My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Iran: A Persian Odyssey -the road from Yazd to Esfahan

the protected old town around our hotel in Yazd 

layby vendor Yazd outskirts

 We leave Yazd for Esfahan – a journey of 316 km – but there will be plenty to see along the way so we should not be bored.
Lorries full of water melon are being unloaded at shops as we leave town; 
charity box in layby
there are blue and yellow charity boxes every 30 yards or so along roads – they are everywhere throughout Iran; These are placed by the Imam Khomeini Relief Foundation which was founded in 1979 to provide support for poor families and help them to regain financial stability. 
soil excavation and brick piles - local industry
Water channels or jubs along the roads in the towns are flushed through regularly or may be permanently flooded; they serve to keep temperatures lower and clear rubbish. Live chickens in pens are for sale on the outskirts of Yazd by the side of the road – (the first live chickens I have seen here – given the huge consumption of eggs and chicken meat I fear most must be reared indoors in factory farm conditions?) There is the occasional field of sunflowers – and we are soon back in the desert – with camel bushes planted to stabilise the sand.
the Narin fort at Meybod
As mentioned already, the soil around here is good for bricks and tiles – and there are plenty of piles of bricks to be seen everywhere, with much evidence of soil excavation for the manufacturing process. The tiles they make are expensive and stylish for private houses and apartments.

Meybod is known for its traditional sweets especially sesame, its many caravanserai, its pigeon houses and ice houses. Here we see an ancient mud brick citadel Narin Fort, dating back to 4000 BC, which we stop and photograph. This used to guard the caravanserai and the town itself. There is 6000 BC pottery here in the Seljuk hills. This was a strong Zoroastrian centre as well as now being well known for its pottery workshops producing domestic pottery - in a riot of patterns and vivid colours.
pottery shop and blue/yellow charity collection box

Here also we have a modern pottery demonstration. It is superb to watch the skill of the expert and very funny when our own group have a go! The shop here is a good souvenir opportunity and the pottery I took home from here was well received. It is very pretty. I wish I could have bought more but the airline strict weight restrictions must have had quite a negative effect on souvenir shopping generally - especially for the heavier items such as pottery and metal plates for example. I feel very sorry for the tradesmen who must have noticed this.  
pottery demonstration

shop in caravanserai
A further twenty minutes down the road we stop at a restored caravanserai for a comfort break and another shopping opportunity. There are lovely little artisan shops here; one lady is making handbags – and there is a coffee shop – but we have our own picnic by the coach – with gorgeous little fig sweets. There is an ice house on the opposite side of the road as well as a Post Office museum, in the last of these post office stations remaining in Iran. Sadly we have no time to see this.  Some school boys out on a trip want us in their selfies! 
factory farm?

It is still another 75 miles or c. 2 hours to lunch. Everywhere we still see photos of the war martyrs.
We pass pistachio orchard, farms and what I feel sure are factory farms. We also see several old caravanserai in various states of preservation, in desert landscape surrounded by distant mountain ranges. The traffic is mostly lorries and tour buses – except on the Friday holiday, when many private cars take to the roads and travel long distances to visit the same attractions that we are being taken to.
roadside vendor
This is the least interesting part of the whole drive to date – there is mile upon mile of desert as far as the eye can see with a distant hazy mountain range. Even the farms are now very few and far between. Occasional fruit vendors display their wares of pomegranate and water melons in lay-bys. There is a camel warning sign – we do see some camels much later in our journeying but not here.  
Then at Mohamediye we visit a carpet weaving workshop. We chat to a woman who is friendly and very welcoming but clearly curious about our group. Her husband hovers behind her and she has two beautiful young children.

our carpet weaver
The carpet weaver has been doing this work since he was 8 – he didn’t go to school. His children don’t want to carry on the skill – they would rather be lorry drivers – which is very sad. All his sisters are in the same trade and his wife works similarly at home. We watch as he skilfully weaves, dresses the cloth with a soap mixture to keep the moths away, uses a fine abrasive block to smooth the cloth and carefully trims the edges with fine nail scissors. He has made all the rugs which are for display in this workshop. We buy lovely little circular rugs – beautifully made – for 700,000 rialls each or about £17 at today's rate.
underground carpet workshop - for cooler working conditions

Lunch is at the Naeen or Na'in Tourist Hotel – they were not apparently expecting us and we had a little wait for seats but this was perhaps the best lunch we have had so far – soup starter, bread which was very fresh, a very good freshly prepared veggie dish of grilled tomatoes, rice and chips with pickled cabbage -  all very tasty and nicely presented. The rest of the group had the usual rice with beef or chicken kebabs but they were also said to be very good. Grapes and bananas completed the meal.
typical farmyard
So now we are on the road again for Esfahan with another 125 km to go.
There are mountain ranges on both sides – the snow breaks at the side of the road warn of less benign weather than what we are now experiencing. There is also a warning sign for cows in the road – I never saw any on our entire trip – although again there is much beef eaten – halal of course – so it must all be factory farmed I guess?

old caravanserai
This road has several well preserved caravanserai . We pause on the journey to look at a qanat system. This was a very ingenious system of underground water channels which tapped the water from the aquifers in the mountains and guided it down to the fields for irrigation. The line of the channels can be seen above ground by way of raised earth mounds like huge ant hills on top of which are inspection hatches. Men would climb down deep into the channels beneath to maintain and regulate the flow. Sadly the area has become a dreadful litter tip for flytipping. They are best seen in the Yazd area and the Water Museum there had a very good explanatory display for this most ingenious engineering which dates back 400 years before the Romans had built their aqueducts!   
As we get closer to Esfahan it is getting noticeably greener – some fields are obviously well irrigated here - nowadays more often by concrete channels rather than qanats. We pass through an ugly industrial zone as we approach this most beautiful city in the world.
entrance hatch to qanat system
To our left is a large National Park where live 1500 deer, 4000 wild goat, 800 sheep – plus hyena, fox, wolves, vultures and eagles. Plenty of springs and water support the wildlife. There are very pretty little pink flowered bushes by the side of the road.
row of qanats
We are at 1650 m altitude. The city's water supply comes from 120 km away in the mountains. The river in the city is dry – there has been a 50 year drought and while people used to picnic and boat on the river they now walk on the dry river bed and the boats lie idle on the bank.
Our guide tells us that Esfahan has the reputation for being stingy – there are lots of jokes in the same vein as our Scottish jokes.
It is evening and still 23 degrees outside the coach. 
We check in at the Abbasi Hotel. It is an old caravanserai now converted to what is claimed to be the best hotel in Iran. It is easy to see why – it is hard to imagine anything else could be better. But stay in the main hotel rather than in the large modern extension blocks built behind the gardens, and in a room looking onto the courtyard rather than on to the road or you are likely to be disappointed.
sunset on arrival at Esfahan
The evening meal in the hotel is OK –hotel restaurants are not usually the best idea anywhere in the world but we need to give our wonderful driver a break after such a long day on the road. We eat in the Traditional Restaurant – I think it is very good – not all agree – they have the usual kebabs – but my veggie dish is beautifully done for me – and they have lovely sweets – Halva (a dense sticky sesame sweet with honey) and Fereni (a sort of Persian rice custard with rosewater) and a sticky honey cake. They all satisfy my very sweet tooth.
It is strange to have to remember to put on our hijab scarf just to go out on the balcony – and remember to do so to pop out for help with adapters from the amazingly helpful housekeeper across the corridor.

remember to wear your hijab!

Buying a stamp for a postcard in one of the gift shops down in the hotel reception area the assistant has to stick this on with some incredibly strong smelling glue from a tube she keeps for the purpose. One has to remember to ask for this when buying stamps everywhere.


  1. I had imagined Iran (Persia) to be quite green, but your photos look quite sandy and bleak.

  2. sorry Jo Anne I have just caught up with your comments! Yes it depends on the part of the country - we drove for many miles along the edge of the vast central desert region but the road to Abyaneh for example was lush with vegetation and beautiful autumnal colours of many trees in a greener landscape.