Wandering through countries, regions and cultures, documenting life from many different angles…
This blog is written in English as well as Japanese. You can choose which language you would like to read below.
- Thank you for reading my blog “WANDERING-CAMERA”. I intend to post a new episode on the 1st and 15th days of each month.
- All Images and Written content copyright Yasuko
This was the last day of the trip. It was a 340mile, 8-hour bus trip to Tehran.
We made a detour to visit Abyaneh, a tiny village in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains. The village is at least 2,000 years old. In the small mosque there were many portraits of soldiers killed in the Iran/Iraq war. Even this remote mountain village with a population of 150 paid a heavy price.
Shortly after 11AM in the bus, Amir announced that we were going to pass the site of the Natanz Nuclear Facility in a few minutes. He sternly warned us “ Absolutely No Photographs”. This is one of the most sensitive sites in Iran. If Israel were to attack Iran, this is likely to be the first place they would bomb. I was very tempted to sneakily take a picture or two but Amir’s warning “This site is protected by Revolutionary Guards and if they see you taking photos, they will detain all of us,” made me not to do it. I felt that my shutter finger was itching.
Our bus, moving at top speed, took eight minutes to pass by this site in the middle of nowhere. On the hills and beside the road I saw perhaps eight or nine anti aircraft guns and surface to air missile installations manned by soldiers. There were dozens of watchtowers and a huge facility with what appeared to be ordinary industrial buildings. I saw a large bus at the entrance perhaps for transporting workers. One of the tanks was very close to the highway. A young soldier’s face was visible standing next to the tank. A female member of our group waved at him and the soldier waved back. It was rather peaceful scene despite the heavy-duty military machinery that dotted the landscape.
After a brief stop in Kashan we arrived in Tehran in dusk. The city was lively and people were busy shopping or returning home.
Please see my postscript below.
My curiosity made me want to visit a country that had been labeled a member of the “Axis of Evil” by our former president. My curiosity was more than satisfied. Having seen the country and having learned to understand more of its history, culture and people, has led me to conclude that such labels distort reality, sometimes dangerously.
When I visited, Iran was very quiet. It was four month after the historic June 2009 demonstrations protesting the results of the spring 2009 election. However I was surprised that so many people who were unhappy with the regime openly talked about their views with members of our group. Unfortunately I do not feel comfortable quoting these thoughts and opinions because of my concern for the safety of those who expressed them.
When I said to one of our Iranian guides who had studied at an American college “people are so nice in this country but your government is tough” his reply was “so is your country’s.”
I am still trying to understand how the differences in attitude between governments and ordinary people are formed and come to coincide. I hope my continued travel will give me some answers.
I would like to express deep appreciation to those people of Iran who opened themselves up to a traveler’s curiosity and to people who keep reading this blog.
Thank you very much!
Our destination this morning was the highlight of Isfahan, Naqsh-e Jahan Square. During the Shah’s time it was known as the Shah’s Square. Since the revolution its official name is the Imam’s Square. During the last 400 years this glorious square has seen its name changed at the whim of the regime in power at the time. I wonder if one day it might be named for the people of Iran.
This vast 22-acre space, bordered by grand mosques and palaces, is in the center of Isfahan. Built during the rule of Shah Jahan (1598-1629) the buildings display the considerable skills available to the Safavid Dynasty. It is the world’s second largest square, only exceeded by Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Compared with Tiananmen Square, which I visited in 2000, it conveys a peaceful feeling. The splashing fountains, and well-manicured trees lining the paths as well as the Isfahan Bazaar that adjoins it, give it a park-like, human-oriented feeling.
After lunch we passed by the Science Museum, which had a display of dinosaur statues before the entrance. According to our local guide in Iranian schools they teach that evolution is only a theory and that all kinds of creatures were specially created by God. I thought that sounded very familiar—a similar belief is taught in some American schools.
Our local guide wore green prayer beads wrapped around his hand and wrist. When I asked if he were very religious he answered that he wears them because he is a member of the Green Party. It is a sign of allegiance. He was amazingly frank about his views on politics. Later during our free time I walked back to the Imam’s Square by myself. On the way I ran into him with two friends. They were walking very fast and discussing something very seriously. I wondered if they were headed to a Green Party meeting.
We had arrived at our hotel late at night. I did not see the hotel’s compound until morning so I was amazed to see the immense building complex and the beautiful garden that the building surrounded. About 300 years ago the Sultan Husayn built the caravanserai that has been beautifully transformed into this hotel. The whole complex is well maintained and the classical garden is magnificent. I felt as though I had wandered into a world of Persian stories and miniature paintings.
After a sumptuous breakfast we visited the Jameh Mosque located in the old Jewish Quarter which now has a mixed population. The mosque was started in the 12th century during the Seljuk Period and a lot has been added since. The blue-tiled exterior is beautiful and the architecture of the pillars and arches that support the Seljuk domes is magnificent.
One of Isfahan’s most famous monuments is the Bridge of Thirty Three Arches. It was built during the reign of Shah Abass I at a time when the Persian Empire was one of the great powers of the world. When we were there the flow of the Zayanden River was being interrupted by an upstream dam. We were told that by late Spring the river would be flowing again. The arches supporting the bridge are a favorite locale for young people to meet. The existence of such places is frowned upon by the religious authorities.
Shah Abass I relocated many Christian Armenians to Isfahan in the early 17th Century. There are still some 15,000 Armenians and 13 Armenian churches in Isfahan. The Vank Cathedral is the center of this community. Each year on the 24th of April a memorial service is held in the Cathedral for the Armenians massacred by Turks in 1916-17. Amir told us that sports may be gradually beginning to thaw the difficult relationship between modern Turkey and the Republic of Armenia. He called it “soccer diplomacy”.
Shiraz > Isfahan
This morning we had the chance to visit a local market in Shiraz. I saw lots of beautiful green grapes, but where were the red grapes from which the famous wine is made? Amir explained that the locals purchase such large volumes of red grapes that they become scarce in the market. From them they make wine since it is not illegal to drink wine at home or to serve it to guests. Here we were in Shiraz, believed to be the home of Shiraz (or Syrah) red wine, and we were unable to taste the wine or even grapes.
Today we visited two historic buildings of the period of the Qajar Dynasty. Both were filled with art treasures. The first site was the spectacular Nasir ul Mulk Mosque, finished in 1888. The whole building was covered with beautifully painted tiles and stained glass, as well as with the obligatory portraits of the Ayatollahs.
The next site was Bagh-e Narenjestan, the “Orange Garden”. Both the garden and the buildings displayed the work of highly skilled artisans. Viewing the elegant tiling and mirror-work led me to deeply appreciate the art and culture of the Qajar Period.
In the afternoon we visited the tomb of Hafez (1315-1389), Iran’s beloved poet, a Sufi who lived in Shiraz his whole life. The love and admiration that Iranian people show to their poets is one of my favorite aspects of their culture.
Getting to Isfahan, our next destination was a six-hour bus trip. During the drive our bus stopped several times so that the driver could show some papers to uniformed authorities. Amir explained that Iranian tour buses are not only monitored at regular intervals along major highways but that they carry GPS transponders so that the authorities can tell where they have gone and how fast they have traveled. While this system keeps buses from traveling at unsafe speeds, it does not apply to truck drivers who often exceed eight-hour shifts and use opium to ease their fatigue.