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  • Shelley Dark

#15 dust of Iran to humidity of Oman

The excitement today on the way to Kashan was to be seeing a nuclear plant. Habib has been saying for days that we are going to see one, and we must NOT take a photo or the bus will be stopped, our cameras will be inspected, we will be held for days, and the seriousness of his face suggested that far worse could be on the cards. I think that after seeing us all in action this week he doesn't believe we can help ourselves. I have never considered that I might be excited about seeing a nuclear power plant but after the buildup, I was beside myself. Well, almost.

Habib has to stop every hundred kilometres or so to check in to police and/or highway officials with paperwork, so I think the tourist industry is highly regulated.

When we actually did pass the nuclear facility on a long flat plain, it turned out to be underground, so there was nothing really to see except more desert. The only evidence were gun mounds here and there with some very old looking guns covered with army camouflage netting draped over poles. A couple of soldiers standing about looking desultorily at the guns. I don't think they got the memo about the risk posed by passing tourists.

We stopped at the bottom of the red village of Abyeneh for a cup of Habib's coffee and some delicious pastries again. Over morning tea, Ali told us that petrol in Iran is 10c a litre, diesel 30c. Imagine.

On a nearby plane tree, a little graffiti. Hoda said it means 'meadow of wild flowers'. Even in Persian graffiti, there is poetry.

The village is perched on the side of a hil. It was a thriving village once, but the younger generation left for the big smoke, and it was almost abandoned. Those who are left depend on tourism. The hill is so steep in parts that the roof of one house is the back yard of another.

Ali took us on a hike in the heat through the village, then down bush tracks.

Past lilac-coloured flowers of salvia growing in a gully.

And the spent flower heads of a small clematis.

We crossed the gully and walked up a hill on the other side to look back at the village. It's quite camouflaged against the mountain behind. The red is a lovely contrast with the lavender mountains in the distance.

Way off on the other side high up beyond the village, I could see a white dot. When I zoomed in, a man was sitting on rocks, looking down. He'd had quite a climb. You can see traces of building there against the rocks.

It's cold here in winter. Animals are sheltered in caves. There's little doorways like this all over the lower hills.

Further up the hill behind us, you can trace the water by green growth. We walked back into the village.

This man was riding a donkey while his wife walked behind. Maybe she can't ride a donkey. I know I'd rather walk. I couldn't believe he had on a beanie and jumper in sweltering heat. I wondered why.

I spent a while trying to capture two wasps drinking from a tap. I suppose they are using it to make mud for a nest.

Old doorways in Abyeneh.

The man's donkey now parked in the street, snoozing.

Would you call these minimal windows? They're probably on the western side to keep out the heat.

I don't know how you'd keep whites white in this village.

Speed limits on the divided highway vary and closer to Kashan there were different speeds for different lanes. We were there by lunch time at a restaurant on the edge of town.

After lunch at a road restaurant we went to Tepe Sialk, the site of a 5500 year old ziggurat - it's the oldest known of these tiered pyramid-like mounds made by an ancient Sumerian civilisation. It's thought they were temples bringing these people closer to the gods. They chose this place because of the excellent water supply nearby: the Cheshmeh ye Soleiman or Solomon's Spring has been bringing water to this area from nearby mountains for thousands of years.

The archaeological dig in the 1930's was done by French nationals and most of the finds are in the Louvre. The ziggurat itself has been reduced in size by centuries of weathering. Today a really hot wind was blowing and the landscape felt desolate. I'm constantly reminded what things would look like without water.

One of the most famous gardens in Persia or Iran is the Fin Garden and it was on the agenda next. It also depends on the same qanat as the Sialk Ziggurat. Although you wouldn't know it from this photo because I stood and waited for an opportune moment, it was full of people on the hajj holiday, mostly locals picnicking and sitting on the sides of the shallow channels dangling their feet in the water. Guards were circulating telling children to get out of the channels. Why, I wondered. That's what they're for.

It has a typically Persian design, with the entrance in the middle of the bottom of this plan, a central viewing pavilion and swiftly flowing channels following the rectangular grid.

This is the vaulted iwan at the entry to the garden. You can't see the garden until you have passed through this space.

The main axis from the front gate is a water channel with bubbling jets leading to a square pool in front of a pavilion in the centre. All gravity fed from the qanat.

The water continues straight ahead underground then until it reaches the pavilion on the far wall. This decorative work is under that pavilion's dome.

Channels follow the rectangles as on the plan. There are hedges and very tall trees planted all along the edges which give good shade.

The bathhouse where the Qajar chancellor was murdered in 1852 by an assassin sent by Nasereddin Shah is on the left. The chancellor was persuaded to sign his own death sentence while he was drunk.

I've been looking forward to seeing the mansion of a wealthy family in Kashan, so imagine my surprise to find we are staying in one. It's called Ameri House because it belonged to the governor of Kashan, Agha Ameri who made his money from tolls paid on the silk route between Kashan and Kerman (map above) to ensure the safety of the road. If you were travelling on that road and had paid your toll, you were under the protection of this man. If it takes 8 hours to drive today, imagine how long it would have taken on horseback and camels.

The complex is actually owned by the Iranian Cultural Heritage Organisation and was run as a museum until it was leased to a hotel company who has started to develop it as a hotel. There are 85 rooms in seven co-joined houses each with a courtyard. So far they've renovated 16 rooms. They have something of a problem with the stairs which are very steep. They're real muscle stretchers and I can't imagine how the staff manage suitcases up and down. I'll be sore tomorrow. Some of our party had to step across a void to get to their room!

We're in the royal suite no less and our courtyard belonged to Agha Ameri himself, or so the fellow who brought our suitcases said. He probably says that to every guest! That's our door on the right.

And that's our helper - he's must be incredibly fit! I'm just sorry that we have such a short time here to explore.

Our bedroom and bathroom are both roomy and very comfortable. Design-wise it's a little odd. If you're having a shower you drench the loo.That arched wooden trellis work is actually a hidden door to steps which lead to the roof. I think we have a secret passage out! I actually went up the very steep stairs and found the door at the top barred. -:( I had imagined myself walking all over the roof, finding hidden meeting places.

An official guide took us on a tour through the mansion. Agha Ameri's daughter married a financial wizard who took over the business from her father.

These incredible looking spaceships are skylights over the bath house where Agha Ameri allowed his neighbours to bathe once a week. So he didn't have to have smell them?

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We left the compound and went through another gate back inside into the biggest of the courtyards, this one under construction. We saw 4 of the 7. There's so much building going on here. Rooms are full of gravel, bags everywhere, a whole underground room in a basement under that iwan, full of electrical goods and other construction supplies. The company undertaking this development needs very deep pockets.

There was with an iwan at the end, the fanciest we saw, decorated with blue and white scenes almost looking like delft - can you see them in every V? Extraordinary. Two courtyards were for the servants, two for the family, and the central courtyard leads to all 7.

Imagine the artist up there painting all of these scenes and the fine blue borders. The junctions are marked by a silver star and I think the raised dividers look as if they were once red.