Dubai Day 4 (14 Mar 11) – Venturing into Oman after watching Sunrise in the Desert

Sunrise in Dubai Desert Conservatory 

We woke up in time for sunrise, as we very much wanted to watch sunrise in the desert. We climbed the nearest sun dune and waited patiently for the sun to shine on this land once more. As we waited from dawn to sunrise, we saw a pack of 6 oryx grazing the little patch of grass that is near to the dune we were at (looked like 2 dunes away). Wanting to get a nice closer picture of these animals, I went closer to them. When we walked nearer to them, the pack of oryx had moved further into the other side of the desert. Damn, we were so close to getting good pictures of the oryx. As the sun was about to rise, we stayed put at our current location. We watched the sun slowly emerging from the horizon, pretty much like a lazy boy who refuse to wake up. The view of sunrise in the desert is beautiful, I had watched sunrise from in the sea, but sun rising in desert was a first, and the feel is very different. I felt the most anticipated sun ray beaming across the vast desert land to warm things up, after all the night chilly desert winds had brought the temperature of the surroundings down. After watching the sun rise, we head back to the tent area. Our guide had already prepared breakfast. Breakfast was a simple affair, and after breakfast we packed up and leave the desert, driving towards Hajar Mountains.

Waking up before the sun rises to make sure we get a glimpse of this rare sight (well for us) 
Slowly the lights shine across the horizon and upon these desert grounds 
Awaiting sunrise in the deserts
Awaiting sunrise in the deserts 
Sun is rising across the horizons
Panoramic view of the desert
The colourful clouds in the sky
At this moment, we enjoyed the clouds in the sky
Awaiting for sun to rise
Waiting for sunrise
There it is, the sun is slowly peeking through the sand dunes afar
Magnificent sunrise
This is our first time seeing sunrise in the desert
By this time, the sun is already up and making its way to the skies
Sunrise!
Sunrise in the desert
Sunrise in the desert
The rays of the morning sun coloured the desert in bright orange
Sunrise in the desert
Such peacefulness and tranquility in the desert
Sun rise
A local resident in the desert
This is how a sand storm might look like if there were one
The sun has risen and the beautiful blue skies has cover this part of earth once more

Short Trip to Oman

Not knowing geography of this area well, I thought Hajar Mountains was just further into the deserts. Boy how wrong I was! The guide had driven us out of the desert conservation grounds, as we were pulling up to what looks like a check point, our guide told us to keep our cameras and produce our passport. At this moment, I was wondering if we had just crossed into some army camp. We got our passports checked in less then 5 mins, as soon as we passed the checkpoint our guide stopped the vehicle, turned around and told us we are in Oman. 10 mins drive later we saw another checkpoint, this time we know the drill, kept our cameras and volunteered our passport. Now we are officially in Oman. About another 10 mins drive later, our guide went off road and stopped by an oasis. We were told this is a natural oasis, pretty much similar to what I imagined an oasis would be, except there isn’t a pool of water, just paddles here and there. We got off the vehicle, walking on the ground felt as though this area has not been raining for centuries. The ground is very dried up, however I was rather surprised that there are plants growing nearby the oasis. We walked up to higher grounds to see further. The Hajar mountains has its own beauty, though the mountain ranges are not as majestic nor as amazing as the Zagros or Alborz Mountain ranges in Iran, Hajar mountains, overlooking a vast piece of barren lands just at the base of it, this feels very “desertish”.

Entering into Oman
Driving into Hajar Mountains in Oman
Driving into Hajar Mountains in Oman
Driving into Hajar Mountains in Oman
We arrived at Hajar Mountains and a natural oasis welcomed us
This is how a natural oasis looked like (well my first time seeing this)
So much life surrounding this oasis
Around the oasis
We did a small trek up some hills around the oasis
Natural rock formation
Arriving at the peak of the hill 
Nearing the peak
Panoramic view of Hajar Mountains from the peak
Panoramic view of Hajar Mountains from the peak
Panoramic view of the surroundings
Flaura near the oasis
Driving back to Dubai

The Engineering Marvel – Palm Islands

We spent about 20 mins walking around, taking pictures and soon we were on our way back to Dubai. The 2 hour drive back to Dubai is rather uneventful. Once back at the hotel, the check in was faster then my first check in. We lazed a little in the hotel and left for Atlantis on the Palm islands. There are a lot of hype about this place and we just wanna see what’s the big fuss about it. We took a cab from Mall of Emirates (there are hardly any cabs plying through our hotel), the drive towards Atlantis was astonishing. It is amazing how this land that we were driving on at the moment used to be Arabian gulf. The numerous housing built on this island, mostly vacant looked luxurious. The realisation of such a huge project proves that as long as there is money, nothing is impossible. We alighted at the aquarium side of Atlantis hotel and started to explore around. The number of places we can access at this place is really limited, this public area that was opened to us only consisted of a few shops and an aquarium. Since there is really nothing to see around, we went into the aquarium. The aquarium was relatively small and boring. The centrepiece of the aquarium is this really huge tank with sharks, stingrays and tons of fishes swimming inside. Not too much to see around. I thought people find the tankful of piranhas more intriguing then this huge tank.

Nearing the Palm Islands
Atlantis Hotel on the Palm Islands
Inside the shopping arcade in Atlantis hotel
Atlantis Aquarium
Atlantis Aquarium
Atlantis Aquarium
Atlantis Aquarium
Atlantis Aquarium
Atlantis Aquarium
Atlantis Aquarium
Atlantis Aquarium
Atlantis Aquarium
Atlantis Aquarium
Atlantis Aquarium
Atlantis Aquarium
Atlantis Aquarium
Atlantis Aquarium

We went to an ice-cream shop after exiting the aquarium. The staffs in this shop are a fun loving lot of people. They entertained their customers via this ice-cream throwing stun. What the did was to prepare your order, and then one of the staff will stand about 20m away, the staff who prepared the ice-cream will throw it towards him like a baseball. The coordination between the staffs ensured that the chances of missing is very slim. Very interesting sight. After the ice-cream, we headed to the sea front of this artificial island. We headed over to the Hotel entrance, but was stopped by the security. Well we can only take pictures of the hotel from outside. We headed back towards the aquarium side of the hotel and took the train out of the island. There is really nothing much we can do hanging around here. The train ride was rather expensive, but it enabled us to see the island on a slightly elevated perspective. On the way out, I saw alot of apartments and houses not occupied, wonder if they even managed to sell the properties here. We headed back to the hotel after our visit to Atlantis, as we felt the fatigue from the lack of sleep last night. Spent the rest of the day lazing around in the hotel.

Atlantis Hotel Exterior
At the edge of Palm Islands
Atlantis Hotel
Atlantis Hotel
Selfie at Altanis Hotel 
On the Monorail out of Palm Islands
View of Palm Islands from the Monorail
View of Palm Islands from the Monorail
View of Palm Islands from the Monorail
View of Palm Islands from the Monorail
View of Palm Islands from the Monorail
View of Palm Islands from the Monorail
View of Palm Islands from the Monorail
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Dubai Day 3 (13 Mar 11) – Dubai Museum to Dubai Desert Conservatory for a Night in the Deserts

The Dubai Story

We originally planned to spend the morning at Ski Dubai, however looking at the time we felt that we might not enjoy rushing for time. Instead we headed for the Dubai Museum to understand a bit more about the city and how it came about. I thought the museum was not too impressive, given the wealth of this country, I thought more could be done to the museum in terms of exhibits and introducing interactive exhibits. However the entrance is just 3dh, can’t really complain much. The museum was rather small and we finished it under an hour. The museum is built on the old Dubai fort. There are 2 sections to the museum, the outdoor section which displays old dhows, musical instruments, weapons and houses that were used in the earlier days of Dubai. The indoor section displayed a series of wax figurines depicting the lifestyle and the significance of the dressing style of the locals in olden days. We did not spend too much time in the museum partly due to its size and partly due to the exhibits did not attract us to stay any longer.

The old Dubai Fort, which is now converted into a museum
Entrance of the Museum
The outdoor displays
Outdoor area of the museum
These were the dwellings of the Emratis in the early days
Dwellings of the Emiratis in the early days
Some of the outdoor displays
There are also a ton of indoor displays in the museum
Indoor displays
Indoor displays
The depicts the livelihood of the Emratis in the early days of UAE
The depicts the livelihood of the Emratis in the early days of UAE
Indoor displays
The depicts the livelihood of the Emratis in the early days of UAE
This exhibit talks about the dressings of the Emratis
The depicts the livelihood of the Emratis in the early days of UAE
The depicts the livelihood of the Emratis in the early days of UAE

Al Bastakiya – Oldest District in Dubai

We exited the museum and wanted to head over to the Dubai creek. Our original plan was to take the dhow across the creek and then take a taxi from there back to the hotel. As we were heading over to the creek, we came by this bunch of traditional looking houses. These houses are the Bastakiya, which is the oldest residential district and was famous for its narrow lanes and wind towers. These houses are now converted into either guesthouses or art galleries. I felt these houses are rather artificial, and not really that old. They all looked kinda new to me, perhaps there has been some refurbishments to these houses. We wondered into a couple of them. The first one we went to was some government office. It had a sign that says “Visitors welcome”, so we popped inside. The entrance of this house led us to the courtyard, which was moderate in size. We saw the roof and wanted to go up, but can’t find the way. Moreover the staff inside the house doesn’t look welcoming (hhmmm…. what happened to the “Visitors welcome”?), so we left the house after taking some pictures of it. We then wondered along the streets of Al Bastakiya area and saw this art gallery that seemed to be opened to public. We went inside more with a purpose of seeing the house and the roof then the art. We browsed through the photographic art pieces on display and asked the staff if we could take a look at the roof. The staff here are more welcoming then the other house we “barged into”, they gave us the green light to go to the roof. At the roof, I can see the houses and the wind towers. However the air-con compressors are a sore to our sight, and it made the whole area looked fake. We did the touristy bit (taking some pictures) and headed to the direction of the creek. Soon we found ourselves nearing the creek. There is a mosque by the creek and this mock up desert area with sand and a real camel. I guess this is for the tourist to try taking a ride on the camel. As we were walking along the creek, we found this water taxi pick up point. It looked kinda deserted, just when we were waiting for a dhow to pull up, we saw one floating past us. We tried to give it a chase to see where it would stop at, due to time constraints, we gave up and took a cab back to the hotel.

Streets of Al Bastakiya
Streets of Al Bastakiya
Streets of Al Bastakiya, which resembles a lot in the streets of Old Yadz in Iran
Streets of Al Bastakiya
Wind tower of a building in Al Bastakiya
View from the roof in a building in Al Bastakiya
View from the roof in a building in Al Bastakiya
Panoramic shots in Al Bastakiya
Mosque round the corner
The mosque in Al Bastakiya
Inside a building in Al Bastakiya
Dubai Creek
Dubai Creek

Venturing into Dubai Desert

Once at the hotel, we pack up our stuff and checked out. Left our luggage at the hotel concierge and went over to the pick up point for our overnight desert camping trip. The guide who is supposed to pick us up was already waiting for us, despite us being 10 mins early. Soon we were heading out of Dubai and into the desert area. The drive to the desert conservatory was about 1 hour. As we were driving long the parameter of the conservatory area, our guide pointed out a desert oryx gazing by the fence. Too bad my camera has insufficient zoom to capture the oryx. I was fascinated by the desert landscape once we were inside the Dubai Desert Conservatory. I have not been to a real desert, and this is the first time I have seen a desert other then those images on TV and internet.

We pulled up to a convey of vehicles, where it seemed to be the gathering place of some sort. Hordes of tourists are already in the sand, taking pictures and running in it. I got out of the car and ran up to the nearest sand dune to take a closer look at the desert. The wavy sand on the sand dunes, caused by the wind that often blow across the deserts was amazing. Running on the sand is a different experience. My feet was constantly sinking into the sand, it is actually quite fun. Once the guide had deflated the tyres of his vehicle, we went back onboard for the next part of the trip – sand dune bashing. As the convey of vehicles depart the gathering area heading towards the somewhat marked sand dune bashing area, I was rather excited as I read that some people who have done this described it as a roller coaster ride. The initial part was alright, however I got bored after awhile. I felt it would be more exciting if the driver had drove at a faster speed.

Driving towards Dubai Desert Conservatory
Driving towards Dubai Desert Conservatory
Oryx sighting
Arriving at Dubai Desert Conservatory
Desert!
Inside Dubai Desert Conservatory
Just love the wave pattern on the sand
Inside Dubai Desert Conservatory
Inside Dubai Desert Conservatory
Inside Dubai Desert Conservatory
Inside Dubai Desert Conservatory
Sand dune ride
Inside Dubai Desert Conservatory
Inside Dubai Desert Conservatory
Sunset in Dubai Desert Conservatory
Sunset in the desert
Sunset in the desert
The sunset makes the sand turn golden
Sunsetting over the horizon
Sunsetting over the horizon
Sunsetting over the horizon
Me in the desert
Sunsetting over the horizon
Sunsetting over the horizon

Dinner in Desert

After some 30 mins of sand dune bashing, we were driven to this large camp site for dinner. The entrance marked the words “Al Sahara”, I guess this is the name of this artificial camp constructed purely to do tourist business. This is where we will be having our dinner for the night. We walked around the camp site, everything looked very fake to me. Oh well, it would be fake since the sole purpose of this camp is to entertain tourists. We found seats by an Irish couple, and we started to chat. The Irish couples are very friendly, we chatted about the places we have been to, our countries. This is the part I liked about traveling, you get to meet and talk to people from all over the world. Dinner was served shortly, first appetizers then main meal and then desserts. There was a belly dancing show after the dinner. It felt like some cheap production as there is only 1 dancer. I didn’t liked it because I find it boring. I have seen better belly dancing. Having said that, I do admire the stamina of the belly dance, who was able to dance non-stop for about 30 mins (perhaps more). After the belly dancing segment, the lights to the camp was shut for about 10 mins, perhaps done so that people can see the starry night skies. After 10 mins the lights came on, we left the camp for the site .

Al Sahara
Up close with a falcon
Desert beyond the fences of Al Sahara
Inside Al Sahara
This is where our dinner was served
Inside the Al Sahara
Getting ready for dinner
Dinner is served
We enjoyed some belly dancing with our dinner
The stamina of this belly dancer is just amazing

Overnight in Dubai Desert

We left the dinner camp for our camp site where we will be spending the night at. Our tent is already pitched up the moment we arrived. Our guide told us he saw a baby falcon earlier on when he was pitching the tent. He said the falcon can be sold for as much as 30,000dh! My friend and I climbed to the nearest sand dune and watched sunsetting. Watching sunset in the desert was rather refreshing. This is a good photographic opportunity, as the day turned into night, the moon replacing the sun to illuminate the desert. Soon star began to blink in the night sky, we spent some time trying to take pictures of the night sky and identifying the various constellations. I can only recognize 2, the Big Dipper and the Orion. We were experimenting with our camera, trying to take good pictures of the stars in the sky. The desert in the night was cooling and emitted a sense of mysticism. After taking pictures, we sat on top of a sand dune, chatting under the blanket of the desert night starry sky. It is a very rare opportunity to be doing this and indeed felt very relaxing. It is a nice feeling. As the guide was waiting for us to retire into the tent before he goes to bed, we got off the sand dune and headed for our tent. As the night went on, the desert wind turned from cool to chilling. I was not well prepared for the desert nights, and did not get too much sleep. Nonetheless I tried to get as much sleep as I could, hoping the sun shine would come sooner to heat up the desert once more. Despite being ill-prepared for the desert nights, spending a night in the desert is a rare chance for a city-dweller such as me. If not for my friend’s suggestion, I would have gave this rare opportunity a miss.

Camping out in the desert
The night desert skies
The night desert skies
Camping out in the desert
Camping out in the desert
The night desert skies
The night desert skies
I can see the big dipper
The night desert skies
The night desert skies
The night desert skies
Orion constellation
Orion constellation at the bottom
Starry night
The night desert skies
Orion Constellation
The night desert skies
The night desert skies
The night desert skies
The night desert skies
The night desert skies
The night desert skies
The night desert skies
The night desert skies
The night desert skies
The night desert skies
The night desert skies
The night desert skies
The night desert skies

Dubai Day 2 (12 Mar 11) – An Uneventful Day

Roaming Around in Dubai

Today is a rather uneventful day. I headed to pay for the overnight desert camping trip scheduled for tomorrow. However I was told they did not have my booking and the tour was fully booked! What a stuff up! When I demanded to speak to the superior of the booking agent, awhile later I was told that they could arranged another 2 spots for me. I was thinking imagine if I hadn’t demanded, they would have just leave it as it is. This shows how much customer service they emphasize on. I roamed about the Mall of Emirates for the next 2 hours before heading over to the airport to pick up my friend who would be joining me for this phase of my journey.

Ski Dubai In Mall of Emirates
Roaming around Mall of Emirates
The glass roof in Mall of Emirates lets the sun into the mall
Arabian McDonald’s
Walking around Mall of Emirates. This mall was the world’s largest shopping mall until Dubai Mall was completed

Dubai Mall – The Mega Shopping Mall

After meeting up with my friend, and settling him in to hotel, I brought him to the Mall of Emirates to change some local currency. Our plan for today was to head over to Burj Al Arab for high tea. Once we were at the security gate, I realised that I have mixed up the timing. We were 2 hour late and we missed the high tea. However the staff was kind enough to rebook our high tea session to another date without penalising us. So our plan worked out fine and we are still going for high tea in the finest hotel in Dubai afterall. We then went to Dubai Mall to spend the rest of our day there. As my friend had a long flight, we wanted to take the day easy.

The Burj Al Arab is a fine piece of art
Entrance of Dubai Mall
Around Dubai Mall
Dubai Mall Entrance
Inside Dubai Mall
Inside Dubai Mall
Iranian Kebab for Dinner

After dinner we went to watch the fountain show from ground zero. I had watched it from the tower yesterday. The show was indeed different from here, at the ground floor, I can see clearly how the water fountain danced to the rhythm of the music, while from the top, I can only see circles lighting up. After the fountain show, we went for a movie and then headed back to the hotel to rest for the night.

Fountain at Dubai Mall
Burj Khalifa at night from ground zero
Around the musical fountain
Burj Khalifa shines at night like a star in the Arabian skies
Before the start of the fountain show
And the water dances away with the music
Musical Fountain at Dubai Mall
Musical Fountain at Dubai Mall
Musical Fountain at Dubai Mall
Musical Fountain at Dubai Mall
Musical Fountain at Dubai Mall
Musical Fountain at Dubai Mall
Musical Fountain at Dubai Mall
Dubai Mall at night
 

 

Dubai Day 1 (11 Mar 11) – Goodbye Iran, Hello UAE

From Iran To Dubai

We woke up in time for our final breakfast in Iran, before meeting up with the same driver who would sent us to the airport for my morning flight out of Iran. As we were driven to the airport, Tehran zoomed past us, I reflected our 2800km road trip in Iran. We had covered alot of grounds within a short 10 days, and this is just the tip of the iceberg this amazing country has to offer! During the past 10 days, we have traveled from the desert towns, to snow-capped mountains, into the valleys, and along the coast. From big metropolitan city to small dead towns, Iran does has lots more to offer to travelers who are prepared to look past the stereotypes and truly give his country and its friendly and hospitable people a chance and come to explore this country with riches in historical value. After all Persia was once one of the greatest empire in human history. As I was waiting to board the aircraft sending me to my next destination, I realise how quiet the international airport of this huge country is. As I was sitting at the check-in area of the airport, sipping the cup of coffee that I bought, awaiting for my flight, I can truly feel how much the foreign media stereotype has impact on the visitorship of this country. There are about 1 plane landing or taking per hour, in contrast to the airport back in Singapore where an aircraft lands or takes off every 5 mins! Soon I was on the Emirates flight that would bring me to my next destination – Dubai, and opens the next part of my journey thus far.

One last shot on the streets of Tehran before leaving for airport
Checking into our flight at Tehran Airport
Waiting to board our flight to Dubai 
View from the waiting lounge
Waiting to take off

Arrival in Dubai

When I arrived in Dubai, I had no idea what to expect. I was told that the customs will take 1 hour to clear. I have no idea why it would take that long. Well the “mystery” was soon revealed to me. The reason for such a long delay is due to 2 factors, one is there are alot of people arriving in Dubai Airport, coupled with the fact that the Emiratis manning the immigration counter are working very slowly. My clearance alone took about 1 hour, that is 10 times slower then that of Iran. Anyways, I was glad I cleared the custom, after collecting my baggage we headed for the hotel. After all we have a schedule to meet as our pre-purchased Burj Khalifa ticket is at 6pm. As the taxi departed the airport for the hotel, all I see was tons and tons of skyscrapers, as though each is trying their best to reach for the sky. As our taxi drove past Burj Khalifa, there it is, the winner of the sky scrapper is there. The slender King of Skyscrapers stood there solemnly looking down at the others within the city. I was already feeling excited visiting this tallest building in the world, but that has to come later. Soon we arrived at the hotel, due to the massive check out, our check in took nearly 2 hours. The apologetic staff keep checking on us every 15 mins, trying to update us the situation and the time we can check in. After some 2 hours later, we got the key to our room, and I simply love this room.

Driving towards our hotel in Dubai
On our way we saw skyscrapers and the Burj Khalifa
View from our hotel room
Walking around our hotel

The Tallest Building in the World – Burj Khalifa

After settling our luggage in the hotel and did some laundry, we headed for Burj Khalifa as it is near to 6pm. We took the metro to Burj Khalifa from our hotel and it is very convenient. The metro ride is very comfortable and clean and the ride to Burj Khalifa is took around 20 mins. We walked out of the metro station and there it is, the tallest building in the world stood right before my eyes. In a few minutes time, I will be going up this wonder of the modern world. Meanwhile at the metro station, lots of people taking picture of the tower, as it offers one of the best spot to take picture from. We walked towards the Burj thinking the entrance is at the ground floor, we were stopped by a security member for the tower. We asked if this is the way to the observatory deck of the tower, he said no and told us to go to Dubai Mall to gain access. By now we were running a little late, half thinking that we might refused entry if we were 1 min late. We brisk walked to Dubai Mall through the carpark, and found the entrance. Luckily we were still allowed entry despite being about 15 mins late. Soon we were queuing up at the lift that would bring us up 124 storeys, 424m into the sky. As we were walking towards the lift, there is a video clip that showed the builders of the skyscraper. I was telling my friend, the Emiratis paid the bill for the tower, but it is the Indians who actually built the tallest building in the world. Kudos to them!

Metro system in Dubai
Burj Khalifa – The tallest building in the world
Around Dubai Shopping Mall
The hallway that led to the lift to the observatory deck in Burj Khalifa
The speed lift that is going to take us up over 100 storeys in a mere few seconds

The lift brought us up to the observation deck pretty fast, as soon as we were released from the lift, we headed for the outdoor section of the deck. From here I can see as far as the Arabian coast and part of UAE (the other parts are visible from the indoor part of the deck). There are alot of people visiting Burj Khalifa today, and most of them are from India. At the time of the fountain show (I was thinking of seeing it from above), all the visitors were stuck to the window, there are hardly any space for me to squeeze in and see.  There was this very nice European lady who managed to squeezed out a spot for me to glance at the fountain show. How nice of her. After the show, we walked around a little more and decided to go back to earth for dinner. As I was craving for spicy food, I ordered Indian food. After dinner, we did some walking in Dubai Mall.  The Mall, boasting to be the largest in the world, indeed cannot be finished within 1 day. We skimmed through the mall till about midnight and then took a cab back to the hotel to rest for the night, as my friend has an early flight to catch the next day.

View of the surroundings from Burj Khalifa
View of the surroundings from Burj Khalifa
View of the surroundings from Burj Khalifa
View of the surroundings from Burj Khalifa
Soon the city of Dubai lights up for the night
View of the surroundings from Burj Khalifa – The Arabian Coast
View of the surroundings from Burj Khalifa
View of the surroundings from Burj Khalifa
Night view from Burj Khalifa over the Arabian Coast
Night view of the surroundings from Burj Khalifa
There is a musical fountain at the foot of Burj Khalifa
Night view of the surroundings from Burj Khalifa
Night view of the surroundings from Burj Khalifa
Night view of the surroundings from Burj Khalifa
Watching the musical fountain from the observatory deck
Watching the musical fountain from the observatory deck
Inside Dubai Mall – The world’s largest shopping mall
Indian food for dinner
The Gold Souk inside Dubai Mall
There is an aquarium inside Dubai Mall

 

This was the world’s largest single piece acrylic inside Dubai Mall
Inside Dubai Mall
Around Dubai Mall

 

 

Iran Day 10: Tehran (10 Mar 11) – Back To Where We Came From

Back to Tehran

We spend most of the time driving back from Anzali to Tehran. There are 2 ways of getting back to Tehran from Anzali: one is via Rasht and Qazvin, the way we came from; and the other via the Caspian Sea coast and then turning into the mountains. We went via the latter route. The initial part of the was quite uneventful, I would expect to see the Caspian Coast as we drive along this stretch of the road. However no such luck, as we were driving nearer inland, the coast is on the opposite side, we can’t really see the coast at all. Luckily our guide was kind enough to detour into a short stopover area facing the Caspian Sea. “This is our last opportunity to take pictures of the Caspian Sea”, I thought to myself and snapping my camera profusely. After a 5 min break, we continued our way back to Tehran. Out of nowhere, our guide asked if I am still interested in buying Iranian Tea, and I said yes, so he stopped by this shop in Lahijan, where the area is famous for Iranian Tea. As we were pulling up to the shop, our guide pointed out that the mountains we see, where the tea leaves are grown, is known as the Devil’s Mountain as the area is rather windy and at night one would hear the rusting sound produced by the tree, giving the whole area an eerie feeling. After getting our tea, we resumed our journey back. The rest of the journey was rather uneventful.

Caspian Sea
Devil’s Mountains
One last look at the Caspian Sea
One last look at the Caspian Sea
One last look at the Caspian Sea

Alborz Mountain Ranges

We turned into the Alborz Mountain ranges at this coastal town called Chalus. The initial drive was quite alright (after seeing the dramatic sceneries in Alamut Valley, the rest is just don’t match up to it), until we came to this short rest point. From here I can see the whole of the mountain valley as well as this farmland at the bottom of the valley. I thought this looked like a scene in one of those cowboy movies. The view is stunting! From this point on, the journey looked interesting. Many a times, our guide wanted to over several cars in the one laned motorway, but was unsuccessful either due to cars coming from the opposite lane or the car infront of us suddenly sped up as we filtered our car to the oncoming traffic lane. However our guide managed to over many slower moving cars along the way. What amaze me more is the way the road was being paved. We traveled into the valley and then up the mountains, into the snow and into tunnels carved out from the mountain. Every turn is a surprise on this road, as it hops from mountain to mountain ensuring travelers on this road get from Chalus to Tehran. There is this part of the road that flattens out to look like we are near sea level. I am pretty sure we are on top of the mountain, as there were still snow on the ground. The whole area looks like some winter wonderland, absolutely beautiful and peaceful

Driving through Alborz Mountains
Driving through Alborz Mountains
Driving through Alborz Mountains
On the way we saw snow and some villages covered in snow
Driving through Alborz Mountains
Driving through Alborz Mountains
Driving through Alborz Mountains
Driving through Alborz Mountains
Driving through Alborz Mountains

Capital of Iran

After snaking up and down in the mountains, after 4 hours drive, we arrived in Tehran. From the peaceful road and now we are entering into the chaotic roads of Tehran. After checking into the same hotel we stayed in our first day in Iran, we decided to head out and visit some bazaars that was mentioned in Lonely Planet. Everywhere we go, there are tons of people shopping and hanging out. Most probably shopping for the Iran New Year. The streets in Tehran is bustling with life, unlike some of the towns like Kashan or Anzali. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel. On our way, we saw the metro station and took a ride on it. The metro in Tehran charged a flat rate of roughly SGD0.30 regardless the distance you ride on it.  As we entered the paid area of the station, walking towards the platform, I realised the metro station is spick and span. The train that would bring us back to our hotel pulled into the station, as we boarded the train, I saw the train looked very new and clean. The ride on the metro was very comfortable, and though this is our first time taking the metro in Tehran, the well marked dual language signs ensured that we are on the right train. As we alighted the train and exited the station, 2 locals looked at us and asked where we were from. They were rather surprised that we were in Iran as travelers. We chatted a bit and we found out that they are not from Tehran, they like us are travelers and they are in Tehran for holiday. As our hotel and theirs are at different direction, we parted our ways and headed back to our hotel to rest for the night.

Walking around downtown Tehran
I had pizza for dinner
Around Downtown Tehran
A Bus stop in Tehran
Subway in Tehran
Subway departing the station

 

Iran Day 9: Bandar-e Anzali (9 Mar 11) – The Millennium Village of Masuleh

Masuleh – The Millennium Village

Our plan today is to visit a village that is more then a thousand years old. Masuleh, a village located in the mountains to the southwest of Rasht. The drive to this part of Iran is rather mild (as compared to Alamut and Abyaneh), however along the way, the farmlands and the effect of the fog made me feel as though I am in Europe. The peacefulness and tranquility of the farmlands is just fantastic. The road to Masuleh is not long, but today being a wet weather (has been drizzling since last night) made the driving a tad challenging (though not as bad as that to Alamut or Abyaneh). We arrived at Masuleh some 2 hours later. As soon as stepped out of the car, I can immediately see the difference between Masuleh and Abyaneh. Before that I was still asking what is the different between the 2 villages since they are both situated in the mountainous region.  Unlike Abyaneh, which is situated in a valley between mountains, Masuleh is built directly into the base of the mountains. It is not exactly sitting between 2 mountains. Houses are stacked from the bottom to the top, each using the roof of the house below as the base of their house. Pretty much like building lego houses. Such an architecture makes the roof of the house below the front yard of the house above it. The low clouds and the drizzle makes the village looked more poetic! Another difference I spotted between Abyaneh and Masuleh is that the latter has more youngsters then the former, which is largely inhabited by old folks. The constant water flowing from the nearby mountains adds a certain rhythm to the otherwise tranquil village. We spent about 30 mins admiring the beauty of this millennium old village before heading to Bandar-e Anzali.

The countryside near Rasht
Peaceful and tranquil countryside
The low cloud gives this area a very comfortable feeling
The peaceful countryside near Rasht
Me at the countryside near Rasht
Panoramic shot of the river that runs through the countryside
Close up shot of the river
Arrival at Masuleh
This town is built from the base of the mountain up
Masuleh is 1000 years old and there is even a mosque in the town
Taking a selfie at Masuleh
Views around Masuleh
This shot is taken on the roof of one of the houses, which serves as the front porch of the house above it
The low cloud gives the impression that the village is high up in the mountains

 

Another selfie at Masuleh
The housing in Masuleh is very unique
Panoramic shot of Masuleh
The mountains opposite Masuleh
River that provided water to dwellers of Masuleh
We stopped by a shop for lunch on our way to Bandar-e Anzali
Although it don’y look appetising, but this is really good
Lunch time

Traveling to Bandar-e Anzali – The Town by Caspian Sea

The drive from Masuleh to Bandar-e Anzali is not too long, however having to go through Rasht meant we had been delayed by the traffic jams in the city. The drive is rather uneventful and plain. About 4 hours later, we arrived at Bandar-e Anzali. It is very obvious for first timers to notice that they are actually in Anzali, as the port customs is first thing one would see if coming from Rasht direction. Our purpose of coming to Anzali is to see the Caspian Sea, the largest lake in the world. As this body of water is fresh water, and not connected to any sea or ocean. However as it is surrounded by a few neighbouring countries, regarding it as a lake gave rise to some sovereignty issues with regards to the usage of the lake, thus this lake is actually regarded as a sea. As we stopped by a bridge to take some pictures of the nearby port, we saw some men fishing on the bridge. We stopped momentarily to watch and see how their luck goes in fishing. Nothing big was caught, the guy with the net caught more fishes then those with fishing poles.  This town is alot quieter then Rasht, there isn’t many people or traffic around. We drove to a nearby beach to see Caspian sea. The cold sea breeze propelled the sea water against the beach, the rhythm is just smoothing. Our hotel is just a short drive (like 2 mins?) away from the beach. As we were checking in, we requested a room with a sea view. Of course that was not difficult to fulfill as the hotel was practically empty. Our guide told us that Anzali is not a tourist town, and the attractions are very limited, hence not many people would venture to this part of the country.  When we entered our room, I was rather thrilled to have a view of the Caspian Sea.

Driving through the countryside towards Anzali
Port of Anzali
Port of Anzali
Port of Anzali
Caspian Sea technically the world’s largest lake
From this view, it is hard to imagine Caspian Sea being a lake
View of Caspian Sea from our hotel room

We wanted to head outside the hotel to see if there are any nice restaurants for dinner. However the freezing (laterally cold!) and the rain was preventing us from taking more steps out of the hotel, we decide to settled our dinner in the hotel. Seeing the rain stopped momentarily after our dinner, we went outside the hotel for a walk. However we were deceived by the cunning rain as it soon started to pour (and we were like 2 mins from the hotel, only managed to visit a couple of shops just outside the hotel). We had no choice but to return to our room. We left the window ajar for the rest of the night to allow the rhythm of Caspian Sea sing us a lullaby as we wondering into our dreamlands.

Persian Kebab for dinner
View of Caspian Sea at night from our room

Iran Day 8: Alamut (8 Mar 11) – The Castle of Assassins

The Honesty of Iranians

We woke up pretty early today as we were rather excited about the trip today. This is the third climax of the trip and certainly is the highlight of the trip. As we were packing up getting ready to check out of the hotel, I realised my camera is missing! OMG my worst fear has came true. Throughout the trip I had this constant thought that if my camera go missing or the memory card got corrupted, all the pictures I took will became memories! My best bet is to go back to the restaurant we dine last night, and hopefully it is either still there or some kind soul found it and passed it to the staff. While our guide was settling our check out, I headed over to the restaurant to asked about my camera. Luckily the staff slept in the restaurant for the night and someone was there to open up for me. However the staff do not speak English and I do not speak Farsi, but he is kind enough to let me in and look for my camera. I went to where we were seated last night, but the table and chairs was re-arranged. My camera was nowhere to be found! At this point, I was thinking, maybe I should get my guide who can talk to them. As we were walking back to the hotel, we saw our guide coming out of the hotel looking frustrated, we asked him what happened. He said that the hotel had stuffed up the paperwork for the payment. The travel agency had made the payment for our stay and the hotel staff cannot find the paperwork, as such they are still withholding our passport. As the hotel staff is still searching for the paperwork, we went back to the restaurant. Our guide spoke to the staff and they said they have found my camera, but it is locked and the key is with their boss. After our guide told them to search again, they found my camera bag just below the counter. I opened the bag, my camera is still there! What a close shave. I thanked the restaurant staff, and we headed back to the hotel. By this time the hotel staff had found the paperwork and we were given our passports back, soon we were on our way to Alamut castle.

Driving Up and Down Mountains to Alamut Castle

The distance from Qazvin to Alamut castle isn’t really that far, but the road to the castle makes driving slow. Our guide wasn’t lying when he said the road to Abyaneh is peanuts. The road towards Alamut castle was alright initially, however as we head further in, the road headed up the snow-capped mountains. To make things worst, the side that is at the edge of the mountain has no barriers! One wrong move or an avalanche would send us 2200m into the valley. The windy road at certain part has a roughly 150 deg turn, snaking up and down the mountainous roads, watching the snow-capped mountains zoomed into valleys, the drive is beautiful! Along the way, there are 2 towns that we passed by. Made me wonder why would anyone wanna leave in the middle of the valleys, where the only way out is up 2200m high mountain though the winding roads. To reach Alamut Castle, we went up about 3 mountains and then into Alamut Valley. After about 3 hours drive, there it is Alamut Castle sitting right on top of the mountain. The whole area including Alamut Castle was covered with snow! Seeing the castle and the snow I was doubly excited. However when I looked up and first saw Alamut sitting on top of the vertical part of the mountain, my first reaction was “How the hell do we go up that thing on top of the vertical cliff???!!”. I read on Lonely Planet to getting to the castle involves a “25 min sweaty trek”, from where we were, I do not see any access to the castle.

The drive towards Alamut Castle
Gradually we saw the landscape turned from green to white
Driving up 2200m towards Alamut Castle
Snow snow everywhere
On our way to Alamut Castle
The white snowy scenery captivates me
First time I see so much snow
At one point I was wondering if we would have a chance to go out and play with the snow
The highway that cuts across the mountains
And we began our descent from the mountains
The scenery along the way was fantastic
Driving towards Alamut Castle
Panoramic shots along the way
Panoramic shots along the way
Me amongst the mountains
Arrival at Alamut Castle
Alamut Castle is just above this cliff

The Legendary Castle of Assassins – Alamut Castle

As soon as we got out of the car, the “mystery” of how to scale the castle was solved. Our guide brought us round to the back of the mountain and there it is, a stairway leading up to the castle. This stairway is totally covered with snow. Walking up is fun but tiring, and not to mention slippery, as the way up was covered with both snow and mud. The walk up was initially gentle, as it is made of rocks. As we walk up towards the lower castle, the rest of the way up was made of wood. The makeshift stairway was constructed recently to enable easier access to the castle. The first set of led us to the lower part of the castle. There is a short tunnel that leads to the watch tower. More like a watch area to me. But the view here is amazing! I can see the whole of Alamut Valley and the way that we came in from. The view stretches as far as the Alborz mountains far in the backdrop of Alamut Valley. Our guide told us this place is used as a watch tower for precisely this reason. The builders of this castle really chose their location very well. We went further to the upper part of the castle. There are alot of restoration works going on at the moment, scaffolding were visible everywhere. We went to the inner part of the castle, I can see they have everything here! From Stables to water wells to storage area for food, as well as prayer room, this place is self-sufficient any time.

The legend behind this castle was that for centuries this castle is unconquerable due to its location and the well pointed watch tower. However it fell to the Mongols subsequently. I really take my hat off the Mongols for their ability to take this castle, as there is only one way in and one way out. To get into the valley undetected is really amazing. We then went towards the roof part of the castle. From here, the whole snow-capped Alborz mountain ranges is within our sight. Standing at this point, looking out into the mountains and the valley beneath us is so relaxing. The tranquility standing here facing the breathtaking Alborz mountains is beyond description. Coming here, scaling the Alamut castle is indeed a once in a life time experience for me, moreover not many people has actually come here. At the end of the roof top, there is a section that is out of bounds, and it leads to another part of the castle. The partially buried in snow structure reveals what seemed to be another rest area. It is a pity that part is out of bounds.

We spent a little more time appreciating the beauty and the tranquility this castle offers before returning to our car. The downward route seemed alot short and easier, however the slippery snow and mud makes descending slightly challenging (well half the time I was walking into the knee deep snow, afterall I am not sure when will be the next time I will come into contact with snow). As our car was driving back towards Qazvin, we went through the treacherous mountain road, up and down the mountains. As we were at the snowy part of the mountain, it began to snow! This is the first time I have seen snowing! There is a part of me which hoped that we could stop the car, get out and play with the snow. However the road conditions does not allow us to do so, I think partially our guide is trying to get out of the mountains as soon as possible, if the snow storm gets heavier, driving through it is going to be rather dangerous. As we were out of the mountains nearer to Qazvin, our guide told us we were lucky to have been to Alamut today. If the snow was in the morning, visiting Alamut will not be possible. I guess we have our lucky stars to thank for allowing us to see this ancient wonder.

This is the stairs that led us up to the castle
I was very excited to see snow and walked in the snow
Me at half way up to Alamut Castle
There are some restoration work being done to the castle when we were there
The structure on top of the hill is Alamut Castle
This is taken from the Watch Tower, which essentially is a cavern where the guards stood watch for  potential enemies attacking from the only route into the valley
We can see part of the cavern and the castle is just a further up
Me at the watch tower
The mountainous region contributed to its impenetrable for centuries
This is the interior of the castle, where restoration works were taking place
Interior of Alamut Castle
This is part of the living quarters for the assassins in the castle
Interior of Alamut Castle
We were told this is the stables where horses were kept
This hole leads to the storage area where food was kept
Inside of the castle
Inside the Alamut Castle
This is the roof of the castle
There is another annex to the fortress
Panoramic view of the mountains surrounding the fortress
Me at Alamut Castle
Part of Alamut Castle
Alamut Castle
Panoramic view of the mountains surrounding the fortress
This is the top part of the fortress
Panoramic view of the mountains surrounding the fortress
The view from this area is just stunting
This is where we trekked at Alamut Castle
Alamut Castle
This is the highest point at Alamut Castle
Alamut Castle
On our way down the castle
Final shot at Alamut Castle
On our way out of Alamut Valley
It started to snow
We can see snowing coming our way on our way out of the valley
Snowing!!

Onward to Rasht

We drove on to Rasht, where we will be spending the night. Enroute, the scenery changed into what looked like a mining mountain, with heavy vehicles plying through the tunnels in the mountains. As the road leads us to this town, all of the sudden, it seemed as though the clouds has fallen onto the town, blanketing the sun from the town. The low clouds make the rest of our journey looked gloomy. Though on the map Qazvin to Rasht seemed close enough, this leg of the road took longer then I expected it. We arrived at Rasht at dinner time. After checking into the hotel, we headed out to find food ourselves. My friend wanted to get a pair of socks and we went to this sports apparel shop. The lady in the shop was friendly and started to chat with us. She then told us that most of the people in Rasht do not speak English, as there are very few foreigners traveling to this part of the country. We took the opportunity to ask if there are any good restaurants, she recommended one and we went there for dinner. She was right, the food in this restaurant is indeed good. The chicken kebab is very juicy and tender (by the way we pointed to pictures in the menu when ordering our food, it is amazing that the staff at the restaurant brought what we wanted to eat). We went back to the hotel after dinner to rest for the night.

Driving towards Rasht on the highway
The dense low clouds gave this area a sense of mystic
We can see low clouds ahead
This is a phenomenon that is not seen in Singapore
Persian Dinner
The juicy chicken Kebab

 

Iran Day 7: Qazvin (7 Mar 11) – An Uneventful Day

Qazvin – The Gateway to Alamut Castle

Today is rather uneventful. We spent the 5 hours driving from Kashan to Qazvin. The journey was tiring, though scenic, as the road was decorated with endless mountain ranges. Nothing really much happened today. When we reached Qazvin after some 5 hours later, we checked into the hotel, and our guide went to to rest for the day (I’d be exhausted after driving for 5 hours). Since we are not really that tired, we headed to the town to explore abit. Before we headed to the town, I was craving for some fast food and we came across this fried chicken restaurant. We ordered ourselves a 2 piece chicken. Not knowing that it actually came with fries, we ordered fries separately. When our chicken came, we realised we had over ordered. For the first time after 7 days of no chili, this restaurant saved us! Though they do not have chili sauce, they have hot ketchup! It tasted like Ketchup, but with a splash of spiciness to it. Well this is the closest they have to chili sauce and I am very happy about it. After eating we headed to the town. On our way we saw this sign that says “Historic Monument”, so we followed it. After walking about 30 mins, we came across a park and no “Historic Monument”. I felt so cheated and we decided to head back.

The mountainous scenery in Iran never seem to bore me
Driving towards Qazvin 
Scenery along the way to Qazvin from Kashan
On the highway to Qazvin
Panoramic shot on the way
This abandoned town is one of the sites we saw along the way. According to our guide, this used to be where the caravan would stop over to rest for the night when traveling along the silk road
Along the way to Qazvin
Along the way to Qazvin
Arrival at Qazvin
Arrival at Qazvin
Iranian Fast Food

The Hospitable Iranians

On our way back we stumbled upon this garden with a very old building in it. There is a sign at the entrance of the garden that says “Chehel Sotun Palace”. This palace certainly looked aged and decapitated. Looks like no one bothered to do any maintenance on it. We decided to head back to the hotel since there is really nothing much to do around. As we were walking back, we passed by this fruit juice store. Feeling thirsty, we headed in and ordered ourselves a cup each. As we were drinking, the staffs of the shop were very friendly and welcoming. Certainly like any other Iranians we have interacted, these guys are curious with foreigners as well. After we had finished our juices, one of their friends joined them and asked if we wanna play pools. I told him we were very tired and we didn’t know how to play pools. We told them of our intention to get back to the hotel to get some rest. These 2 guys (their English is as limited as our Farsi), said something and followed us. We were getting abit suspicious as to what they are up to. As we were near our hotel, these 2 guys signaled to us that our hotel is up ahead. This is the time I realised that they are afraid that we might get lost and not know our way back to the hotel, thus they took the liberty to escort us back to our hotel, making sure that we find where we suppose to go! How thoughtful of them.

Streets of Qazvin
The Chehel Sotun Palace
Walking around Qazvin

In the evening we met up with our guide for dinner at a nearby restaurant and rested for the night pretty early as we have a long day to go tomorrow at Alamut Valley.

We had Iranian Kebab for dinner
Dinner time

 

Iran Day 6: Kashan (6 Mar 11) – The Valley Town and The Sleepy Town: From Abyaneh to the Fin Gardens of Kashan

Isfahan to Abyaneh

We practically spent half the day today traveling on the road. We set off for Abyaneh, a historical town in the middle of the mountains, after breakfast. The drive to Abyaneh was very scenic (like most of the roads we have been to), I seen the sceneries changed from deserts to snow-capped mountains zooming past my eyes as we were driving towards Abyaneh. The distance from Isfahan to the entrance of Abyaneh isn’t too long (roughly 2 hours). As we turned into the only way into the village, I saw this fort ruin structure at the far end. Our guide mentioned that this is one of the lookouts for Abyaneh, and he also told us to look out for caves that we would see along the way. These caves were used as refuge by the locals some time back. The road towards Abyaneh was rather treacherous. The winding single-lane roads snaked among the mountains looked rather challenging to drive. However our guide commented this is nothing, peanuts to those we will be seeing on our way to Alamut Castle. As though the snaking road is not challenging enough, along the way we came across a section of the road with one lane closed due to pipeline laying.

Driving towards Abyaneh
Driving towards Abyaneh
Driving towards Abyaneh
Driving towards Abyaneh. We started to see snow again
Driving towards Abyaneh. Iran has a lot of scenery to offer
Snow capped mountains afar
Driving towards Abyaneh
Driving towards Abyaneh
Driving towards Abyaneh
Driving towards Abyaneh
Driving towards Abyaneh, when we see snow we know we are close

Abyaneh – A Village in the Valley

As the surrounding grounds became snowy, we realised we are closed to Abyaneh. We arrived at the village, as usual the snow excite me more then the village. I was thinking more time to play with snow! Abyaneh looked very peaceful, and very old. There wasn’t many people around. We were told that the structure of the buildings in this village hasn’t changed much throughout the centuries. The pastoral village overlooking the snow-capped mountains, makes it an ideal place for retirement. The materials used to built the houses of this village is mainly mud clay, as this has the effect of keeping the house warm during winter and cool during summer. As we were walking through the village, I realised the villagers were mostly elderly and young children. Our guide mentioned that the youngsters left the village to work or study in Tehran mostly. We visited this mosque, which was rather modest in size, but offered stunting views of the snow-capped mountains around it. This is a rather good place for one to claim down and collect thoughts, maybe partially due to the cool weather. As we were walking in the town, playing with the snow, we came across a group of 5 Iranians. They were pleased to see us and did not hold back their “hellos” to us.

The historic town of Abyaneh
The design of the buildings hasn’t change throughout the centuries
Quite Street in Abyaneh
Quite alley
The whole town of Abyaneh is very quite, there isn’t many people around
Ancient building in Abyaneh
The snowy mountains in the background makes the town feels more tranquil
Snow!! We were very excited by the snow
Ancient building in Abyaneh
Streets are this quiet throughout our visit there
This is a mosque in Abyaneh. The pool in the middle is frozen with ice
Scenery around Abyaneh
This feels more like a ski resort in Europe
Panoramic view of the scenery
Streets of Abyaneh
Streets of Abyaneh
We were told the children when they hit high school as well as adults moved out of Abyaneh to go school or work elsewhere (mostly in Tehran)
Snow!!
Streets of Abyaneh
Streets of Abyaneh
Beautiful scenery in Abyaneh

The Perfect Persian Garden – Fin Garden

We left Abyaneh, though the windy mountainous road that we came from and headed towards Kashan, our pitstop for the night. Along the way, we saw the nuclear power plant that created alot of tension between Iran and some of the other countries. The drive towards Kashan did not take too long as Abyaneh is relatively near to Kashan. Our first stop in Kashan is the famous Fin Gardens. Now this garden has a rather unique feature that stoods out from the other gardens we seen. There are water fountains throughout the garden, however these fountains are really an engineering feat at the time it was built. The fountains throughout the garden did not use any pumps or electricity, instead it was based on the principle of gravity and flow that made the water in this garden spray! There are several big pools, where the water would channeled to lower pools using gravity. The water from the Fin garden came from the spring of the nearby mountains as such the water is very cooling. We were told that this garden is especially cooling during summer due to the flow of the water and the temperature of the water in the garden. However the construction of this garden was rather controversial at that time as it was deemed that the royalties used the citizen’s money for their own pleasure. Our guide also pointed out that if you ask the Iranians about Fin Garden, they might not know where it is. If you ask them about the Fin Bath, they will definitely know where it is due to a murder case that took place in the bath within the gardens. This murder case was plotted by the queen on the prime minister as the prime minister was the one who was being rather strict with how the national fund was being used. The Bath house within the Fin garden was still in great condition (better then the one we saw in Shiraz), from this Bath house, I can see how the different rooms and its structure. The murder of the Prime Minister was being displayed within the Bath house.

Fountains in Fin Garden. There are no electric pumps throughout the garden, the fountain runs on gravity
This is the main pool of the fountain. The source of the water is from the nearby mountain
The amazing fountain
A Typical Persian garden with water channels surrounding the garden 
Inside Fin Garden
A typical Persian design ceiling
The whole garden is just magnificent and tranquil. One can stay here the whole day
Walking towards the famous Bath house
This is the Bath house where the Prime Minister was assassinated
A typical Persian Bath house
Fin Garden
Fin Garden
Fin Garden 

Tabatabi House – A Traditional Persian House for the Rich

Leaving the Fin Garden, we drove towards the Tabatabi House, one of the most impressive traditional house in Kashan. This large house has a total of 4 courtyards and we were told that the smaller sections of the houses are given to the children of the owner once they are married. The house has a summer and winter section. The area that we entered from is the winter section, where the family will interact indoors during the winter months. The summer section is essentially this balcony area, built on the second level of the house where the family, including the servant quarters, can sleep in during summer months when it is rather hot. There are 2 door knobs in the main door of the house. The female visitors will knock using the lighter door knob, while male visitors will knock using the heavier door knob. The purpose is to allow the incumbents of the house to differentiate the sex of the visitors. As Persia is a very conservative country (even till today), whenever there are male visitors, they will only be entertained in the main courtyard, while the female family members will retreat to either their room or the rear courtyards.

The most impressive section of this house is the section used by the master of this house. The 5 colourful glass mosaic on the main glass window was certainly a masterpiece and light up the room very artistically, together with the colourful glass windows, under the sunshine, not only it blocks out the sun, the colourful reflection of the glass presents another piece of art. I spent some time walking around the house, absorbing the Persian art that is embedded into the building of this house, I also went up to the second level where the summer quarters are. Rather fascinating! We headed for the small mosque just next to the Tabatabi House. The significance of this mosque is that this is where the 6th Imam is buried. At first I thought we would be chased out of the mosque as we are non-Muslims. In some areas, mosques are out of bounds to non-Muslims. However I was wrong, instead of chasing us out, the keeper of the mosque brought us some tea and welcomed us. I am not too sure if it is the hospitality nature of Iranians, or the fact that the 6th Imam is buried here makes this mosque some what opened to non-Muslims. Whatever the reason is, I was glad that we were not being chased out. Due to respect for the Imam, picture taking was not allowed in this mosque.

Entrance of the Tabatabi House
The modest entrance of the house opens up to a huge area behind the door
The colouring of the glass panel brings beautiful and colour into the room when sun shines through it
Kitchen Area of the Tabatabi House
This area is the servants quarters, the owner of the house even built a garden for the welfare of his servants
A well decorated ceiling
The colour windows are just stunting
The is the hall way to the bedroom to the owner’s house
The intrigue design on the wall and the house is certainly very well preserved
The front lawn of the house
The facade of the Tabatabi House

Kashan Bath House & Kashan Bazaar

We headed for the public bath next. At first I thought this bath would be similar to the other 2 bath houses we have seen so far. Yeah, the interior is the same, there would be a waiting room, a changing room and a cleaning room. However the significance of this bath house did not lie with the interior, but the roof top of this bathhouse. As we proceeded up the roof, the domed roof was visible from the roof, it looked like sand dunes in the desert, and certainly looked like a piece of artwork. We were brought to the pump room on the roof top where our guide explained the way the water was being brought into the bath in the olden days. From the roof top, I can also see the mountains around Kashan.

After the bath house, our guide brought us to the bazaar. Well this is rather boring as I was out to find more souvenirs, no such luck. This bazaar is catered mainly for the locals, selling the daily necessity items. However the architecture of one of the halls of the bazaar looked like some ancient mosque. It is rather beautiful. The rest of the bazaar looked run down and lack of maintenance.  We soon exited the bazaar and headed back to the hotel.

Inside the Bathhouse in Kashan 
This area is where the water was heated
This is the waiting room in the Bathhouse
The architecture of the roof is simply stunting
Domes covering the bath house
From the roof we can see a mosque nearby
This area is on the roof, where water is pumped into different rooms in the bathhouse
The bazaar in Kashan
The ceilings in the bazaar is artistic
View of the mountain from our room
Watching the night fall from our room
And the city of Kashan lights up
Persian Dinner
Persian Kebab
Persian style fish

Iran Day 5 : Isfahan (5 Mar 11) – Half of the World : Visiting the Ali Qapu Palace and the Imam Mosque in Isfahan Square

A Home for the Royalty – Ali Qapu Palace

We started the day slightly later then the previous days. After breakfast, we headed for the Imam Square to visit the 3 monuments there. I would consider this as the second climax of my Persian trip, I have read so much about the Imam Square and its constructs. Afterall there is a saying in Iran that goes “If you have visited Isfahan, you have been to half of the world”.

Our first stop is Ali Qapu Palace. The interesting thing about this palace is it is designed to confuse onlookers. From different side of the palace, one would see the palace having differing number of floors. This is done on purpose to so as not to let non-dwellers know how many floors there are in this palace.  We climbed to the Balcony level of this palace. From here I can see the whole of Imam Square and the 2 mosques that stand at the edge of the square. We were told this level is where the royalties used to watch polo from and also to host foreign dignitaries that would come into Persia and visit the kings back then. We climbed to the top most level of this palace, which is the 6th level. The unique feature of this chamber has to be the musical instrument hollow ceilings. The purpose of the hollow is to allow music, that would be played from this level to flow down 1 level down, so those at the lower level can hear and enjoy the music. Back in those days, males and females are housed in different levels of the palace when it comes to entertainment. The males will stay on the 6th level where the music would be played, while the females will stay 1 level below. As I was climbing these stairs up the palace, it made me wonder if the builders purposely built this palace in such a way to “torture” their king back then.

Entrance of the Ali Qapu Palace. Some restoration work is being done when we visited the palace
This is the main entrance to the palace. The arched ceiling allows one to whisper to another when standing at two separate corners of this hallway
Main entrance of Ali Qapu Palace
Ali Qapu Palace
Ali Qapu Palace
Ceiling of the view deck of Ali Qapu Palace
Looking out from the viewing deck of Ali Qapu Palace. This was where the king addresses his subjects or to watch Polo game
View of Lady Mosque from the viewing deck of  Ali Qapu Palace
Side entrance leading to top floors at the viewing deck
View of the back alley of Ali Qapu Palace
This is the “dance floor” of the palace. In ancient days, males and females are separated in royal parties. This is the floor for the ladies and the holes on the wall allows music to travel from the top floor where the band is to this floor
Close up of the “music holes”
Very intriguing design of the dance floor in Ali Qapu Palace
Ceiling of the top floor in Ali Qapu Palace
Persian design being embedded into the walls of this palace
Persian design being embedded into the walls of this palace
Persian design being embedded into the walls of this palace 
This portrait is taken at the viewing deck depicting a Persian Lady
This portrait is taken at the viewing deck depicting a Persian Lady
Ceiling of the viewing deck
Pillars at the viewing deck
View of Imam Mosque from the viewing deck

The Symbol of Religious Harmony – The Imam Mosque

Exiting the Palace, we headed for the Imam Mosque next. This is the bigger of the 2 mosques in Imam Square and it was used as the main mosque in Isfahan. From afar our guide pointed a structure that is not traditional in Islamic Mosque structure. We were told back in those days, to promote religious harmony between the Muslims and the Christians, they exchanged some building structures. We were told that we will be seeing a dome in a church later in the day.

As we entered the Mosque, the size of the courtyard alone is huge! At the courtyard, there are 3 buildings. The one on the right side is the one with Christianity structure subsequently built on. We went to that building, inside was rather large and there is a garden behind it. We then proceeded to the centre building. This is the largest of the 3 building. Our guide told us to pick a spot and stay there. He then took out a note and started to flip it. From where I am I could hear the note. We were then told that this mosque is designed in such a way that the sound will transmit from the centre of this building to any part within the mosque. I had seen this when I was taking picture at the courtyard, nearer to the entrance into the courtyard, a handful of young Iranian girls were standing at the centre of the middle building and they were singing. I could hear them from afar, it was amazing. We then went to the left building, which was equally big as the right building. We spent more time taking picture in the courtyard then at the side buildings. We were told that the shear size of this mosque is built so that different branches of Islamism do their prayers at the same time without interfering with each other. Such a design clearly has religious harmony in mind.

Main entrance to Imam Mosque
The ceiling design on the main entrance of the mosque
The ceiling of inside the main gate building
Colourful blue pattern design
The main prayer hall of Imam Mosque
Exquisite Persian Design on the ceiling
So much detail in the design of the mosque
The colour blue ceiling inside the main prayer hall of Imam Mosque
A huge prayer hall
Just love the Persian design on the ceiling and all over the mosque
The amount of detail that went into the walls and ceiling tells one how much the Persians love their mosque
The huge prayer hall inside Imam Mosque
The amount of detail that went into the interior of the mosque is unimaginable
Inside the Imam Mosque
The exterior of the prayer hall of Imam Mosque
Imam Mosque covers a huge area
Me in Imam Mosque
The main prayer hall of Imam Mosque. Notice the small building on top of the hall which does not have a dome
Me in Imam Mosque
Huge area the Imam Mosque covers
Inside the Imam Mosque

The Lady Mosque

Exiting the Imam Mosque, we went to the smaller mosque in Imam Square. This mosque was used for religious studies more then a mosque. It was loosely referred to as the “Lady’s Mosque” as it is the smallest mosque in this square and was used by the women for prayers. This mosque does not have any minarets nor any courtyard. Once we entered the mosque, a corridor was there to usher us into the main hall. This mosque is rather uneventful, perhaps the only thing worth mentioning is the basement, which was used for prayers.

The ceiling of the main hall in the Lady’s Mosque
Inside the Lady’s Mosque
The underground prayer room in Lady’s Mosque
Hallway that leads into the main hall

The illusive Forty Pillars Palace

Next stop for us was the Chehel Sotun Palace or the 40 pillars Palace. This palace originally has only 2 pillars, the other 18 was added to this palace by a later king. The palace got its name as 40 pillar palace as the reflection from the pool in front of the palace gave it extra 20 pillars. The palace is built as a leisure and a place to entertain guests, thus it is rather small in size. As we entered this rather small palace, I can see paintings of kings entertaining guests on the walls of the throne hall. These paintings are rather colourful at in good condition. The most important part of this palace does not lie with these paintings, rather a very old copy of the Quran in the centre of the throne room. The other room has other displays such as an wooden door, nothing quite interesting here though.

The 40 pillars of Chehel Sotun Palace
Main entrance of Chehel Sotun Palace
The open area of Chehel Sotun Palace
Entering the Chehel Sotun Palace
The mural paintings inside the Chehel Sotun Palace depict some battle scenes here
Colourfully designed ceiling
Some of the murals inside Chehel Sotun Palace 
A very old Qu’ran

The Forbidden Palace of Persia – Hasht Behest Palace

After the palace, we went on to the Hasht Behest Palace. This simple 2 storey palace is in the middle of a garden. This garden was out of bounds to commoners as it is a royal garden, where the royalties come for relaxation. The garden is like any other garden we have seen so far, nothing worth mentioning. We headed into the Palace, it looked rather old. Other then that, there is nothing worth mentioning or even seeing here. Felt like a waste of time. After the Hast Behest Palace visit, we headed for lunch. As we entered the restaurant, an elderly man told us not to take pictures in the restaurant. What a waste! The Persian decor of the restaurant is really nice. I ordered the traditional Isfahani food – Biryani, which is minced meat in the centre of 2 pieces of naan. I took pictures of the food anyways.

Hasht Behest Palace
Typical Persian Designed Ceiling
Looking out into the garden from Hasht Behest Palace can be very therapeutic
The Hasht Behest Palace is a very simple palace
Inside Hasht Behest Palace
Inside Hasht Behest Palace
Exterior of Hasht Behest Palace
Birayani for lunch

The 33-Arch Bridge – Si-o-Seh Bridge & The Cathedral with an Islamic Dome – Vank Cathedral 

After lunch, we headed for the Si-o-Seh Bridge. This bridge is also known as the 33 arches bridge. This bridge was once the only bridge connecting the 2 parts of Isfahan. Here I saw a lot of Isfahanis hanging out. Other then the architecture of the bridge being unique, there is nothing eventful here. Serves more like a photographic point for travelers in Isfahan, other then used by the locals to cross between the 2 parts of Isfahan.

We crossed the bridge to the other side and headed for a rather unique cathedral. The Vank Cathedral is an Armenian Church, which has a dome at the top of the cathedral. Our guide pointed out that this is a symbol of friendship and religious harmony, as what we had seen earlier on at Imam mosque. It is a pity that we are not allowed to take pictures inside the cathedral as there are rather vivid paintings of the gods, jesus and hell. We exited the cathedral and went next door to the museum. Here showcased numerous christian artifacts as well as the culling of the Armenians. However the centrepiece of the museum is this Armenian bible verse written on a single strain of hair, which is about 0.1mm wide. This hair was placed under a microscope and through the scope the verse is clearly seen.

Walking on the Si-O-Seh Bridge
Si-O-Seh Bridge from far
Si-O-Seh Bridge
The Vank Cathedral
The Vank Cathedral has a dome that is commonly found on mosques

Isfahan at Night

After the cathedral, our guide left us to wonder around the Imam Square as he has some stuff to “settle”. We took the cab to Imam square and bought some souvenirs. As we were walking, we had a lot of “hellos” and “welcomes” coming our way. We stayed at the square till about evening time, when we headed back to the Si-o-Seh Bridge to take some picture at dusk. The view of the bridge was rather artistic at dusk when the bridge glimmers with the soft orange light. After taking some pictures, we headed back to Imam Square to take more pictures of the Square at night. The square at night has some mysticism to it, it is absolutely beautiful. I felt rather worn out after a whole day of walking, time to grab some rest at the hotel, as we have quite abit of ground to cover the next day.

Hasht Behest Palace at night  
Si-O-Seh bridge at night is beautiful
Si-O-Seh bridge at night
Si-O-Seh bridge at night
Walking on Si-O-Seh bridge at night
Lady Mosque at night
Imam Mosque at night