#10 overland to Yazd


The road between Shiraz and Yazd weaves through valleys on the high plateau of the Zagros Mountains. The trip took us nearly 11 hours from 8am with quite a few stops along the way. We're glad to be at our hotel in Yazd, which has a very pretty garden. Even though it was nearly dark when we arrived, the heat of the day lingered.

Before we left Shiraz, another passenger Anders and I walked down to the tomb of Hafez which is very close to the hotel. I've enjoyed researching some of his more famous quotes and listening to the translation of the postcard I bought yesterday. The present tomb buildings were designed by the French architect and archaeologist André Godard and built in 1935 on the same site as a previous memorial to him.

Anders had been there the evening before as it was closing, and had arranged to be allowed in early to take photographs even though it doesn't actually open until 8am. The only trouble was that the staff were different of course, and these new employees weren't programmed. They went into a consultative huddle about whether they could accept our admission fee out of hours.

We took advantage of their indecision after assuring them we were happy to pay the fee, by wandering into the site and taking photographs anyway. But no one was prepared to take our money. By the time they decided what to do (let us in), we'd finished our photos, and the guard gave me a hug as we left. Still no one would take our fee.

Hafez was born in Shiraz in 1315 and died there in 1390. He was much loved by his countrymen and was court poet. The Iranian people still learn his verses by heart. There has always been a memorial on this site, which was also a cemetery, but in the 19th century a Zoroastrian started to construct a shrine around it. Others protested a Zoroastrian shrine around the grave of a Muslim. Hafez is his pen name which means 'memoriser' because he knew the whole Qoran off by heart. It wasn't really resolved properly until this tomb was built.

This woman was buying her daily bread. These broad visors are a good solution to sun protection with a hijab, but most women go hatless.

Others were having buying breakfast on the street at this café, where a glutinous stew was being served out of a huge saucepan. There were lots of customers!

We passed pretty municipal gardens. Always the mountain backdrop.

This is the only sprinkler I've seen.

As we left Shiraz in our bus, we passed light and heavy industry out in the desert.

Stall holders were just setting up for the day on the side of the road. Habib stopped the bus to buy provisions for our picnic lunch: figs, cucumbers, shiraz grapes. He chose them as meticulously as any housewife.

Green crops contrasted with the barren hillsides.

How wonderful to have underground water.

The mountains were lower here but constantly alongside. Later they became huge, beautiful and forbidding.

Our first stop was at the ancient city of Pasargardae, the capital of the first Achaemenid ruler, Cyrus the Great, and also the site of his tomb. Locals always used to call the tomb Solomon's mother's tomb until excavations revealed it to be Cyrus' capital. The building above overlooking the valley was thought to be a platform for a palace, never finished.

It enjoys a great view of the entire valley, which is so representative of the countryside. Mountains, desert, oasis in the distance.

In the valley below are ruins of several palaces. This pillar in front of one is engraved in cuneiform, 'I am Cyrus, Achaemenid ruler'.

photo by Truth Seeker (fawiki) under creative commons licence Wikimedia

That's a closeup above. What a vision he must have had - it's hard enough to establish a garden on really good soil with good water. A lush garden in the blazing heat of a desert? I'm filled with admiration for these Persian people, then and now.

Cyrus dug underground canals to bring water from the nearby river to this desert, and began building in about 546BC and the city was still unfinished when he died in battle in 529 BC. One of his sons is buried here, although the administrative capital had in the meantime been shifted to Susa.

These men were working in the sun to keep the remains of canals clear of dirt, dust flying in their faces.

This is the 2500 year old tomb of Cyrus, visited and ransacked by Alexander the Great and his men in the fourth century BC. He is supposed to have found inside the tomb a golden bed, a table set with drinking cups, a gold coffin and some ornaments studded with precious stones. There was an inscription on the tomb, now no longer visible, which said:

'Passer-by, I am Cyrus, who founded the Persian Empire, and was king of Asia. Therefore grudge me not this monument'.

Instead of the beautiful gardens he created, the only plants to be seen are tough desert thorns.

It's nice to see that some funds are being spent on restoration. Isn't the scaffolding exquisite?

There's so much work to be done in conservation, with much precious stonework lying where it fell on the ground. Over the centuries much of it has been carted away for other construction. I hope that when the sanctions are lifted, more funds will be available.

We drove on through the desert until we reached this picnic spot with weeping willows around a small lake in the town of Safashahr, elevation about 5000 feet, known as the city of pleasure. It certainly was easy on the eye - it's hard to believe the contrast between the desert and this. Habib's picnic was very welcome: paneer, the Persian feta we've been having each day, fresh figs, red and black shiraz grapes, herb yoghurt, cucumbers, sangak (meaning small stone because this unleavened bread is cooked on pebbles), peaches and dates. A feast fit for a Persian king.

This is Habib our with the grapes. One of his star turns when I get into the bus is to clutch his heart and roll his eyes, and say something in Persian, which he is trying to teach me to say. I think it means 'you make my heart ache' or 'I'm dying of love for you' or something similar. It's totally absurd and yet it makes me laugh every time.

Cyrus couldn't have eaten better.

Is there any prettier fruit than a fig?

I told you in my email that Persians had a way of keeping ice over the whole summer. Here it is. This one is in the town of Abarkouh, and it's an ice pit or yakhchāl, an ancient cooler. BY 400 BC Persian engineers had perfected the design, used for the storage of ice over the summer months. They froze water in ponds outside the beehive structure, and also inside the yakhchāl, then they cut it up to be stored inside to last until the end of summer.

It's a huge, cavernous space inside. Once the water was frozen by the winter cold, it was cut up and stored in this underground pit inside the dome and it lasted through the summer. I suppose the pit was lined with stone.

Holes through the base of the dome allowed the cold air to come in from outside, and this central hole in the top funnelled out any warmer air. The ice would last for six months, and food could also be stored inside.

We drove on to Yazd through the more dramatic desert and mountain scenery.

We stopped for a couple of photo opportunities, like this eagle-shaped rock. It was a long day for our driver, who maintains his cheery attitude. He was still actively helping hours later at dinner.

Dusk was falling as we drove into the town of Yazd named after the last Zoroastrian King Yazd, thirty-eighth and last king of the Sassanian Empire from 632 to 651. Above is the faravahar, symbol of the Zoroastrian religion and a common symbol of Persia in Iran, seen everywhere. After a civil war, he was installed as king - historians differ on how old he was, but he was young - 8, 11 or 21 years old. HIs rule was brought to an end by the Arab invasion on their quest to bring Islam to the world.

There is 100mm of rainfall a year (4 inches) here, so water is scarce and life is hard. It's supplied by a 90km of qanat. Yazd people are know for being careful, economical, always thinking about the future. There's only one million of them in the entire province. They don’t spend lavishly and are not pleasure-loving like the Shirazi, or spendthrifts like the Tehrani's who spend everything they have on luxury goods like cars for the sake of appearance. In Yadz they still believe in the evil eye, so it's not acceptable to flaunt wealth and incense is burned to frighten the evil eye away.

Zoroastrians in Iran are a small minority group and the biggest concentration lives in Yazd - although many of them converted to Islam after the revolution because non-Islamic citizens cannot go to university or get state jobs. Like the Parsis in India who left Persia because of persecution, their numbers are dwindling because to remain a Zoroastrian you have to marry within the sect.

How Habib the driver felt like stopping for another photo opportunity after 7 hours driving I have no idea, and he was at dinner later, energetically helping the waiters.

We arrived at hotel after 7pm. The staff had just hosed the garden and walkways along the swiftly flowing central channel. Our room is half way down on the left and although small is pleasant and comfortable.

Two macaws on a stand were doing a photo call.

Do you remember that I told you about an Iranian dish made by families on special days? It's a sort of soup or stew called dizi, and we were to have it tonight at a local restaurant. After a quick shower, the bus took us to the centre of town and from there we walked past the bazaar and the nicely lit Amir Chakhmagh structure.

Oh by the way, the diners last night said that the Shiraz restaurant was enjoyable - very modern all white fit out and the food was good - a variation on the same theme we've been having.

Soft-serve has conquered the world.

In the evening light we could just see five wind catchers on top of the town's huge round-topped cistern. Even the town water supply is cooled.

Dinner was in the open courtyard of what was once a local home. Dizi is actually a hot dish with mutton, potato, tomato and chic pea, all cooked together in a tall earthenware pot.

It's brought to the table from the oven where the juice is poured off into a soup bowl into which you put torn bread to soak. I just ate it as soup and it was rather yummy.

John was very enthusiastic with his bread tearing. Then the solids are pulverised inside the pot with a pestle and the paste scooped out to be eaten on a side plate. It took a lot of effort to make it and I could see that the ritual would be fun for a family get-together.

There were dishes of salad greens with lots of herbs, paneer and pickled vegetables as well. Others had Iranian icecream for dessert. It was served as a flat slice, cut into squares - tonight one bright yellow and one chocolate flavoured. John enjoyed it.

It is 11.30pm and we are back at hotel. The bus driver certainly deserves his rest tonight. We'll appreciate ours too.

I rather like this little mosaic bird we saw somewhere yesterday don't you?

Another Hafez quote to start your day. Remember I told you that he fought against religious intolerance?

I Have Learned

So much from God

That I can no longer

Call Myself

A Christian, a Hindu, a Muslim,

A Buddhist, a Jew.

A wise man.

Until tomorrow,