In the cradle of civilisation – Shiraz

We had Sadj drop us in an area of Shiraz where the guidebook showed there were a bunch of hotels to choose from. Being our last destination before returning to Tehran we wanted a reasonably decent room so we’d determined to take our time in assessing our options. Marie got left with the bags while Emma did the rounds.

IMG_1476As one of the leading tourist destinations in Iran, costs were relatively high and budget places weren’t even clean. There wasn’t much in the mid-range so Emma negotiated with the hotel with the nicest room relative to cost. What should have been a US$80 room was offered for US$57 but internet was separate and costs were quite high. We managed to get it for US$53 with internet included.

After settling in we headed out to explore. This wasn’t as straightforward as normal as the hotel is about a 10 min walk to the start of the area where most of the interesting stuff is so we had to stop and consult the map in the guidebook a couple of times. Being Friday (the weekend) most shops were shut and the streets were quiet. Not really having a purpose other than to get our bearings and a sense of the place we walked the streets.

IMG_1484Eventually we found quite a busy area so we followed where people were going and discovered that we had found the Shrine of Shah-e-Cheragh, which is actually 2 shrines. Tourists can enter with a guide from the Shrine’s international affairs office (all of which seemed to be students). Women have to wear a chador which they lend to you. It absolutely sucked because it made everything hard, particularly taking photos, as they had to be done one handed. The novelty of wearing headscarves has worn off now and its getting tiresome to be continually having to wear them so the chador was just too much.

Set in 2 massive courtyards the oldest part of the shrine was built in 929 AD and its detailed decoration only got prettier as the sun got lower. The short tour was informative and finishes with tea and a biscuit in the international affairs office and being given a bunch of info on the shrine, and Islam that we were obliged to read. We had taken the tour with 2 Malaysians who were not impressed we had to pretend to read the info before being released, but eventually we were. We were warned that we could only take photos with the guide and that if caught our cameras would be confiscated for 3 days, but that taking photos on phones is fine (go figure). We had a good chat to the Malaysians before splitting off. The tour hadn’t actually taken us into either shrine so we figured out the deal with shoes and which entrance we needed to use and took ourselves into one of them. We had a good amount of time to see it before being kicked out for not being Muslim.

IMG_1473It was dark when we left so we made our way back to the hotel as it was a reasonable walk. We’d learned from Sadj what the deal is with buying tea from street shops. You look for the ones with steaming urns outside. We’d clocked a couple at the main street not far from our hotel so we stopped at one on the way back. For dinner we had kebabs at a scruffy kebab shop ran by an old man. He was doing a brisk trade with locals.

A guy at the hotel kept pushing his son onto us as he is a taxi driver so he was offering trips to out of town sights. We wanted to visit Persepolis and what he didn’t realise was that he had given us a benchmark price to go and see what better deal we could negotiate with a taxi driver (we didn’t want to negotiate and do business with the guy as we didn’t like being harassed so much). Before breakfast we popped outside as some taxis hang around on the crossroads just outside the hotel and found a driver willing to do it for half the price he’d quoted. We left at 8am after breakfast.

IMG_1505An hour’s drive later and we stopped first at Nash-e Rostam to visit the tombs cut into the cliff face made in 1000BC. Impressive in their size they are also well preserved as are the reliefs. They were way better than we were expecting.

We met a Polish woman there who had come down from Esfahan on an overnight bus and had it drop her there on its way past (its about 80km outside of Shiraz). We gave her a lift to Persepolis. When our driver dropped us off we agreed to meet him nearly 2 hrs later and told the woman if she wanted a lift to Shiraz she could meet us then (you pay for the vehicle so it made no difference to us).

A UNESCO world heritage site Persepolis was built in 518 BC. It is one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites. Persepolis was the seat of government of the Achaemenid Empire, though it was designed primarily to be a showcase for the empire that awed visitors with its scale and beauty. We explored it thoroughly and climbed up to one of the cliff tombs above it for an aerial view.

IMG_1509The Polish woman was there waiting for us when it came time to leave so we gave her a ride to Shiraz. She was holidaying in Iran with a friend but they’d discovered they didn’t want to see the same things so they’d gone their own ways a couple of days before. She was couch surfing and taking overnight buses as she didn’t have much money. When the driver dropped us off we walked with her to the fort so she had a central landmark to base herself off. She bought us the Shiraz ice cream to say thank you, we found out that it is made of starch noodles and rosewater with a lemon sauce. It was hot and Persepolis is very exposed so it was just what we needed. As we sat on a bench in the shade eating it a father sat his 2 teenage daughters opposite us and encouraged them to speak to us. Turns out they both spoke good English and really like talking to people (its common for parents to encourage even little kids to talk to us to get them practicing their English) but they were shy about asking strangers to talk. Emma spent a good half an hour chatting with them.

We said our goodbyes to the Polish woman and headed to the bazaars which are old and well known. We spent about 2 hrs getting lost down all the different lanes. We headed off the tourist trail (not that we saw any other tourists in any of them) to a more local bazaar and bought Emma some new sunglasses (Marie broke hers a week ago so of course stole Emma’s) NZ$15 for fake Ray Bans.IMG_1540

When we were done we got some falafel for a late (Iranian) lunch and headed back to the hotel for a pit stop. We’re both pretty tired but determined to pack as much as we can into our last few days. We headed back out again in the late afternoon to catch the sunset at Jahan Nama gardens. The gardens in Iran are like cool calm green oasis’ but as gardens go (by our standards) they are not at all impressive. As the sun set we headed down the road to the tomb of Hafez, a much loved poet and Iranian folk hero. Given the number of people there is seems to be the place to go on a Saturday evening. We’d taken a taxi up to the gardens but being a slight downhill we’d decided to walk back to the hotel. It was an easy navigation so not too hard to do in the dark. A boy on a bike joined us for a good part of the way to practice his English. He even stopped and got his English school book out to show us and to demonstrate what he knew.

It wasn’t long after we’d parted company with him that a man spoke to us in English, telling us how welcome we are in Iran and that he hopes we enjoy it. He was amazed when Emma replied in Farsi and stopped to chat and teach her the alphabet by torch light on a dark bridge. Before turning into the hotel for the evening we got tea, tried some different meat and then went to the kebab shop again for dinner.

IMG_1641Our last day in Shiraz and of our holiday proper didn’t quite go to plan. We’d got up early to head to a mosque when the early morning sun lights up the stained class windows, but then discovered that it is a holiday in Iran so everywhere was closed.

Arba’een marks the 40th day of mourning for the martyrdom of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson 14 centuries ago. It is celebrated by all sects of Islam. Around 20 million pilgrims converge on Karbala, Iraq, the location of martyrdom, in one of the largest gatherings of people in the world. Muslims who don’t make the pilgrimage gather at the holy shrines. Iran has 3 of the holy shrines, the one in Shiraz being the Shrine of Shah-e-Cheragh. As we headed to the mosque it was quiet (it was early by Iranian standards). We soon hit the road closures as around the Shrine every street was closed. We took part of the route with those who were up early and walked past the shrine entrance to see a large number of people had already gathered.

It was about a 3km walk to the mosque and we weren’t the only ones to find it closed. A guide with 2 Malaysian guys offered us a ride with them to go and see a different shrine instead, so we accepted and headed off. We had to wear a chador again but the woman there dressed us and we had arms which made it heaps easier. It was really quiet so the Shrine’s guardian allowed us to go into the mens side with the guide. Both the shrines we’ve visited have been covered in mirrors inside.

We thanked the Malaysians and their guide for taking us there and headed off to get a taxi to Qu’ran gate. After a walk around the gate we headed back to the hotel as with everything shut there wasn’t really a reason to hang around in Shiraz so we figured we had nothing to lose in exploring if our flight could be brought forward.

IMG_1721The hotel really went out of their way to help. The upshot was basically because we have to pay cash the airline was going to have issues refunding us so we can book another as they couldn’t refund cash. The hotel explored getting the refund onto their account and them giving us the cash but it was all very complicated. So instead they got their tourist map out and it turned out that we had already done most of the sights in Shiraz so they suggested we could take a visit to a salt lake on the outskirts of the city, it was out towards the airport so we could go in the afternoon and then they could drop us at the airport. We signed up.

There weren’t many options open for lunch but we found somewhere on the main street. The hotel had given us a free late check out so we didn’t need to check out until it was almost time to leave. A Spanish woman also looking for something to do joined us. The salt lake was about half an hour south of Shiraz. It was bigger than we were expecting and was surrounded by mountains. Compared to the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia it wasn’t anything that special. The salt wasn’t white, it was dirty and there where heaps of vehicle tracks on it near the shore. We drove a little way out and then left the car and continued on foot. The salt got cleaner, there was a nice breeze and it was fun to have it crunch under foot. When we turned chunks over it had a pink hue and green looking clay/mud underneath. It was good to get out of town for a final view of the countryside.

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