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

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Iran: A Persian Odyssey - the road to Yazd

ceiling at the Saadi Tomb

We are leaving Shiraz today and have a long journey to Yazd - but first we stop on the outskirts of Shiraz to visit the Tomb of Muslah al-Din Saadi set in its own lovely gardens.

Saadi poetry panel from The Rose Garden
Our guide has a beautiful singing voice and treats us to his interpretation of some of the poet's verses which are portrayed in colourful tiles on the walls in the mausoleum. One is a panel of prose from Golestan or The Rose Garden, written in 1257, one of Saadi's major poetic works. The Rose Garden is a collection of stories and wisdom in eight chapters, with each section representing a flower of the garden. It is still very popular among Iranians and our guide will readily quote and explain passages from the poem which is full of moral guidance.  
the gardens at the Saadi Tomb
Another popular quote from the poet, inspired by his own unhappy marriage, goes thus: "A good wife comes with a good man to dwell - she soon converts his earthly heaven to hell."

There is a man meditating by a pool in the grounds - it is all very peaceful and I would have liked time there myself to savour the peace and quiet.
The loos here are modern and clean - a rare treat here!

We now have a three hour drive to our restaurant for lunch on the way to Yazd - passing Persepolis on the way.
Seat belts are only compulsory here on the main roads out of town and we are told there are police checks on this. Our coach stops to pay a toll, due also from lorries, but from which the cars seem exempt. We have a fascinating lecture on education through Iranian history, from c. 550 BC onwards, to while away the journey - but I cannot take my eyes away from the scenes which unfold through the window on our way - there are so many interesting sights. We follow the 55N towards Esfahan and Tehran but turn off later to the east at Surmaq towards Yazd.

scenery on road to Yazd
It's 24 degrees outside - pleasantly warm for me given the dry heat - with none of the humidity that often makes UK summer heat so unpleasant. The message scrolling across the information bar at the front of the coach includes a safety message about seat belts and a blessing for our journey in the name of Muhammed - also reminding us that bottled water is freely available in the fridge by the back door. We need to drink plenty to avoid dehydration.

A village in the distance prominently flies a huge black flag - we see many of these on our journey - they are marking the mourning month of Moharram, a full 28 days each year commemorating the tragic death of the third Imam, Hossein. This year it covers the month of October - the dates change annually. 

There are still many nomadic settlements dotted around near the road - no doubt they are here to help with the vegetable harvesting. A few rather grand villas in their own green compounds are in stark contrast to the dusty looking sandy coloured stone villages we pass and the nomads' tented settlements.

marble quarry
We're now on a high plain - with the road following the course of a dried out river for some time. There are many concrete irrigation channels here set into the fields - with sluice gate controls - perhaps fed by the new controversial Sivand dam nearby (see 5th December post).
There are a few donkeys - not so common in this part of the world - and most farm compounds seem to have a collection of old tractors and combine harvesters and other farm implements. We still climb, and come above the agricultural zone into a rocky terrain criss-crossed with rough side roads and tracks.

The mountains here are rich in minerals and there is much quarrying activity. We pass a very large marble mine for which the region is famous - as reflected in the wonderful and extensive marble tiling and walls and floors we see in many of the buildings we visit.

At midday we arrive at our turn off towards Yazd, stopping soon for a loo break by a rather magnificent mosque in a small village. 
fresh bread on the bus
Ali buys some fabulous fresh bread in the local shop and we tear and share it on the coach. It is lovely. It is still an hour before lunch and we welcome the stop and the refreshments. We continue to drive further north west and higher into the mountains. The terrain becomes increasingly bleak and barren and villages are few and far between here. We are now 195 km from Shiraz. For a long while we drive through very arid scrubland - but multicoloured rock faces look rich with minerals - looking like the multi spice "cakes" for sale in the spice shops in the Esfahan bazaar we will visit later in the week. A magnificent jagged mountain chain looms out of the haze of dust and heat on our left. The road is very long and straight ahead of us.

A lonely man is litter picking into a large yellow sack seemingly a long way from anywhere. I can only guess that he is finding something with a recyclable value.

snow melt area in otherwise barren landscape
There is much snow up in this area in the winter and the snow melt catchment areas show green and lush, where many fruit trees are cultivated - peach, mango, cherry, pomegranate, grapes, almonds, apples … Otherwise the area is quite barren.
Hunters from Shiraz have decimated the wild life in this area and the countryside to our left is now designated a National Park.
We stop to eat somewhere on the road around Faragheh to Abarkuh but I am not sure where. 
Although the restaurant has a very unprepossessing interior and is geared for tour groups, locals also eat here and the food was very good, the service efficient and friendly. And they made me a lovely veggie dish of aubergine and potato stew, although from later experiences perhaps they just fished the meat out of it! Veggies beware! The low point of the meal was the pre-packaged plastic container of cabbage salad to start - very boring.

mosque along the way
There is another beautiful mosque in the middle of nowhere - 

inside the icetower
the icetower at Abarkuh
and we stop to see the ice tower in Abarkuh. These are large fire -brick domed constructions set deep into the ground and formerly used for ice storage, a version of our own English country estate icehouses. 

There are old caravanserai (inns with central courtyards built for travellers or caravans) along the route here approximately 30 km apart - to facilitate the change of horses and availability of refreshments for the postal service or Royal Road across the country which was introduced by Darius the Great - and was the world's first postal service! It later became part of the Silk Road. 

We drive through pistachio country and see many small pistachio tree plantations. 
Our guide tells us that the road to Yazd attracts camels out of the cold desert at night to the tarmac which has been warmed during the day and retains its heat. For this reason it can be very hazardous to drive at night - sand storms are another hazard.

The small bushes or Camel Thorn here are very slow growing, stabilise the sand, and can be 200 - 300 years old.

We are now going through miles of desert and its totally barren. At Dehshir we turn left towards Taft and approach a mountain range. 
picnic preparations
Soon we stop at the side of the road for another welcome picnic - the driver and guide Ali are really good at putting on these impromptu refreshment stops. They put up table and stools and a paper table cloth, serve coffee and tea from huge flasks filled up by the last hotel, and invariably supply delicious local cake and biscuit delicacies which they have bought along the way. Fabulous. Here we have a lovely mountain view but the road is fast, the litter horrible! Litter is a very real problem all along the open roads; a sad contrast with the pristine cleanliness of the towns and cities.
in the Lion Mountains
It's 4.30 and the sun is getting low in the sky. We climb up into the mountain range - the Lion Mountains - and my ears pop as we descend again - the sun makes gorgeous colours in the mountains as it sets. There are old Zoroastrian villages to the west of the road - they still have their fire towers and fire festivals take place every year in January apparently. 

Eagle Rock
The Lion Mountains separate Yazd from the scorching hot central desert where the temperature can climb into the 70s, so they are essential to keep Yazd significantly cooler, albeit still up to 50 degrees in the height of summer. The locals tend to have small houses here in the mountains to escape the worst of the summer temperatures. This is a big pomegranate and walnut growing area, with some saffron also. Chicken in walnut sauce is a popular dish here. The wildlife here is protected - wildgoats (I saw a small herd on the mountain side), hyena, wolves, foxes, cheetahs, vultures.

We pass Eagle Rock - some imagination is needed! And the mountain range is now very dramatic in the setting sun. The lights of Yazd appear in the distant haze and soon we are at our hotel. Yazd is at an altitude of 1125m and 677 km to Tehran.

for more on the poet Saadi see and 
traditional restaurant in Yazd

traditional restaurant in Yazd
 We enjoy our evening meal in a traditional restaurant in Yazd -  the Fahadan Mehr Hotel Restaurant - we are taken by coach - our poor driver after such a long day already - he is a hero! There is a parrot to welcome us!

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