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

 

Iran Day 4: Yadz (4 Mar 11) – The Dessert Town: From Zoroastrain Temple to the Tower of Silence

Centre of Yazd – Jameirah Mosque

Our first stop for the day is the Jameirah Mosque in Yazd. As with Shiraz, this mosque used to be their gathering place for prayers and ceremonies. However, the difference in terms of structure is the height of the minarets of these mosques. Our guide told us that these minarets has another purpose other then calling for prayers, they are used as guidance for travelers in the old days. As Shiraz is surrounded by mountains, they have no use for tall minarets. Yazd on the other hand is in the desert, as such they have higher minarets to aid travelers finding this town. The other difference with the Jameirah Mosque in Shiraz is that his mosque is no longer used for prayer purposes, it is used solely for ceremonial purposes. Nothing much was around here other then a reservoir across the street from this Mosque monument.

The facade of the hotel we slept last night
Traditional Iranian Building with wind tower
The reservoir opposite Jamierah Mosque
Jameirah Mosque
Part of the Jameirah Mosque

The 7 Centuries Fire in Zoroastrian Temple

We headed for the Zoroastrian temple, where it housed the holy fire that was burning for more then 700 years. As we arrived, there was a group of school girls here for field trip. We walked pasted them and they were giggling at us. Out of the sudden, someone from that group shouted “Hello”, then came the “Welcomes” at us. As the girls are finishing the tour they left the temple grounds, and tranquility was restored once the girls cleared the temple. We entered into the temple and saw only one glass panel and a small corner selling Zoroastrian items and that’s it to the temple. A rather modest temple with such a significant purpose. Back to the fire, it is burning on a goblet behind this glass panel. Too bad the reflections of the glass makes taking pictures frustrating. We did not spend alot of time in the temple, as it is really small and the purpose is to see the 700 year old fire and we did that.

Zoroastrian Symbol
The holy fire that has been kept burning for 700 years
The Zoroastrian Temple

Tower of Death – The Tower of Silence

We headed for the next stop – The tower of Silence, which is located in the outskirts of Yazd. The tower of silence is an ancient burial method for the Zoroastrians, as they once believed that cremating the dead will pollute the air and earth burial will pollute the earth. Thus they built these towers on a couple of hills, brought the dead up to these towers and allow the vultures to clean the corpse. After the vultures had reduced the bodies to bones, these are swept into the big pit in the middle of the tower.  Once a tower is filled up, another tower on the nearby hill is built and the burial will be done there. We pulled up to the base of the Towers of Silence, there are a few mud clay houses at the base and a reservoir. We were told that in the olden days, the families will accompany the dead in those houses for 3 days to help them cross over to the other world. As the houses are of different sizes, the bigger houses will be used by the richer ones. Before us was 2 hills both with the towers of silence. As the shorter one is full of local students coming for their field trip, we opted to climb the taller ones. As we were walking towards the hill, our guide said something. It was rather inaudible to me so I just followed them. The climb was more direct, but tiring as it was steep. We did not take long to climb up the tower, as it is not that crowded and we took a faster route. The entrance to the tower was about 3m from the ground, so we had to climb up that last ledge to reach into the towers. Inside the tower was a huge pit, where they used to push the skeletons of the dead in. The walls of the tower was damaged at one side, however this gave a us a very good view of the mountains afar as well as the tower on the shorter hills. We also caught a glimpse of Yazd city from up here. The view is just stunting and picturesque. We took some pictures here, caught some rest and headed down towards the car. As we were descending, I saw this route that is easier to climb, the slope is gentler and it felt more like a walk then a climb, but the only thing is it is round the back of the hill. Our guide told us the hill we just been up was about 300m.

Tower of Silence and accommodation for locals to put up during funerals for their loved ones
A reservoir at the base of the Tower of Silence
View on the way up the Tower of Silence
View on the way up the Tower of Silence 
Entrance to the Tower of Silence
View from the Tower of Silence
The pit in the Tower of Silence where the locals lay their loved ones to rest
View from the Tower of Silence
Me at the Tower of Silence 
View from the Tower of Silence
View from the Tower of Silence
Inside the accommodation at the base of the Tower of Silence
Accommodation at the base of the Tower of Silence

The Tallest Wind Tower in Yazd- Dowlatabad Garden

After leaving the Tower of Silence, we headed for the Dowlatabad Garden, which housed the tallest wind tower in Yazd. For the first time I got to see what is inside the wind tower and felt the effect of the tower catching wind. Standing beneath the tower is really cooling as the wind just gashes down towards you. The garden has 2 parts, at the end where we were, is opened to the public; while the other end is a private property. The garden looked rather unexciting to me, probably due to it being winter the plants are sleeping I guess. Our guide took us to this watch tower within the gardens. From here we can see the garden compounds and the area outside. Nothing else fascinates me here other then the wind tower. We left Yazd for Na’in shortly.

The wall around Dowlatabad Garden
Me at Dowlatabad Garden
The wall around Dowlatabad Garden
The tallest Wind Tower in Yadz
Inside the Wind Tower
Base of the Wind Tower
The building that the Wind Tower was housed
The building that the Wind Tower was housed
View of Dowlatabad Garden

An Ancient Mosque in Na’in

The drive to Na’in was scenic. This is the first time since my stay in Iran I have seen snow on the ground. As we approached Na’in, I was excited to see snow scattering all over the place. The purpose of driving to Na’in is for the Jame Mosque there. This Mosque, though not as big as the one in Shiraz, is decent in size. This is believed to be one of the oldest mosque in Iran, dating back to 8th century A.D. This mosque has only 1 minaret, which is rather tall and doubled up as a guidance for travelers back then. Our guide pointed to some marble pieces on the ground and told us the significance of these marble is to illuminate the basement of this mosque, which was used during summer when it is hot to do prayers in the courtyard. We were lead to the basement, and it looked like a series of cave tunnels. We did not spend too much time around this mosque as it is rather small, plus we were more excited in playing with the snow outside the mosque then the mosque itself. Our guide led us to a nearby ruins (about 2 mins walk from the mosque) and told us that this ruins was formerly a castle. I can still see the outline of the structure of the castle with some towers at the side, that is probably the watch towers. As we were walking back to the car, I purposely walked on the snow and to play with it. We drove towards Isfahan, and on the way, the scenic snow mountain views never failed to captivate me. I was wondering to myself, if I take this picture and not reveal the location to people, would they have thought this is Europe or Russia? As the snowy scenes zoomed past us, I would not have thought that I would see snow during this trip.

We saw snow on our way to Na’in
This mosque in Na’in is believed to be the oldest in Iran
SNOW!!
Inside the mosque in Na’in
The ancient mosque in Na’in
Snow capped minaret
Inside the mosque
The prayer room in the basement of the mosque 
A typical Persian Reservoir nearby the mosque
A castle ruin near the mosque in Na’in
View of the castle and the reservoir
Snow everywhere on our way to Isfahan
Some of the beautiful scenery on our way to Isfahan
Some of the beautiful scenery on our way to Isfahan
Some of the beautiful scenery on our way to Isfahan
Some of the beautiful scenery on our way to Isfahan
Some of the beautiful scenery on our way to Isfahan
Some of the beautiful scenery on our way to Isfahan
Some of the beautiful scenery on our way to Isfahan

Arrival in Isfahan

The drive from Na’in to Isfahan is not too long (about 2 hours), we checked into the hotel and got settled down. As the sun has not set yet, we decided to head for the Imam Square to take some pictures and to walk around. The Imam Square was known as “Half of the World” the time it was built due the diversity of people and religion that was found here. Today it became a favourite hang out for Iranians and tourists alike. As we were walking in the square, we get curious looks and the usual “Hellos” thrown at us. We met this girl (about 12, 13 years old) coming up to us with her dad and her brother and started to strike a conversation with us. I can see that she is trying to practice her English and we allowed her to do so. As her vocabulary is not very strong (I can tell by the repetitive words she used), we engaged her in simple English. She looked very nervous about engaging us. I applauded her willingness to learn and her wanting to seize any opportunity she can get to brush up on her English. Reminded me when I was learning Thai, till now I still don’t dare to approach a Thai and talk to them in Thai. After we bided the girl and her father farewell, we went around taking pictures of the square during sunset. We ran into this group of 5 guys, who wanted to take pictures with us infront of the fountain.  We chatted a little and they told us that they were from Persepolis. From our trip to Persepolis earlier on, I did not recall seeing a town nearby. I thought they are taking us for a ride (which later I checked with my guide, and there is indeed a town nearby Persepolis. These guys are not lying afterall). After chatting, the guys wished us luck and walked in the other direction.

Arrival at Isfahan
Entrance to the hotel we will be putting up
Imam Square in Isfahan
Picture of me in Imam Square
Lady Mosque in Imam Square
Fountain in Imam Square with Imam Mosque in the background
Picture of me in Imam Square
Panoramic shot of  Imam Square
Ali Qapu Palace
Imam Square
Close up of the Lady’s Mosque
Around the bazaar in Imam Square
Imam Square
An alley behind Ali Qapu Palace
Shot of Ali Qapu Palace in Imam Square
Shot of Imam Mosque in Imam Square
Imam Mosque lighting up for the night
Ali Qapu Palace lighting up for the night
Lady’s Mosque lighting up fr=or the night
Imam Mosque at night
Panoramic shot of Imam Square at night

We felt a little tired and walked back to our hotel. As we were walking back, we met 2 French travelers. We found out that we were staying in the same hotel, and we chatted along the way. We spoke about the places we have been to and the places that we are going, our countries and what we felt about Iran and the Iranians. The 4 of us agreed that Iran is a nice country to visit and the people are simply fantastic! What a nice way to end the day.

Iran Day 3: Shiraz & Yadz (3 Mar 11) – The Ancient Wonder of Persepolis, Necropolis and Pasargardae

Persepolis – The Richest Palace Under the Sun

Today marks the start of our Iranian road trip and certainly the first of 3 climaxes of the trip. Our first stop is some 70 km away from Shiraz and we will end up in the next town at the end of the day for a well deserved rest. Persepolis, the greatest treasure of the ancient Persian Empire was built at around 515 BC! When we arrived at Persepolis, we saw a large group of students on their field trip here as well. As we walked past them, we attracted alot of attention as though as we are some sort of celebrities. The students are thrilled to see us and we had alot of “Hellos” and “Welcome to Iran” thrown our way. The guide books are right, the Iranians are a bunch of welcoming people!

We arrived at the entrance of Persepolis, from here I can already feel the majestic of this palace, the 2 stairways leading up to the palace were designed in such a way that the host will always arrive first to welcome their guests despite setting off at the same time. Such ingenuity that was heavily embedded into the design and construction was seen throughout this palace. We ascended the stairs and what I saw at the top of the stairs was this vast land mass that once housed the greatest creation of the Persian Empire. The massiveness of Persepolis could be on par with the Forbidden City in Beijing. However it is now reduced to ruins by Alexandra The Great during one of the wars. The first gate that caught my sight was the Gate of all nations, as it is here that all people, regardless of where you come from, has to pass through to access into the palace grounds. At this gate, I can see 2 huge horse like statues. According to our guide, these statues has the head of human, which symbolises wisdom, and the body of bull, which symbolises strength. On these entrance, I can see it was heavily vandalised since 1800! It is a good thing that they had glassed up the lower portion of this gate to prevent more vandalism.

Passing this gate, there were some pillars on leading to the next gateway. These pillars are at least 20 metres tall, and seemed to be used to support some shelter back in 500 BC. The next gate is similar to the first gate we see. However the key difference is the statue being carved into the walls of these 2 gates. The too have the human head and the bull body, but they also have extra wings, which symbolises the Persian Power. Passing these gates are 2 Homas on display at a distance. Homas are the Persian version of a Gryphon, a Eagle head, lion body creature. These are the only Homas I see throughout the Persepolis. We came across this statue (actually alot of them throughout Persepolis) that has a horse head and bull body. Our guide told us that this is actually a statue of a bull, though the head resembles a horse. There is a gate that showcased how this carvings was being done on the gates. Pass this area was more ruins, practically the whole area was in ruins, every wall, every pillar. Some walls are better preserved with carvings of the kings and the soldiers clearly seen on the wall, while others are not so well preserved.

Driving out of Shiraz
Some Mountains we saw at outskirt Shiraz
Walking towards Persepolis
Gate of All Nations
Gate of All Nations, which served as the main entrance into Persepolis
Carvings on Gate of All Nations Up Close
So much detail that went into the carvings
The pillars that support the ceiling serving as the corridor into the main hall from  Gate of All Nations
Ruins of Persepolis
Some of the carvings that survived the millenniums
Some of the carvings that survived the millenniums
Homas from far
Close up shot of the Homas
Some of the better preserved carvings
Ruins of Persepolis
Ruins of Persepolis
Ruins of Persepolis
Ruins of Persepolis
Ruins of Persepolis
Ruins of Persepolis
Ruins of Persepolis
Ruins of Persepolis
Ruins of Persepolis
Ruins of Persepolis
This area of the Palace has been totally destroyed by its conquerers
This is believed to the queen’s bedroom, where the fire that destroyed the whole of Persepolis was started by Alexandra
Ruins of Persepolis

We were then lead to this shed that shelters some of the better preserved carvings. It is common to see carvings of lion attacking bull, which symoblises a day of spring, with the bull representing earth and the lion representing the sun. The carvings here seem to represent how mighty the Persian Empires was at its peak, with convoys from all neighbouring nations coming to offer their well wishes to the Persian Kings. As our guide was explaining the stories behind the carvings, an Iranian lady seemed to be very interested and requested permission from our guide to joined us in listening to his explanations. Of course our guide was generous to share the information with her.

Although this place is reduced to ruins, the massiveness and the grandeur can see be evident till this day throughout Persepolis. We were given time to explore the rest of the ruins. Our guide told us to get a good panoramic view of the whole site, it is best we scale up one of the 2 tombs nearby the ruins. And we did that, the walk up isn’t tedious or far, it is just 5 mins away from the base of Persepolis. On the way we saw this well, which is supposedly to be very old. We took a peek into the well, all I can see was pitch darkness and nothing else. We continued towards the tomb. Now the catacomb of the tomb was carved into the hills. At the entrance of the catacomb was carvings of the greatness of the king being buried inside. The catacomb was facing Persepolis, from here we did get a panoramic view of the palace. The grandeur of Persepolis can truly be appreciated here. On our way down, we met this group of 5 Iranian girls. They are as welcoming as any other Iranians we met, we started to chat abit asking them which cities they came from and stuff. We continued walking around Persepolis taking picture of this great wonder. We met up with our guide at the entrance of Persepolis and headed to our next destination.

Ruins of Persepolis
Carvings that depict the life when Persepolis was at its Hay day
Ruins of Persepolis
Carvings that depict the life when Persepolis was at its Hay day
Carvings that depict the life when Persepolis was at its Hay day
Ruins at Persepolis
Carvings that depict the life when Persepolis was at its Hay day
Carvings that depict the annual tribute the nearby nations paid to the Persian King
Carvings that depict the annual tribute the nearby nations paid to the Persian King
Carvings that depict the annual tribute the nearby nations paid to the Persian King
Zoroastrian Carving on Persepolis 
Ruins of Persepolis
The Tombs on the backyard of Persepolis
Ruins of Persepolis
Ruins of Persepolis
Me at Persepolis
The Royal Tomb overlooking Persepolis
The Royal Tomb overlooking Persepolis
The Royal Tomb overlooking Persepolis
View of Persepolis from the Royal Tomb
The Royal Tomb overlooking Persepolis
Me at Persepolis
View of Persepolis from the Royal Tomb
Ruins of Persepolis
Ruins of Persepolis
Ruins of Persepolis
Ruins of Persepolis
Ruins of Persepolis
Ruins of Persepolis
Ruins of Persepolis
The stairways that leads to the entrance of Persepolis

Nashq-e Rostam – The Final Resting Grounds of The Persian Royal Families

The Nashq-e Rostam, or Necropolis as it is loosely called is a place where the kings (and their families) are being buried. There are 4 catacombs being carved into the mountains. The entrance of these catacombs are at least 10m high. It is amazing how they actually transport the caskets of the royalties into the catacomb itself. Our guide mentioned that the entrance used to be higher, due to erosion from the mountains, the entrance is now closer to the ground that we are standing on. On the entrance of each catacomb, carvings are evident. There is one big one that caught my attention, which seem to depict someone surrendering to the king. This seemed to be carved to remind people the greatness of the kings being buried there. There are also carvings of battle scenes on the walls of these mountains. On one corner was a solitary cubic structure, which was believed to be a Achaemenid fire temple. But we were told that there was many argument about the purpose of this structure. Nowadays no one knows for sure what it was used for.

Arriving at Nashq-e-Rostam 
Walking towards Nashq-e-Rostam
Nashq-e-Rostam close up
Coffins of the kings were hoisted into the tomb above
Close up of the entrance of the tomb
Carvings at Nashq-e-Rostam
Carvings at the Nashq-e-Rostam
Full view of one of the tombs at Nashq-e-Rostam
Carvings at the Nashq-e-Rostam
Carvings at the Nashq-e-Rostam
Nashq-e-Rostam close up
Carvings at the Nashq-e-Rostam
Nashq-e-Rostam
Nashq-e-Rostam
Nashq-e-Rostam
Nashq-e-Rostam
Me at Nashq-e-Rostam
The fire temple
Close up of the carvings at Nashq-e-Rostam
Close up of the carvings at Nashq-e-Rostam

Pasargadae – Tomb of The First Emperor of Persia, Cyrus the Great 

We departed Nashq-e Rostam for Pasargadae, the burial ground for Cyrus the great. The drive towards Pasargadae was scenic as I see mountains and mountains rise and fall before our eyes. As we arrived at Pasargadae, what I saw was a single mausoleum structure standing in the middle of nowhere. Our guide explained that this is the burial grounds of Cyrus the great. His wife and himself were believed to be buried, not inside the building, but within the roof structure of the mausoleum. Our guide went on to explain the grounds where this mausoleum stands is where one of the great battles that was supposed to take place. As Cyrus was suppose to fight his grandfather’s army here, his enemies actually deflected to his side as they did not agree to the cause of their battle. Thus the battle never took place. From the mausoleum, I can see a building, which was made known to be the palace of Cyrus. This modest-sized building looked more like a farm house then a palace. It seemed to suggest how modest Cyrus lived in those days. No wonder he was well-liked by his people as a ruler. We were then driven to see the next 2 structures. The first one we saw was this wall structure. Our guide mentioned that the purpose of this structure and the exact age is unknown. Next structure we saw was this huge platform, constructed on an elevated ground. This used to be the watch tower back in those days. The drive did not take too long before we were heading towards the desert city of  Yazd, where we would spend the night.

Pasargardae – Tomb of Cyrus the Great
This is where the battle of Cyrus against his grandfather supposed to take place
Pasargardae
This building is so ancient that no one knows the purpose of this building
Watch tower at the elevated ground

Driving to Yazd

Along the way, we stopped by this town, where we were shown an ice house. As this area is mostly desert, people keep ice and snow during winter in the underground chamber of this building for use during summer. We were then driven to the next town to see the oldest tree in Iran. This Cypress Tree is about 4500 years old. At first sight, I have no idea how old this tree is until the guide told us so. 4500 years later, the tree is still standing tall and lushful. As we journey into Yazd, the might of Zagros Mountains was better appreciated when driving compared to flying. At ground zero, driving through these snow-capped mountains, it made me feel humans are really insignificant. One sneeze from these mammoth mountains, we will be buried underneath the stones and snows. We arrived at Yazd some 2 hours later. The hotel that we checked into is indeed a gem in the deserts. It is located in the old part of Yazd, where the alleys were constructed to resemble some sort of mazes. If not for our guide I am sure to get lost in here. Now back to our hotel, from the outside it really looked very ordinary and run down. However the inside is a surprise, this is the nicest hotel we stayed throughout the whole of our trip in Iran. The rooms are very cozy and large and the staff are simply wonderful and friendly. After checking in and leaving our luggage, we headed out for dinner. As my guide knew I wanted to try camel meat, he brought us through the mazed alleys to this restaurant that serves camel meat. The texture of camel meat tasted like lamb, except it does not have the lamb smell. 

Driving towards Yadz
Driving towards Yadz
The Ice House, used to store ice in winter so that the locals will have water to last through summer
The 4500 years old Cypress Tree
Driving pass the Zagros Mountain
Driving pass the Zagros Mountain
Driving pass the Zagros Mountain
Driving pass the Zagros Mountain
Driving pass the Zagros Mountain
Driving pass the Zagros Mountain
Arrival at Yadz
Arrival at Yadz
The lobby of the hotel we put up
Camel Stew for dinner

The Maze Alleys of Old Yazd

We headed back to the hotel to rest for the night, on the way back, our guide brought us to this shop, where the shopkeeper was kind enough to show us Old Yazd from the roof top. I had read on Lonely Planet that when in Yazd, we should get onto the roof of these building and see the old town from a different perspective. The view up here is indeed different, it felt like part of the set of “Prince of Persia”, certainly felt as if I can jump from roof top to roof top. As wind towers are a characteristics of buildings in Yazd, from the roof I can see loads of wind towers on each of the buildings. I can almost see the whole of Old Yazd from up here as well. After taking some pictures, the shopkeeper said he has something to show us. Little did I expect he was actually trying to sell us Persian Carpets, felt abit cheated though. Nonetheless we had a more detailed lesson on how to differentiate the different types of Persian Rugs and why some rugs cost more then the others. Though we did not buy anything from him, the shopkeeper still kept his smile. We headed back to the hotel after leaving the shop to rest for the night, walking through the Old Yazd is really amazing, as some parts are so narrow that only 2 person can walk side by side. At times there were cars coming and we had to dodge for these cars. The walk is truly amazing.

Part of Old Yadz
Traditional Yadz housing
Through the alley of Old Yadz, most of the buildings have wind towers as a feature to cool the house in summer
Mazing through Old Yadz
View of Old Yadz from the roof of one of the buildings
We can see the mosque afar from the roof
Mosque view from the roof
View of Old Yadz from the roof
View of Old Yadz from the roof
View of Old Yadz from the roof 
The quiet maze of Old Yadz
Building in Old Yadz
Quiet but safe street of Old Yadz. The only danger is getting lost in these mazes
Street of Old Yadz
Street of Old Yadz
Street of Old Yadz

 

Iran Day 2: Shiraz (2 Mar 11) – The City of Poets: A Visit to Sa’adi and Hafez Tombs

Flying From Tehran to Shiraz

We woke up in time to meet up with our driver at 4.30 am who drove us to the domestic airport. Tehran at this hour is very different from what we saw yesterday. It seem like the city is still in slumber, there are hardly any cars on the streets and the journey to the airport did not take too long. Our driver was very dedicated and responsible, ensuring we checked into the right counter and entered the right gate before the leaves us. At the X-ray machine, my Cyrus cylinder crate got quite abit of attention. The staff at the x-ray machine was curious what it is, our driver spoke to them in Farsi, they gave us a blank look and then signal for us to proceed on. Time has came for us to board the aircraft. A bus drove us to the tarmac, at the tarmac while waiting to board the aircraft, we were happily snapping pictures. After taking some pictures, 2 Iranian told us discreetly that we are not allowed to take pictures in the airport and told us politely to put our cameras away before they get confiscated.  We quickly did what was advised and boarded the aircraft. The flight from Tehran to Shiraz took about 2 hours, the flight was uneventful but scenic. We flew past the Zagros Mountains, which runs North/South to the west of Iran.

A quiet domestic airport terminal in Tehran
At the tarmac waiting to board Air Iran towards Shiraz
Inside the cabin of Air Iran getting ready to fly
Breakfast is served
Glimpse of Zagros Mountain
Zagros Mountains from air

Public Bath of Shiraz

We touched down 2 hours later, collected our luggage and our guide is already waiting for us. He introduced himself and briefly told us the itinerary for the day. As we are not able to check in at the time we arrived in Shiraz, our guide took us to some of the attractions in downtown Shiraz. Our first stop is the public bath. We were told back in those days, not all household will have tap water, as such people don’t shower everyday. However they need to shower everytime they enter a mosque for prayers, thus this bath was built beside the mosque. We entered the bath and the first room, which was rather large is the waiting room. There are some carvings on the ceiling of this room, which depicts some day-to-day life of the locals then. Once we past the waiting room the rest of the bath is disappointing, as this bath has been converted into a carpet museum and an arts & craft centre. Only the waiting room still look like what it was before, the other rooms like the changing and the washing room do not resemble a bath at all. We did not spend alot of time in the bath as it was not really worth spending alot of time in. We headed next door for the mosque after exiting the bath.

Mosque in Shiraz while driving towards the Public Bath
Entrance to the Public Bath
The exquisite carvings on the ceilings of the bath
Persian Folklore carved on the ceiling of the bath
The main waiting room inside the bath
Inside the Public Bath
A relatively simpler carving inside the bath

The Illusive Vakil Mosque

From the outside, Vakil Mosque does not seem to impress me alot, especially after the disappointment I got from the public bath next door. I wasn’t really expecting anything great before entering the mosque. Once past the door, my viewpoint changed. Perhaps it has been a long time since I have seen so much space, the first impression I got from standing at the door looking into the courtyard of this mosque was it is so carefree, so tranquil, could be the result of the absence of tall buildings around which gave me a view of the cloudless sky and the nonthreatening sun beams, which doesn’t feel as potent as that in Singapore in midst of the winter here. We were told that the need for such a large courtyard so that place in Shiraz can gather here. The Vakil Mosque not only function as a place of prayers, it is also a place of education and socialisation. We then went further into the prayer halls, this felt like a set from Lord of the Rings in the Dwarven mines. The columns were neatly arranged to give a rather mystical feel to the area. Our guide went on to explain the different functions on the mosque, I did not really pay alot of attention to his introductions as I was captivated by the mysticism of this place. Truly stunting!

The entrance to Vakil Mosque
Persian Styled Entrance to the mosque
The courtyard of Vakil Mosque
Entrance to the prayer halls of the mosque
Facade of the prayer halls
Inside the prayer halls of Vakil Mosque
Even the columns are carved to elevated it of its dullness
The intriguing patterns on the ceilings of the prayer hall
Looks like a page out of the movies
Inside the prayer halls
We were told this is where the priest sits to address the devotees
Me in front of the prayer halls inside Vakil Mosque

The Place Where Shirazis Gathered – Vakil Bazaar

We headed for the Vakil Bazaar, which was right next door to the Vakil Mosque. Our guide had explained that the purpose of building the bazaar next to the Vakil Mosque, so that people can do their marketing after their prayers. This bazaar was similar to that in Tehran, except that it is not as big. One can still find day-to-day necessities here as well as some handicraft shops and shops catering to the tourists selling souvenirs. The Vakil bazaar was interesting initially, but they turned out to be repetitive after awhile. Perhaps they do not offer items that intrigue me, or maybe I am just not a good shopper. I was skimming through the bazaar like a zombie after about 5 mins inside. I was kinda glad when we exited the bazaar as it started to feel like a waste of time.

The bazaar beside Vakil Mosque
They have stuffs for the locals to do their weekly marketing
Inside a typical Persian Bazaar
Locals doing their marketing and preparing for the Persian New Year
This section sells clothings
Open area inside the bazaar
Inside a typical Persian Bazaar

Tomb of Sa’adi

We were driven to the Tomb of Sa’adi, one of the famous poets in Shiraz. After parking the car, our guide took us to this ice-creamy opposite the tomb. Prior to our trip to Iran, we have come to know that the Shirazi ice-cream is rather unique and it is a must try. We got a cup each and started to eat the ice-cream. It is indeed very different from what we are used to, the ice-cream is rather starchy and is very tasty but the scooping part takes abit more effort. Our guide told us that they used animal fat to make this ice-cream, and it is not healthy to eat everyday. After savouring the ice-cream, we headed for the tomb.

The tomb of Sa’adi was at the end of a garden. We were told the initial design of this tomb does not have this big of a garden, it was subsequently added by the locals as a mark of respect to Sa’adi and his teachings. The building that housed the tomb looked like a pavilion with a dome-shaped roof. Inside the tomb was Farsi writings carved onto the wall, which was some of the poems that Sa’adi had written There is an extension to the left when you face it from the entrance. This is where the greatest fan of Sa’adi is buried, however it is locked at the time we were there, can’t enter it. From the outside, I saw some pictures and an empty room, rather boring. We were then brought to this fish pond, which was built underground. The fascinating  part about this pond is not the fishes but how and where the water for this pond came about. We were told that the water is irrigated from the nearby mountains some 6km away. These water was also channeled to a second fish pond nearer to the entrance of the Tomb. After visiting the tomb, we were ferried to our hotel to check in and get some rest, as the next attraction is best seen nearer to sunset. After checking in, we did not rest, instead we spent the afternoon walking around the neighbourhood. Nothing eventful happened though.

A typical Mosque in Shiraz
The Streets on Shiraz
Walking towards Tomb of Sa’adi
This modest building is where Sa’adi is buried
Tomb of Sa’adi
Under this stone is where Sa’adi – one of the greatest poets in Persia was buried
Teachings of Sa’adi engraved on the wall where he was buried
This entrance leads to where Sa’adi’s greatest fan is buried
Walking around the tomb of Sa’adi
The source of the water in this underground pond is from the nearest mountain some 6km away
Even the underground pond has very intriguing Persian patterns on it

Tomb of Hafez

3 hours later our guide picked us up. Our destination next is Eram gardens. This looks like any other garden to me, except that it has a building right in the centre of the garden. Perhaps it is winter, all the plants have yet to bloom, I find this garden rather dull and has nothing special. We did not spend alot of time in this garden, after about 30 mins later (which felt like a lifetime), we headed to Hafez Tomb, where another poet was buried.

When we were about to enter the tomb grounds, there were 2 men at the entrance carrying a bird trying to get us to do some predictions. We ignored them and went into the tomb grounds. Like Tomb of Sa’adi, there is a garden between the entrance to the tomb itself. As we were climbing up the stairs towards the tombs, we came across this structure, which closely resemble the roman pillars. Past this structure is where the Hafez tomb lies.  The single dome-roofed pavilion stood in the middle, our guide told us that in the centre is where Hafez was buried, under the pavilion. However the land around the pavilion is where his followers were buried! As the sun was setting, the pavilion was lighted up. It was beautiful! We spend some time walking around the tomb of Hafez before heading for dinner. The dinner was rather uneventful and we headed back to hotel to rest for the night.

Around Eram Gardens
Surroundings at Eram Gardens
A Bald tree in Eram Gardens
Nearby hill
Fountains are part of the Persian Garden feature
Eram Gardens
Walking towards Hafez Tomb
This is the spot where Hafez was buried
Greeneries in the compound of Hafez Tomb
Even the ceiling of the pavilion where Hafez was buried received some serious attention

Tomb of Hafez
Me at Hafez Tomb
Hafez Tomb at dusk
Night Lighting at Hafez Tomb
Hafez Tomb at night

                                                                     Night Lighting of Hafez Tomb

                                                                              Dinner Time

                                                     These 2 glasses contained non-alcoholic beer

                                                                   Feast for the night

 

 

Iran Day 1 : Tehran (1 Mar 11) – Venturing Into a Misunderstood Country

Iran – A Misunderstood Country

My friend and I planned this trip almost 1 year ago, today marks the day we journey into this land where media and even my friends in Singapore deem to be dangerous. I read that this misunderstood country has riches in culture that awaits those who “dare” to venture into its shores. The flight to Tehran was rather torturous, partly due to the constantly being awake for food or for landing into Colombo, where our flight makes a short stopover; partly also due to the position that I was trying to get some sleep that is giving me back and neck aches. Luckily the short 9 hr flight was over pretty soon. We spent another 2 hours transiting Dubai Airport and another 2 hours flying into Tehran. This is when all the fun begins!

According to my research, Singaporeans are given Visa-on-Arrival, so we headed towards the counter that marks “Visa” to get our visa done. When our turn approached, the staff at the counter asked where we are from. We gladly volunteered the information and told him we are here for tour. He then gave us a blank look and quickly check what seemed to be a list behind the counter. He then gave us another puzzled look and directed us to head towards the immigration control as he said we do not need any visa, now this is very different from what people told me and my researches suggests. I approached the immigration control with some doubts about what I was told earlier on. At the customs, the immigration staff looked at my passport and then me and asked “Visa”? Not knowing what and how to answer, I said “No Visa”. He then nodded his head, punched something into his computer, gave me the stamp in my passport and then I realise I am in Iran! The whole process took less then 5 mins, one of the fastest immigration ever! After claiming our luggage, we met up with our liaison in Tehran. He held a paper with our names on it and was suppose to drive us around in Tehran. On our way to the hotel, the travel agent whom I had liaise with called us, to ensure that we already arrived in Tehran and was brought to our hotel. She had confirmed that someone else will be meeting us later after we checked in to show us around Tehran.

Arrival at Tehran Airport

The Capital of Iran – Tehran

My first impression of Tehran when being driven from the airport to the hotel is there is so much land they have here. Iran is not as backward as I imagined. Along the way there are road signs written in both Farsi and English. It became apparent that we have arrived Tehran as the traffic suddenly built up. I had read about the horrendous traffic condition in Tehran, I did not expect it to be this bad. People are not driving according to their lanes, they merely squeeze into whatever space their car can be squeezed into. The distance between cars are so close that I can open the door of the car next to ours by simply stretching out my arm. What fascinates me more is despite the chaotic traffic condition, I didn’t see any traffic accidents on the road. Driving in Tehran needs alot of guts and it involves both defensive and aggressive, and certainly one need to be very decisive when driving here.

Golestan Palace – The Palace in Tehran

We met up with our guide for Tehran after settling down in the Hotel. Our first stop was the Golestan Palace. I like visiting Palaces as it tells alot about the life back when it was used by the kings. In my mind, I have always thought Palaces are grand, as it usually symbolises the power of the kings, especially when it is used to hold reception for foreign dignitaries. I was slightly disappointed when we arrived at the Palace, it is not as big as I would imagine it to be. Golestan Palace basically has 4 main buildings within the compound. As we entered the Palace grounds, the first building that was almost immediately noticeable is one where the marble throne was placed at. It is not difficult to spot the throne as it was placed in a very conspicuous platform that overlooked the gardens and the fountains in the palace grounds. As we walked around this building that housed the marble throne, I spotted a marble coffin. Our guide explained that this coffin was used by one of the kings has it is heavily influenced by European culture as there are angels carved on the cover of the coffin. We were told that the coffin is now empty, and placed here to display to visitors the extend of European influence in those days.

The next building we visited is the Leeve Halls, where 3 halls are housed. This looks like the reception room and the living quarters of the royalties. The foyer of this building is decorated with mirrors, makes the architecture  of this hall somewhat unique. We headed to the dinning hall, where again the European style is evident here on the pillars. This rather huge hall was where the royalties dine daily in those days. The next hall we visited is the mirror hall, which essentially looked like a study room of some sort to me. This hall is rather small compared to the other 2, and was heavily decorated with mirrors. Makes me wonder if the king who built this palace likes mirrors or is merely using mirror to make the whole place look bigger. To the left as we exited the mirror hall is the Coronation Hall. Now this hall is the biggest of all 3 and has no trace of European influence in the styling. This hall, as we were told, was used not only for coronation events, it is also used to entertain foreign dignitaries as well. The next so called hall that we visited in this building is the Ivory hall. It looked more like a corridor with 2 chairs and 2 huge ivories displayed. Hardly looked like a hall at all.

Walking towards the main hall of Golestan Palace
The Persian design leading to the main hall of the palace
The main audience hall, where the Persian King used to sit to address his audiences. The throne is made of white marble
Panoramic shot of the facade of the palace

The next building we visiting within the palace grounds is the Edifice of the sun. The distinctive feature of this building is the 2 tall towers and a slightly shorter clock tower. We were told that the original design of these towers do not come with the 2 pavilions that we see on top of these towers. It is later added as the king, after traveling to Europe, liked their structure so much that he ordered his men to add these pavilions to the tower. These towers were the tallest structure in Tehran once upon a time. Too bad we cannot enter this building, else I would love to climb onto these towers and see the view from up there. To the right of this building is another building with 4 wind towers. We entered this building and saw that the main hall was again decorated with mirrors. The unique part about this hall is the doors that slide-opened vertically, used during summer to keep the hall cool. I find this building somewhat boring and uneventful. We went to this building that was converted to some kind of art gallery next. I was getting abit restless by this time, not too sure if it is the art that is boring me or the jet lag is getting onto me. I did a quick browse through of this part, and quickly exited the building. It seems this is the last stop of the palace.

 

Tehran Bazaar

As we were walking back to our vehicle, our guide asked if we wanna take a quick look at the Tehran Bazaar, the biggest bazaar in Tehran. We did not object to it and indeed we took a quick walkthrough of the bazaar. It is rather crowded here as it is close to the Iranian new year and everyone is out shopping for new year. The bazaar was huge and was arranged in sections, some sections are selling textile, some spices and other selling clothing. One can find almost anything they need for household here. We were brought to this lower part of the bazaar selling Persian Carpets. There are tons of shops selling carpets and some of them are really nice. We were told briefly the different types of Persian rugs and how to recognise them. We spent about 30 mins in the bazaar before heading to our next stop.

Persian Style Art on the wall of the palace
This is where the stone coffin is house
Inside of one of the buildings of the palace
Golestan Palace grounds
The clock Tower at Edifice of the Sun
Inside the Mirror Halls
The Mirror Halls from outside
Inside of the Mirror Halls
Persian Rug section of the Bazaar
Tehren Bazaar
Tehran Bazaar

A Vault of Treasures – National Jewelry Museum

After some turns here and there on the vehicle, we arrived at somewhat looked like a bank. Before long I realised we were at the National Jewelry Museum. My first impression of the National Jewelry Museum when I first read about it was it is rather boring, perhaps some place that showcases jewelry and nothing much. The security for the museum was very tight, all electronic equipment including mobile phones were not allowed inside the museum. What’s the big deal, I thought to myself, well just follow the protocols I guess. As we entered into the vault, we saw the famed Peacock Throne, decorated with gems and gold, the throne was very impressive and certainly costed alot! As we went through the museum, I was taken aback by the number of precious gems, gold and jewelry that was up on display! A handful of any of these is sufficient to feed my whole family very well! As if I am not impressed enough, the crown of all jewels here was the Sea of Light – the largest pink diamond in the world! At first it looked like an ordinary diamond, as one bend down and see the diamond at eye level, it is pink! I was jokingly telling our guide, the value of this diamond is enough to feed 10 generations in luxury! After going through the Jewel Museum, I realise it is very worth visiting! Never in my life I have seen so many precious stones, jewelry and of course the largest pink diamond in the world!

National Museum of Iran

We headed for the National Museum after leaving the National Jewelry Museum. I was more excited about visiting this place as I had read that visiting this museum can give us a better idea of the history of Iran and how things come about. It was rated as one of the “must-go” in Tehran. As we had arrived the museum, we were informed that we have to deposit our camera . Usually it is allowed to be brought into the museum, but the Cyrus Cylinder was on display this period, therefore cameras are not allowed. As we entered the museum, our guide brought us to this gigantic 3D map of Iran and explained to us the different regions and the normads. As we were going through the artifacts on display in the museum I was getting rather bored! It is not as impressive as I imagined it to be and out of the displays, I can only remember this 500,000 year old tooth that belonged to a 14 year old boy and this huge rock carving they took from Persepolis to be displayed here. The rest of the exhibits are bowls, pans, weaponry. Not really my cup of tea. We headed to the 2nd floor where the Cyrus Cylinder was displayed. This artifact originate from Iran, and it is now on loan from the British Museum. What an irony, the country’s historical artifact actually had to be loan from some other countries! This cylinder was fabled as the world’s first human’s right charter! As we exited the museum, I saw a replica of the Cyrus cylinder for sale, I immediately bought one. The packaging was rather unique, in a wooden crate box. Before heading back to the hotel to rest for the night, our guide brought us to this gate, which was used as a tourist symbol of Iran. Well this gate certainly looked old, and behind this gate was what used to be a runway for aircraft. We snapped some pictures and headed back for our vehicle.

Entrance to the Tehran National Museum
This building outside the museum used to be the Tourism Bureau
This area used to be a runway for military aircrafts
Some governmental buildings outside the museum

As we were heading back to our hotel, we asked our guide if there is any good Persian restaurants around our hotel. We were pointed to this restaurant that is just round the corner and decided to give it a try after we leave our things in the hotel. We headed for the restaurant, seriously if the guide hadn’t pointed out we wouldn’t had known there is a restaurant here. The entrance does not seem to suggest what is brewing behind the doors. As we enter into the restaurant, it looked very empty. No customers were in sight. We thought they might have closed and asked the waiter, he told us they have just opened for business and ushered us to a table. We ordered some kebabs and tea and found out that they got our orders mixed up after we finished the food and was chatting with the waiter. The apologetic waiter immediately brought some tea for us as what seem to be a gesture of apology, certainly hope these do not come out from his salary. After dinner we headed back to the hotel to rest for the night, as we were rather tired from the night flight, plus we had to wake up as early as 3.45am the next day for our flight to Shiraz.

Typical Persian Food for dinner
The very inconspicuous restaurant nearby our hotel