Iran Life – Zein-o-din Caravanserai

In the blisteringly hot months from early June to the end of August, J and I tend to hibernate. We emerge early to get any jobs done in the relative cool before the sun melts over the mountains and then vanish back indoors like rats down a drainpipe!

Such behaviour is not conducive to having anything to blog about apart from the grim state of the world, a review of ‘The Untold History Of The United States’ or how difficult the last Sodutoo puzzle was! Thank goodness for our Iran trip – it means I have a seemingly bottomless pit of tales to bore you with for the next few weeks!

(rescued from Archers and first posted July 2014)

Scheherazade.tifWhen we left Kerman we headed north west in the direction of Yazd, this is the main highway from the great port at Bandar Abbas to Tehran and it was here that we were gob-smacked to see a Tesco artic truck in full company colours! Anyway, a two day camel ride, or about 60 kms out of Yazd, set back from the road is a place right out of the tales of Scheherazade’s (or Shahrzãd in Persian) Thousand and One Nights.

Our destination for one night was the beautifully restored Zein-o-din Cararvanserai. Taken over by an extended family of Iranian Baluchis it is a testament to sensitivity and a commitment to ‘doing it right’. Such is the quality and authenticity of their ‘resurrection’ that the caravanserai was granted a UNESCO award in 2005. Restoration took more than three years and some 13,000 pumice stones were used to scour centuries of grime from the walls and arched roof. The building has been returned to near original condition.

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There it sits, great walls of adobe blending in with the surrounding desert; its mighty doors capable of providing security for the countless merchants and their camel trains that once trekked the route now polluted by the convoys of trucks that thunder by a few hundred metres away.

Walk inside and you are greeted warmly by the staff . . and by the loudness of silence! A refuge then and a refuge now!

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the sound of silence

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The accommodation is interesting – arrive early enough and you could have a room leading directly off the circular, central courtyard. Otherwise, like J and me, you will be led into the great curved chamber that once housed the trains of animals and merchandise. Here there are raised and curtained platforms that offer total visual privacy and good comfort. What they don’t offer is freedom from the unbelievably bad mannered who roll back late at night bellowing and shouting at each other – if you stay here, and I really do recommend it, then you could use some earplugs just in case!

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Toilet and shower facilities are communal but very modern and sparkling clean. The restaurant is a delight of exotic proportions and excellent regional food which also comes in exotic proportions! Each evening the young lads of the family doff their waitering and receptioning mode, step into their Baluchi warrior mode and put on a show of traditional martial dance. It is an inspiring exhibition of the battle training folk dances that speaks volumes about the fearsome reputation of the Baluch who are spread across southern Iran and Pakistan.

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Baluch war dance

Back to a little more history of the place – it was built more than 400 years ago and was part of a network of 999 such hostels built on the orders of Shah Abbas I to promote trade. One of only two circular caravanserais (the other is near Esfahan and is largely destroyed) Zein-o-din now stands as a unique, living monument to the importance of the fabled Silk Road trade route.

At dawn and dusk, deserts are transformed into things of intense beauty as light and shadow, colours and hues swirl and blend – the effects are often truly magical. These are times to make your way to the roof of the caravanserai, face towards the mountains and drink in the intoxicating mix.

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Firebird

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Iran’s tourism is beginning to boom, if you intend to visit the unique Zein-o-din Caravanserai, you would do well to book in good time.

Alan in Okçular

Iran Life – Needles In Haystacks

This is a story that epitomises why J and I avoid group travel and prefer to wander off from any designated path or route – why exploring ‘off the beaten track’ is so much fun and far more enriching than following the person with the coloured flag or umbrella or t-shirt around the same old tired touristic sites!

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As I posted earlier, the flight to Mashad near the eastern border was a real disappointment. The 120km road trip to Neishabour in Khorassan-Razavi Province to the tomb and shrine of the great Omer Kayham and an adjacent shrine to yet another pious nonentity was a real non-event and all we wanted to do was get away from the place. Our guide was deeply concerned that this part of our tour was such a disappointment – ‘What can I do to make it better?’ I’d vaguely remembered a sign along the road that pointed off to a ‘wooden mosque’ – let’s go there I said. It took a bit of driving around in circles, but eventually we found the road and drove the 10km or so to the site.

It was a delight, especially after all the past (and still to come) disappointment surrounding Mashad. Named Choubin Village (choubin means wooden), the place is a large compound full of trees, flowers, running water and bird song – a haven. Scattered around were wooden or adobe constructions – all of them simple, home-spun and all of them a delight to the eye.

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The wooden mosque and library, in particular, were a pleasure to be in and explore. The village is the brainchild of an engineer by the name of Mojtahedi and is said to be earthquake-proof. It is certainly  constructed using unique principles of web-like lattices. Compared with the wonders of Iranian construction and design; from amazing mosques and religious buildings to fabulous gardens, qanats, wind-towers and adobe palaces, Choubin Village is a very modest, under-stated affair. That said, in many ways, it out-shone many places for its quirkiness and the  peaceful atmosphere and beautiful birdsong.

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the library
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a selfie
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library interior
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farm buildings and water tower
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new adobe lodging places under construction
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symbolism?
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it’s a working farm as well
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another glimpse of the delightful interior of the Wooden Mosque of Choubin Village

A few shining needles from the disappointing Mashad haystack!

Alan in Okçular