esfahan. It was a beautiful setting, just that it was very windy and cold, and I was just in tees and denims. The crowd was awesome, one could easily mistake it to be a London or a Paris. The lit arches of the bridge added to the ambience of the place.

Si o se pul

In about half an hour Meysam joined me there, and we visited another bridge nearby. The second bridge had a seating enclosure in the middle, where the erstwhile royalty used to sing and listen to live musicians. Since those days, aspiring singers just sit near the bridge along the street and sing. We were lucky to witness one such nut, who was screaming more than singing, but nevertheless entertaining. Meysam told me that over the weekend, there are a substantial number of people who gather here to showcase their talents. We went back home where I met Meysam’s friend Masood, a very eloquent gentleman. We discussed some stuff about India, since both of them were due to travel to India in a months time. At night, our third guest from Serbia joined us. We had some conversations before the others continued with their beer and cigarettes in another room, while I retired in the living room.

March 2: At around 9 am, my guide Ali was there in his 1970 something BMW.

Ali and his car

He was very well spoken. During my initial conversation with him, he told me he is an engineer who lost his job when foreign companies were expelled from Iran after the Islamic revolution. He asked me what religion did I belong to, and I said I don’t have one, to which he responded by saying, fantastic, even I am an agnostic. The agenda for the day was seeing the Armenian quaters/church, Fire temple, Jameh moqsue, Bozorg Bazaar, ruined Fire temple, and the Zorkhaneh. Armenians have been present in Iran for almost a millenimum now. The few that survive today live around the Iran Armenian border, in Tehran, and in Esfahan. We parked our car in the alleys of the Armenian quarters, a specific settlement which the Safavid King Abbas had put in place for the Armenians. In fact he consciously settled them in Esfahan, to boost trade (Armenians are known to be great traders, alongside the Jews). The area was beautiful, clean, and well maintained. There was a small fountain square right opposite the entrance to the church.

Some local tourists figured out I was from India, and had brief conversations with me. The church was quite a sight, in the heart of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Armenian church

There were a few other tourists. Photography was not permitted in the main prayer hall, but the hall was adorned by beautiful work of art. The church also housed some early Armenian graves, till the time the ruler of Tehran made provisions for a separate grave for the Armenians. Some sections of the church including the museum were under restoration. There was memorial to mark the Armenian genocide as well.

Next, we walked around the beautiful streets of Esfahan and made our way to the only active Zoroastrian fire temple of Esfahan. As my Indian readers would be aware, non-Zoroastrians aren’t allowed to enter a fire temple, but that wasn’t the case in Iran. So, Ali and I went inside the fire temple, which was a first for me. It was a small structure, with pictures of Zoroaster and portraits of Cyrus adorning the walls.

Inside the fire temple

The eternal fire was a small flame kept alive by wax/oil. The items around the eternal flame gave the impression of a strange familiarity with Hinduism. Ali sang a song for me inside the fire temple, and explained its meaning to me. No prizes for guessing that it was Hafez’s poem.

After spending half an hour at the fire temple, we made our way on foot to the Ali Qapu palace at the Naqsh e Jahaan.

Ali Qapu palace

The entrance of the palace was undergoing restoration at the hands of architecture students from the University of Tehran. A spiral staircase took us to the higher levels, most of which were adorned by painting and glass work. Some sections were under restoration. At the top level (level six), there was a hall that was completely decorated with beautiful architectural work.

Lovely ceiling work

There were several other tourists and Ali sang another song there much to the delight of the others present. Again, most people talked with me on realizing that I was from India. I helped a young couple get some photos of themselves against the glass work as well. The views of Naqsh e Jahaan and the old city were magnificent from the Ali Qapu palace.

View of Naqh E Jahan

We then proceeded on foot to the Chehel Sotoun, a pavilion in the middle of a park at the far end of a long pool, built by Shah Abbas II to be used for his entertainment and receptions. In this palace, Shah Abbas II and his successors would receive dignitaries and ambassadors, either on the terrace or in one of the stately reception halls.
The name, meaning “Forty Columns” in Persian, was inspired by the twenty slender wooden columns supporting the entrance pavilion, which, when reflected in the waters of the fountain, are said to appear to be forty.

Chehel Sotoun

The tank was dry as cleaning and preparation for spring was underway. There were many tourists including the dreaded noisy school children. In the main hall, there were exceptional paintings representing political events in and around Iran, including a couple of them which were related to India.

One of the paintings

There were some other artifacts on display. The rear side of the complex housed westernized paintings, which Ali told me were gifts received from the visiting dignitaries during Shah Abbas II’s era.

After exploring the Chehel Sotoun, we went to the Bozorg Bazaar, where we were to have lunch with my CS friend Fardin, his girlfriend, and another couple whom they were hosting. We roamed around the bazaar before entering a small restaurant, which seemed very popular for lunch. Lunch consisted of Esfahani Biryani, which is more like a Naan+Kheema preparation, and very different from the biryani served in India. It was very heavy though, and we had buttermilk (locally known as Doogh) with it.

Lunch

The other couple were from the southern port city of Bandar Abbas. Bandar Abbas reminded me of my childhood because there was a computer game I used to play, where one of the missions was to destroy the city of Bandar Abbas (the game was American of course!). After lunch, we proceeded to the Seljuk era Jameh Masjid, the main mosque inside the bazaar. The architecture of the mosque was quite simple, with elegant stone work replacing any glitterati. There was an excellent section about the history of the mosque, explaining how it was changed over the years. We spent an hour inside the mosque and the various halls and prayer rooms. Towards the end, we spent some time in the main courtyard, which was very beautiful.

Courtyard

It was around 4:30 pm. Fardin and his girlfriend left while the couple from Bandar Abbas, for some unknown reason, came along with Ali and me to our next destination, the old Atashgah (fire temple) of Esfahan. It is a Sassanid-era fire temple complex located on a hill about eight kilometers west of city center of Esfahan. The hill, which rises about 210 meters above the surrounding plain, was previously called Maras or Marabin after a village near there, and it is by that name that the site is referred to by Arab historians. We reached the hill in about 1/2 hour from the mosque.

Aateshgah

The young couple who were along with me were deep asleep, so I went up the hill by myself. It was a steep climb, but a short one. There wasn’t much left at the top, but the views were magnificent. Wonder what it must have been like at its heyday. It was very windy and isolated. There was a young couple lost into each other, whom I managed to disturb and scare away by my presence. Its hard to find a place in Iran to kiss, and this place was probably the best bet in Esfahan. I curbed my voyeuristic instincts and trekked back to the car, to find the love birds from Bandar Abbas still sleeping! That is why I said they came along for some unknown reason.

We dropped them at the Si-o-se pul and proceeded to the last destination for the evening, the one I most eagerly awaited, the Zorkhaneh. The Zorkhaneh, literally the house of strength is a pre-Islamic gym, unique to Iran. A Zorkhaneh is a physical and a spiritual gym. Originally developed during the Sassanid era, it served as a training ground for young Zoroastrian men to train and organize themselves against the Arab invaders. After Islam conquered Iran, most Zorkhanehs shut down. A few survived and the one we were at was amongst the famous ones. The Zorkhaneh was a small area, divided into two halves with a practice well in the center. The walls were decorated with pictures of famous body builders and warriors from Iran.

The Zorkhaneh

Above the practice well sat the ‘Morshid‘, some sort of a spiritual guru. The Morshid plays music and recites inspirational poetry by great Persian poets, while the athletes practice in the well below. The most commonly used instrument was the club. Modern Zorkhanehs have paradoxically adapted to Islam and the Morshid/athletes recite verses from the Quran. I video recorded the proceedings, during which the Morshid introduced me as a guest from India and prayed for my good health (in Farsi of course). You can see the detailed account of the Zorkhaneh when I create and publish my documentary some time soon.

The Zorkhaneh itself is an octagonal pit about 1m deep with a floor of clay soil in which athletes train for Pahlevan. In contrast to gymnastics practiced in the West, the exercises consist of team sports that combine tests of physical strength and flexibility, specific rituals, and respect for traditional moral and ethical rules. The game of Pahlevan (Indians might relate to the sport of Pahelvani/Akhada) changes to keep pace with the sound of a drum played by the Morshid. The athletes who were exercising wore color coded shirts, which indicated their varying levels of expertise. A couple of them looked very Kashmiri from their facial features.

I interacted a little with the people there and offered a donation to the Morshid (Zorkhanehs only survive on donations) and moved out.

With the athletes

It was one of my most memorable and unique experiences. Ali dropped me at Meysam’s house where I thanked him and took his contact details. Meysam, his girlfriend, and the Serb were drinking and smoking in the house. What a transition it was from the Zorkhaneh to Meysam’s house! Meysam kindly booked me a bus ticket for the following morning for the desert city of Yazd. I was very tired after the long and rewarding day and went off to sleep pretty quickly.

Part 3 of the travelogue will cover Yazd and and the ancient capital city of Shiraz.

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4 thoughts on “In the footsteps of the Persian Empire – Part 2

  1. What a lovely read. I loved BM’s library the most! And the Si-o-se pul pic is my favourite. Particularly becos my night photography sucks.
    Thank you for letting me travel vicariously through your travel writing 🙂
    Deepa

  2. Nicely woven threads of information about the Persian culture and art ;footsteps unaffected with the language barrier…osmosis of knowledge through the medium of universal language.Keep it up.:)

  3. Gosh! you’ve made me want to travel to Iran, now! tell me, what’s it like for women tourists? do we wear the hijab, etc?

    1. Thank you for your wonderful compliment Farzana ji. Yes, women tourists have to wear a hejaab (scarf) too and obviously full clothing…but if I may add, the enforcement is pretty lax for tourists..more of compliance.

      Aap toh waise bhi Irani hi ho khoon se kahin na kahin…behichak jayiye..you’ll love it. Baaki madad ke liye main hoon :))

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