Well, this morning went a little better than yesterday. Our wake-up call came 30 mins late and we almost missed the bus, but at least no one had a seizure. The bus was scheduled for 7:30AM but didn’t leave till 7:45 with most people arriving between 7:35 and 7:45. Iranians are never on time.
The bus ride was 6 hours. We stopped once at a mosque for afternoon prayers and a toilet break but that was it. There were four military personnel on board and two crackers, a male and a female. We drove through the rocky Zagros Mountains, through scrub desert and rocky desert before getting to Yazd.
We grabbed a taxi driven by a good-looking Tehrani who had moved back to the hometown of his parents and his wife. He first took us to Ateshkadeh, a Zoroastrian fire-temple, but unfortunately it was closed. Me and the Wrestler climbed the wall for a quick peek, then went across the street to take pictures from the second floor of some building.
Zoroastrianism was old Persia’s official religion until the Arab Invasion. There are still remnants of Zoroastrianism in modern Iranian life such as the Nauryz Festival. Yazd is home to 30,000 of the world’s 150,000 Zoroastrians.
Zoroastrian symbol of God
The next stop was a ways out of town, the Towers of Silence. One of the Zoroastrians beliefs was to never contaminate the earth, air or water. So when one of them cacked it what they did was pack his body up to one of these round, squat stone towers sitting on the top of a mountain and put them out for the birds to feed on, then they melted the leftover bones with some kind of lyme. This way they didn’t contaminate the earth by burying the dead body, and didn’t contaminate the air by burning it. Apparently the priests would sit with the bodies and watch which eye the birds plucked out first. If it was the left the soul was going to a bad place, if the right that was good luck. Below the towers is a small cluster of buildings used for funerals.
Towers of Silence
Driving to and from the Towers we went by rows upon rows of newly built apartment buildings. Between the Wrestler and the cabbie I found out that Yazd is the number two or three industrial town in Iran, and many people have been flowing in for jobs. This may be the reason for the sudden drop in population of Zoroastrians. Apparently 20 years ago they accounted for 80% of the population, but now somewhere around 30%. But the town has grown really fast in recent years, and unfortunately I don’t have any real numbers for any type of real speculation.
Back in town I bought some more shitty Chinese batteries and we tried the Fire Temple again which was luckily open. Stepping into the courtyard was saw a ring of old Japanese tourists surrounding the pool listening to their guide. We went past them and walked into the simple chamber that houses, behind glass, the sacred flame, burning since 470AD. It was a small fire. Pretty simple.
Ateshkadeh, the Zoroastrian fire-temple
We got the taxi driver to drop us off in the center of town so we could find a place to buy the bus ticket outta here. One thing we noticed as we were walking around was the number of mosques, and the number of Afghanis walking around. They were everywhere.
The House of Power
The Wrestler told me there was a zurkhane close to the Amir Chakhmaq Complex. I was all for checking it out, but was worried about showing up unannounced to a place he had never been to. When we crossed the street I saw a sign that said “See an old reservoir. Traditional Iranian Sports.” There was an old man out front that said practice starts in an hour so in the meantime we went in to check out the reservoir.
The zurkhane was a circular room with a dome ceiling. It had a dais on one side, with a number of paintings of Ali and more recent pictures of Iranian men I didn’t know. In the center of the room was a circular sunken area about 1.5 meters deep. The upper area was carpeted and the sunken area looked like it had yellow mats of some sort. At the dais sat the teacher with a large drum and microphone. There were stairs leading below the dais that went into a crawl space area, circular also, that had various rooms on the outside for living and cooking, and on the inside wall were slatted windows for looking into the sunken practice area. More stairs leading down took us to another deeper level, circular as well, that had round windows looking down into a large and dry reservoir. I guess since it was winter they used up all the water. Then again Yazd only gets 110mm of rain per year. But the point is, the zurkhane was built directly on top of a reservoir! And I have no idea why!
We went back up and sat on the rug leaning against pillows propped up on the walls. Practice was just beginning, students descended into the practice area wearing tight knee-length shorts or a simple towel wrapped around their loins. The teacher up on the dais started drumming and singing while a senior student stood in the center of the circle and guided the others in a series of exercises in time to the music. The teacher also had a backup drummer for when things got intense. The drumming was really good and kept up the tension of the practice. I wish I could get it on CD for my own training sessions.
Here is a short list of some of their exercises:
- sit-ups with leg scissors - bench presses with big shield like shields - dynamic upper-body stretching - neck stretches - jumping - insane twirling - jump-twirling - jumping jacks - squats - all kinds of push-ups using a wooden support - swinging large baseball bat/bowling pin things - using a really heavy-looking steel bow with steel rings hanging of the string, they did a kind of drawing motion over their head which looks painful because if you screw up you get a couple pounds of steel to the head
The twirling seemed to be the main sort of show of skill, and throughout the practive they had a number of twirling battles. Imagine big, sweaty, hairy middle eastern ballet dancers going at it and you got the right image. Let me remind you that homosexuality is punishable by death in Iran. Anyways...
Apparently the deal is after the Arabic Invasion in 637AD all military arts were banned. So the Persians created the zurkhane and mixed military training with dance and music, kind of like capoeira. Looking at it now you can see the influence of military arts, including the bow-drawing action and the sword-swinging action with the bats, but other than that this has become just another type of recreational exercise. According to the Wrestler, who used to do this as a child before getting into wrestling, there is some sumo-like techniques and 2 wrestling tournaments a year, but it is not emphasized and is kind of fading out.
While we were watching a bunch of people stopped in to check it out, including 4 crackers, one of which I thought was JLP. I was shocked, but it turned out not to be her.
Once it came to a close we thanked the old don sitting across from the dais (probably the old teacher) and jetted. It was all very cool and I wanted to train with them. I asked the Wrestler if he felt the same as he watched and he agreed.
Return to the Silk Road
We got in a taxi and headed to the Jameh Mosque, but while we were driving up to it we realized that it was closed. As soon as I stepped out of the taxi a guy was in my face asking me if I wanted the “silk road.” I was like WTF and just pretended I didn’t know English until the Wrestler got out. Turns out the guy was from the Y@zd Internet Cafe and was there to meet someone and take them to the Silk Road Hotel. The Wrestler said “Sure, why not.” and the guy led us around a corner into a back street.
We were definitely in the Old City, and it was just like the Old Town in Kashgar with adobe walls on both sides of narrow streets. We had just stepped back into history, to the time of the real Silk Road. The hotel was only about 50 meters away. The entrance was a tiny hole in the wall with “Silk Road Hotel” stenciled on the wall in English and Farsi. This did not look promising, I thought. Boy did I think wrong!
After entering into the hole and going down a short flight of stairs you turn the corner into a large courtyard, a fountain in the center with raised carpet-bed-things strewn around. A Chinese woman was sitting and having a meal, two old Iranians were lazing about eating sunflower seeds, some French-looking cracker was writing in his journal smoking a qalyan. I then notice the walls, which were stuccoed with various designs and had doors every few feet, all at different levels, some with stairs and some without. I realized that we were in an old caravanserais. We really had returned to the time of the Silk Road! The rooms were really nice too, but the beds a bit hard. We decided on this place right away. The Wrestler was excited as I was.
We threw our bags down and decided to explore the Old City. It was dead except for young kids riding their motorcycles through the narrow passageways. Our goal was to get lost in time, and we did, but it was pretty easy to find our way back since the Jameh Mosque and its two domes rise above the Old City skyline. It all reminded me so much of Kashgar, but on a much bigger scale. I thought of what Marco Polo said when he passed through Yazd in the 13th Century, “A very fine and splendid city.” It sure had an air about it.
We wandered out and bought some spicy bread and chocolate milk, then decided to check out the clock tower. I tried to take a snapshot with my dying camera and we kept going until we reached the Amir Chakhmaq Complex again. The Wrestler suggested we check out the mini-bazaar under the complex and we found a small kebabi to eat in. Here we sat and talked martial arts while watching a cheesy 70s kung fu flick on TV. It is so weird watching something like that dubbed in Farsi, but all the people in the joint were entranced. When the movie finished everyone left.