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Brad’s Travel Diary

Saturday, 27 Aug 2005

Location: Zahedan, Iran

MapI'm writing this entry from the last population centre before Pakistan, the exotic frontier town of Zahedan. I really don't think they see many tourists here, so I'm quite the attraction for attention! Just now, on my way to the internet cafe the islamic police drove past me just to shout "hello!" on their megaphone! A lot of people here look pretty intimadating (big Afgans with beards, everyone wearing baggy desert clothes and headdress), but everyone is really friendly, again showing how incorrect the stereotypes we're fed are.

After leaving Esfahan, me and my two Russian friends, Alina and Vasily took a bus to Shiraz, the old capital of Persia and home of gardens and poets. Our first stop was Persopolis, an ancient palace complex dating back to 600BC that was burned down by Alexander the Great. The sheer size of the palaces was amazing, and it was very interesting to see some ancient ruins that were totally unconected to Greece or Rome. The most impressive thing was pictures carved into the staircase. They had been buried for thousands of years, so their condition was incredibly good, and contained amazing historical information, such as a parade of people from different countries bringing tithes to the ancient kings. Also incredible was the enginering - how they were able to lift four ton statues to the top of colums twenty metres high. We also saw the massive rock cut tombs of the ancient kings, including Darius and Xerxes. That night we had dinner in a resteraunt outside Shiraz in a nomad tent, where we met a really lovely family who offered to show us some of the city two days after.

The next day we explored Shiraz itself. The city isn't quite as amazing a Esfahan, but it does have some beautiful gardens, wich are wonderful to rest in during the heat of the day. In the evening we went to visit the tomb of the famous Persian poet Hafez, set in some more beautiful gardens. We all had tea and smoked qalyan together while reading Hafez, it was all very appropriate!

The next morning we tried to get into a sacred Shi'a shrine, the tomb of one of the relatives of the Imams. We had tried to get in late the previous night and had been told it was for muslims only! We'd been told it was amazing and that non muslims should be allowed in, so we decided to try again. Vasily said we were from Tataristan (a muslim reigon of Russia) and even tried to say the first surah, albeit pretty unconvincingly. Alas, is wasn't enough and the cleric hustled us away. We met the family from two nights ago after a sleep and they took us to see the tomb of another great Persian poet - Sa'di. We then went to the outskirts of Shiraz to an elevated garden and had tea in a cave with great views over the city.

After four nights is Yazd, we decided to move on to Yazd, an ancient city on the outskirts of the desert. We ended up sleeping on the roof the three nights we stayed, it was really great (and cheap)! The morning after arriving we explored the old city, a fascinating maze of narrow alleyways, arches and mud brick houses and mosques. We got lost several times, but had a great time meeting street kids and seeing Yazd bread made the traditional way. Yazd has some amazing ancient technology to help people survive in the incredibly hot and dry conditions in summer. All over the town there are windtowers, designed to catch the smallest breeze and direct it, via a cooling mechanism, into the house. In addition to this, under most of the city are quanats, a water system where a well is sunk in the mountains (several hundred kilometres away), then the water is directed deep underground to the city. People then dig tunnels from their houses to acess the flowing water. This technology has been used for as long as people can remember, peobably for thousands of years! After stopping and having tea in the heat of the day in a restored mansion we went to visit a Zorastrian temple. Zorastrianism is a really interesting religion, the oldest monotheistic religion in the world. They are extremely tolerant people, and believe that their prophet, Zarathustra, told them the way to happiness is through "good speak, good thought and good deed". They often have fire burning in their temples, as a symbol of purity. The fire in the temple we say had been burning for almost a thousand years!

I had planned on leaving Yazd the next day, but my Vasily and Alina convinced me to spend another day taking a tour to see some of the interesting things around Yazd - I was so glad I did! We first went to the town of Meybod, a mudbrick village that had only been abandoned thirty years ago. It was really fascinating exploring the old houses, although you had to be careful the roof didn't cave in! We walked down to the dry river to see an ancient aquaduct, passing fields of pomegranates and figs - I've never eaten pomegranates before, it was a wonderful place to do it! Next stop was Chak Chak, a Zorastrian pigramage site set high in a cliff in the middle of the desert. The story is that a Zorastrian princess was being chased by the Arabs through the desert. She had run out of water, so she prayed to God at this site and a spring appeared from the mountain. The shrine itself is set in a cave with water dripping from the roof, an amazing crontrast to the aridity of the desert outside. Our guide was actually a Zorastrian, so it was very interesting asking him all aobut his religion. Finally we went to another small town near Yazd, and visited a really ancient mud brick fortress, the sign said it was over five thousand years old! We also saw a restore "pigeon tower" where the townspeople used to keep thousands of pigeons to use their dung as fertiliser. What was weird though was someone had stuffed about a hundred dead pigeons and stuck them in various places in the tower. Freaky!

Yesterday I got the bus from Yazd to Bam. Bam was the site of a massive earthquake two years ago that killed 20,000 people and flattened the incredible Arg-e-Bam citadel that was one of the most amazing sights in Iran. Everywhere in the town there are still piles of bricks, half knocked down buildings and people rebuilding among the thousands of date trees in the city. I went to see the Arg this morning, which was at once an awsome and depressing sight. Almost all of the ancient city surrounding the citadel has been reduced to rubble. However some of the ramparts and walls of the actual citadel survived the quake, enough to imagine how absolutely incredible the city was both before the quake, and two thousand years ago when it was the centre of trade on the silk road between Persia and India. UNESCO is helping to restore the city, so in'shallah, the city will once again be restored to its former glory.

Today I was hoping to make it to the Pakstan border, but unfortunatly I couldn't get a bus soon enough and had to stay in Zahedan. Tomorrow I'm going to cross the border, then get the bus to Quetta (the closest town to Iran), twenty five hours away on terrible desert roads!