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  • Shelley Dark

#9 wearing a chādor

Today is Friday, the day of prayer like our Sunday. The weekend is Friday and Saturday, with Sunday being a normal working day.

We visited Shah Cheragh shrine or tomb and mosque, the sacred resting place of two brothers, sons of an imam who were murdered on this site in 835AD during the Abbasid persecution of Shia muslims. The Abbasid dynasty was an Arab caliphate which operated from Baghdad. Notice the canvas blinds on the outside? They're keeping the verandah cool. Outside curtains are often seen on buildings and monuments in Iran - it's more effective than internal curtains because it stops window glass heating up.

The Friday holiday meant it was crowded with both locals and tourists.The vast tomb building with two different entries segregating male and female, is a space for people to go to pray, meditate and interact socially.

The men had already gone off with their guide, while we girls had to put on visitor chādors, kept in a room near the front ticket office. They're made of one big piece of cloth which goes over the head and is pulled together at the front with the hand. I really wanted a black one, but we were given light-coloured small prints, maybe so they could identify us as tourists, because we had to stay with a woman guide wearing a sash marked International Relations.

When you see Iranian women wearing a chādor, it looks effortless. Not so for us.

It was almost Impossible to keep on, because we were putting it on over our hijab, trying to keep our camera hands free. There's a special way of grabbing the long bits and draping them over the elbows to keep the fabric from dragging on the ground. Instead, when we took a step, we walked on it. Laughing, I could see myself falling over. Everyone was having the same problem, with hijabs being pulled off by the weight of the chādor fabric.

While we were all laughing, a group of locals asked to have their photos with us. The little girl wanted to wear my hat.

At mosque entrances, there are trays of small terracotta disks or mohr. Each worshipper takes one, finds a place to face Mecca, places the disk on the ground and touches the head to it while praying, indicating humility.

There are also spare prayer beads to borrow. The guide explained that the light from very brightly coloured glass in mosques is good for the mind - different light in different seasons.

please click on the first photo of the gallery to bring up bigger photos of Shah Cheragh

The female side of the shrine itself was simply magnificent. Mind-blowing. Gasp-worthy. When I saw John's photos, I think the male side was even more jaw-dropping. Superlatives don't even really do it justice. In the first couple of rooms, we weren't allowed photographs. Then we went into a huge pillared room equally fabulous but with a much more casual atmosphere where women were sitting on the carpet with their children, talking quietly.

With our hands we rolled the round silver coloured spinning balls which form the screen above the tomb itself. There were many paper money bills inside the enclosure and the guide explained it’s to upkeep the buildings. Muslims believe that if you have a wish, you should ask an intermediary saint for it and he will intercede with god. And so people ask the brothers to intercede.

We were told that photos were permitted here and almost immediately women came up and asked to have their photos with us. This little poppet with a broken arm came up on her own, and Mum took the photo. It seems to be the thing to do on Friday, to come here to sit around on carpets in the air-conditioning with sumptuous soaring ceilings of mosaic glass.

John's photo of a worshipper.

To conclude the visit our guide ushered us into another huge modern high-ceilinged space inside the building where we met the men again.

Hoda arranged a chādor over one of the group for a photograph.

At every turn another beautifully carved marble picture.

Outside in the courtyard, the locals were happy to pose for photos. This dear woman was making a small statement with a fluoro scarf under her hijab. I think henna dyed hair is something you do when you've been to Mecca. Men often dye their beards as well. It's a pilgrimage Muslims should make at least once in their lives. What a thrill it must have been for her.

Others weren't so sure.

This boy had much better things to do.

Such a pleasant kindly face.

Although most shops were shut, this boy was having a haircut as we walked to lunch.

This grandfather showed off his new grandchild, an older one unsure about us and our cameras.

This fabric seller was quietly reading. It's obviously not obligatory to shut your shop on Friday.

This man was very proud of having his photo taken with so many women. Two of them don't think much of the idea.

A shopper is choosing her bread for lunch.

A taxi waits in the shade.

This woman was about to jack up a car with a flat tyre. Her husband was doing something else until we all started photographing her. Then he came to take over.

Past a fruit and vegetable stall.

We soon arrived at Naranjaestan, a house and typically Persian garden of a Zand era merchant family, the Qavams.

Islamic architecture has a style all of its own, and generally incorporates the following features:

*a plain exterior - there should be no ostentation showing to the outside world and gives no hint of what's inside. This applies to the dress code as well.

*the interior presents an opportunity for decoration - domes, tiles, plasterwork, gardens with fruit trees, flowers, fountains etc.

*there is usually an interior courtyard garden

*mosques are usually open plan with domes or cupolas, and a niche called a mihrab from where the imam leads the prayer - to face the mihrab is to face Mecca. I'll tell you more about the parts of a mosque in another post.

*the pointed Islamic arch is common

*geometric patterns rather than flowing lines, no physical representations of people or living things

*decorative calligraphy on walls and ceilings

Palms and walkways lined the water channel edged with colourful annuals.

It was built later in the 19th century, and shows a Victorian influence in the painted low ceilings upstairs. It's now owned by the university of Shiraz and is run as a museum.

The mirrored porch is a focal point of the house.

please click on the first photo to bring up slide show

Tile work, painted walls, wooden inlay work - all beautiful.

I sat in the shade looking back at the entrance to wait for the others

It was a long drive late in the morning on to the Eram botanical garden, once a private mansion but now belonging to university of Shiraz. It's a huge garden laid out around the home on a grid of depressed squares and rectangles which are again flood irrigated.

There were crowds of people there enjoying the green space, having a picnic on their holiday.

Many like this beautiful girl were happy to pose.

The glare of the bare mountains in the background is a constant reminder of what this country would look like if the town wasn't irrigated.

There was a small shady courtyard where handcrafts and psychedelically coloured faloudeh was being sold.

As we were leaving the garden, I noticed a man whose two budgies were sitting on people's shoulders, on their heads. He was actually selling postcards with quotes from Hafez. One of the budgies was choosing the sheets for each customer with his beak. I couldn't resist.

The English part said: For those grieving the loss of data. You will be acceptable to God and the prayers of the night will end this painful separation. Be careful you do not make mistakes. With patience and the help of friends, you will succeed.

I immediately wondered if my computer had fallen off the desk at the hotel! The main part is written in Farsi, so Hoda kindly translated it for me.

This is what she said: My luck is going to change and I need to embrace it. I need to stop sitting on my prayer rug and go and drink wine and be happy. (sounds good to me!)

I was hungry by now and glad to arrive at the Qoattro restaurant with its inventive sign. We went upstairs where everyone was given a wifi password so we hopped onto the huge beds and heads went down - it's been quite nice not to be checking our devices!

Most of us had chicken barbecue which looked suspiciously like a kebab. Iranian chicken is much less fatty than ours and quite flavoursome. Our guide Ali is having to act as a waiter at every restaurant, otherwise it would take hours to be served.

Our last stop for the day was at the Pink Mosque or Nasir ol Molk Mosque, one of the prettiest in Iran. You'll see different spellings of this and other places in Iran, because when the Farsi script is translated, different spellings develop and all are correct. The front door gave a hint of what lay inside.

This beautiful half dome of the iwan was facing into the internal courtyard.

Inside the small but very beautiful mosque, there is brightly stained glass all along the eastern side which throws coloured shafts of light into the room. The time to visit would be in the morning. A sign asks visitors not to pull up the carpets - necessary if you're to see the light play on the bare floor.

The tile pattern and colours are probably the prettiest we have seen.

I wandered over to the building on other side of the courtyard to see the downward-sloping bull tunnel. When all the water for the mosque was provided by the large well inside, a harnessed bull would walk downhill in his subterranean tunnel, pulling up a huge bucket from the well and tipping it into a small pond where it could then be redistributed.

Outside on the street, I saw a group of children who came up to me to chat.

The smallest was wary of the camera. In my second shot, the poor little mite burst into tears. A mosque guard came out and shooed them, and a local told me that they're from Afghanistan, refugees from the Taliban.

This one was born to model.

On the way back to the bus, Odette and I were photographing this bemused group of young men. Odette walked into the photo so that I could take one of her with them with her phone. She went to put her arm around the chap in green and he jumped away as if he'd been burned. Touching not allowed!

More of the locals.

After Michael and Hoda gave us a talk tonight, John and I went out for dinner to a nearby restaurant. It's owned by Massoud who was a commercial airline pilot before the revolution in 1979 and lost his job afterwards. Then he became a mechanic, inhaled poisonous gas, and now his lungs prevent him from working. John had something called Larry chicken and I had a slow-cooked green stew called koresh. Both were delicious but we were sitting outside and it was a little dark for photos. When we went to pay, Massoud demurred. No no, he said. Please do not pay. I'd read before we left home that Iranians will sometimes do this. We insisted, he agreed. It's a small nicety.

I've just had a shower. The shower is over the bath with no shower curtain, so I've flooded the bathroom. The toiletries bottles are only marked in Farsi script, so we're guessing what is what.

This morning as we left the hotel, we met a Chinese man in foyer. He told us that he and eleven other people have driven in 3 of these four-wheel drives from Zengzhou in China to here - you can see their track in the map above. I think it's taken a month. They fly to Dubai today then back to China. Their cars are shipped back. Last year they drove from Beijing to Milan. Next year who knows. What a trip!

His card, just in case you feel like an adventure next year.

People in Iran often put their hand on their chest, as much as to say, I mean this with all my heart. As this boy did. I like it a lot.

Our Hafez quote for today:

There are different wells within your heart.

Some fill with each good rain,

Others are far too deep for that.

Until tomorrow when we travel to Yazd, I wait you...

shelley dark, writer 

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