#12 Yazd to Isfahan

We were up on the roof at dawn this morning just before the sun rose to see cloud for the time time since we've been in Iran. From this vantage point, you can see the interlocking domes with their coloured glass inserts on the roof.

It was a joy to hear birds singing in the hotel's dense canopy of trees.

When we turned around, we saw we had company on the roof next door, part of a construction site. Perhaps he's the night watchman. He waved at us and our cameras, we waved back, and he immediately went into some extreme yoga poses for us. It made me laugh out loud. He really enjoyed being photographed. I was worried he'd fall off the roof in his enthusiasm.

This is one of the bigger domes. You can see all the waterproofing. Just as well it doesn't rain much here!

It must be hard to keep those tiles clean in the pond. The macaws live bottom right of the photo. I don't know where they go at night.

I left John and walked carefully up and down a couple of ladders around to another wing. A couple of staff were sitting in the carpark below, chatting. They waved. A more senior staff member was arriving and looked up, saw me and indicated frantically that I should come down. I waved in agreement, thinking that I was a little far away to take orders. I was finished anyway.

I'm enjoying breakfasts very much. I had two huge pieces of sweetest watermelon, then paneer tomato and cucumber, coffee from a machine which tasted like instant nescafe but had bubbles on top (!), an omelette with the works. Habib sat next to me and taught me how to say TASHAK KOON ME CONAGH (thank you in a different way, with hand on heart to say I mean it from my heart) and also the word for heart is KALM pronouncing the L. MERCY and MAMMON are the more common forms of thank you. I'm just trusting him that he's teaching me to say things nicely. Unlike a friend of mine whose guide in Korea taught everyone on the tour (the meaning unbeknown to them until later in the trip), when they wanted to go to the loo, to say in Korean 'I'd like to take a p...s please.'

Our trip today was a relatively short one, but again it took most of the day. A day of the most beautiful mountains! The palette of colours in the desert includes pale pinks, lavenders, silver, palest green, softest gold. It's enough to make you sigh with pleasure. It's simply stunning.

The day was made hazy by the cloud. We passed more mountains, more desert.

Suddenly we were beside a pistachio orchard and we could see a group of men harvesting. The bus stopped so that we could take photographs.

Men with hooked poles were on the ground or standing on the low branches, shaking them so that the nuts fell on to blue tarpaulins. They greeted us warmly and were delighted to pose for us.

Suddenly there was a little old-fashioned black kettle of tea and it was being poured for us, using all their glasses and an improvised bowl or two for themselves. I was struck by how very kind this was. Who knows how much they had, and whether it would last the hot day's work. But they insisted, and it tasted all the better for the surroundings.

We thanked them and set off again.

Through more desert, and more of yesterday's wispy clous. We arrived in the town of Naein, where Habib made morning tea and had pastries for everyone in a small park across from the Jame Mosque, one of the oldest in Iran.

We visited the mosque with its dugout underground passages. There's no supporting structure, just a simple dugout. The rooms are used for really hot summer worship and also during the very cold weather. Light comes from alabaster covered skylights, and a qanat brings water to a pond for ablutions.

The diagram above shows parts of a mosque. There's an open courtyard with an ablutions area to wash before prayer and usually but not always a minaret which used to be for the call to prayer (these days it's usually over a microphone). There can 0,1,2,4 or even 6 minarets like the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

There's usually a dome which is purely for aesthetic reasons and it often has beautiful tile work or brick work on the under and/or upper sides.

Entry portals are usually half-a-dome three-wall-enclosed iwans, and usually have a pointed archway. Some are plain, and some are muqarnas which became popular in the middle of the 10th century where the top part is designed to look like honeycomb or stalachtites.

The prayer hall is a large open area. Worshippers face Mecca to pray, indicated by the qibla wall. The floor is either covered with carpet, or if not, individual prayer rugs are used. There's also a rack for shoes at the entry to the hall, shelves for copies of the Qoran, and some spare beads.

On the qibla wall, there is an ornamental often richly decorated door-like indented niche representing Mecca, called a mihrab, and an often moveable set of stairs going nowhere, called a minbar where the imam preaches. He never stands on the top step because that is reserved for Mohammed.

This carved wooden mihrab in this mosque is believed to be ninth or tenth century. You can see the pre-Islamic Persian influence of curved lines and the representation of living plants. So the Persians were still rebelling against the geometric-only influence. The wooden minbar right beside it is obviously from a different era, with strictly Islamic geometric carving.

The single minaret is tenth century.

The dome ceilings over the buildings are designed on a star shape.

The stucco work above and below this is also from the same era. You can see where parts are falling off.

It was soon time for lunch, and guess what we had?

A very tasty barley soup, and you guessed it, kebabs!

We arrived in Isfahan late in the afternoon. It's a huge city of nearly two million people, famous for having one of the biggest city squares in the world, beautiful tree-lined streets, covered bridges, palaces, mosques, and minarets. It's also known for the quality of its handicrafts.

Our hotel was only 2 blocks from the 'river', so after checkin, John and I went for a walk. The 'river' is a dry riverbed which fills rarely. That's the Si o Se Pol Bridge in the background, which at 297 metres across, is the longest of eleven bridges. Paddle boats are moored hopefully along the bank, and kids were playing in an old dinghy sitting in the middle.

There's a covered corridor on either side lined with a series of arches. It's obviously a favourite meeting and strolling place for families, especially on a day like today which is the day of hajj where families are supposed to sacrifice a lamb, so they have probably all had one of Mum's big lunches. I took a video here where a boy came from behind me doing a wheel stand on his bicycle. Kids are the same the world over, aren't they?

We decided on an Italian meal tonight in a restaurant in the basement of the hotel. With a real Italian waiter and authentic flavour, it was nice to taste pasta again.

I don't think I have told you about nose jobs in Iran! It's very common to see young people, both men and women, with their noses bandaged after a cosmetic nose job. Apparently Iran has been named the rhinoplasty capital of the world - with seven times more operations carried out here than in the US. It's not cheap either. Isn't it strange how a procedure like that can become popular? I guess when you have to cover most of your body, you want your face to look perfect. The hijab certainly focuses all the attention on your nose. And the boys have caught the disease.

I'm really looking forward to seeing Isfahan tomorrow, so it's time to sleep.

But first a quote from Hafez:

I have wrapped my laughter like a

birthday gift

And left it beside your bed...

Until the morrow, buddies....