I got out of bed at 3:30AM. Even though I had 2 hours to sleep, I must have gotten only 30 mins since all I could think about was 1) getting up on time, and 2) the Extremist’s comments about hejab. I felt a little regret that I didn’t confront him about what he said, that I didn’t say “Bullshit! That is the worst reasoning I have ever heard of! And you call yourself compassionate!?” I wasn’t angry, I genuinely do like the guy. I guess I just wanted to reprezent.
August was there at just before 4 to pick me up. We jetted and I said goodbye once and for all to the hotel. Thank god!
The streets were empty as we drove to pick up the Wrestler, then on to the airport. Saying goodbye we headed into the airport which was bustling, presumably with Eid travelers. I was feeling tired as we sat in the waiting area, and wasn’t sure if I was up to a whole day of tourism, especially after coming off of a cold. Wrestler just told me to have a cup of coffee and everything would be okay. I sat and watched passengers file into a small prayer room, answering the call to prayer broadcast over the PA system.
The plane, a Fokker 100 from the 80’s, was due to take off at 5:40AM. The engines had started and we were ready to go at 5:42, but then they cut out. At 6:00AM we still hadn’t moved and passengers were getting antsy. There was a lot of commotion at the front of the plane and they had the cabin door open again. Finally the pilot came on with a message. “We are having some technical difficulties...” Great. I wondered if a bomb stowed in the luggage compartment counted as“technical difficulties.” Another 10 minutes went by and as the sun started coming up we were off.
South-Central Iran from the plane to Shiraz
Hero of Alexander
We were picked up at the airport by our driver, a young swarthy fellow with about a quart of oil in his wavy hair. He drove a Peugot, a nice change from the Paykan taxis I was used to being crammed into the back of in Tehran. He drove us through the city to the Anvari Hotel, for which we didn’t have reservations, where we got a room and I changed and gave them my laundry.
The driver took a wandering route through the city pointing out major sites along the way such as Hafez’s tomb, Shiraz University Gardens, the 14 meter towers of the Citadel of Karim Khan etc. We ended up at the bus depot where Wrestler picked up our tickets for Yazd. We were lucky we went early because there was only 1 bus leaving the next morning and it would’ve filled up quickly.
We then headed out of town, passing by the Gateway of the Koran, where travelers would traditionally pass through for good luck.
Our first stop for the day was Pasargadae, the city of Cyrus the Great built in 546 BC. The main attraction of the city is the Tomb of Cyrus, jutting up from the Iranian plane. It is said that when Alexander the Great passed through on his way back from India he was disturbed at the destruction of the tomb, ordered it rebuilt and in admiration changed the original inscription of “I am Cyrus the Mede, the Persian king” to “I am Cyrus, son of Cambyses, who founded the Empire of Persia, and was King of Asia. Grudge me not therefore this monument.” The monument was covered in scaffolding, but was still impressive considering it is 2500 years old.
The Tomb of Cyrus the Great
The rest of Pasargadae consists of a number of palace ruins. There isn’t much left other than the stumps of pillars. People have taken many of the stones to build homes and mosques. At one palace there was a number of nicely lined up pillar sections laying on their sides. Apparently when the Shah was preparing for his big 2500 years of Persia party he ordered all the missing parts to be rounded up and even reconstructed the lone pillar that currently stands 14m in the middle of the site.
Pillars at Pasargadae
I climbed up a hill where there was the ruined foundations of an ancient sentry tower (seen in the background of the pic above) and started taking pictures of the valley. The Wrestler came after me and just in time to translate for a couple of teenage boys that came over to chat. They were 18 year old locals getting ready for university (one had passed his entrance exams) and wanted to know about working in Canada. We had a good chat which quickly turned to politics, as most do in Iran, and I asked them who they thought would be the next president. They placed their bets on either Rohani or Mousavi. Both said they hated Rafsanjani, and weren’t too fond of Khatami either, saying he was too weak. They asked me the standard questions about what the outside world thinks of Iran and the nuclear weapons issue. I told them that many countries think Iran is playing a dangerous game and everyone is cautious right now. If Iran comes out and answers the questions being asked of it truthfully, I told them, I think everything will turn out fine. I took a picture of the three of us with the valley of the ancient Persian capital in the background.
We then packed into the car and headed to Persepolis, stopping at an intersting restaurant on the way to eat salad and chicken kebabs.
In 512 BC Darius the Great started construction on a palace that would serve as the summer palace of the Persian Empire. In the 1930’s archeologists excavated a portion of that palace which has been brushed off and become Iran’s ticket to becoming a major tourist destination. Too bad tourist visas cost $300USD.
We spent a good 3 hours here, wandering around the ruins and trying to take pictures with crappy Chinese batteries that ran out every 10 shots. The weather was beautiful (I got sunburnt) and I got some really good shots and learned bout how the ancient Persians were hardcore Zoroastrians. It was also very interesting to see all the inscriptions made by foreigners dating back to 1810. These military men, mostly British, stopped to leave their mark, and by looking at some of the skilled engraving, some stopped for a long time.
The Gate of All Nations
The Zoroastrian Symbol of God
On the way back to Shiraz we stopped by the rock tombs of Naqsh-e Rostam where Darius I & II, Xerxes I and Ataxerxes I are buried in cross-shaped tombs hewn out of the cliff face. The gatekeeper let us in after hours and I snapped a few shots. It is an impressive sight from far off.
Back in town
We got back into town at around 8. After freshening up at the hotel for a bit we went out to look for food. After wandering around for an hour (and running into a faux Pizza Hut, complete with hand-painted logo) we got into a cab and let him take us to someplace good. Someplace Good was really busy so we went into the pizza joint next place which I will call “Someplace Next to Someplace Good.” We ordered mini pizzas which the Wrestler bathed in ketchup and pepper.
After dinner we decided to head to Hafez’s Tomb. It was about a 10 minute cab ride and when we got arrived we saw there was a number of young people standing in groups in front of the gate. The place looked closed, but there was somebody at the gate. The Wrestler went up to ask if they were still open only to find there had been a power failure, hence the reason everyone was standing outside in the streetlight. More “technical difficulties.”
We abandoned the Tomb and decided that just before returning back tot he hotel we would stop by a mosque (Mausoleum of the King of the Lamp). Holy man alive, this was the most elaborate and beautiful mosque I have ever seen. The courtyard was massive, ringed with beautifully tiled verandas with a pool in the center. There were two massive domes, and the woodwork at the entrance of the mosque was amazing. The inside of the mosque was even more breath-taking as it was covered in mirrored mosaics on a much grander scale than the Mirror Room of the Green Palace in Tehran. There was a Mongol-looking mullah inside praying with the other Eid visitors, including one man crying at the tomb of the brother of Imam Reza which is just inside the entrance.