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026Having seen the dry river bed in Esfahan, and being used to seeing a healthy flow of water previously, I decided that I wanted to go and find the Zayandeh Rud however far upstream it may be. I didn’t include river hunting on my “would like to do” list before our holiday but it became a priority for me and I was determined to find it. When I discussed this with the family, it appeared to be a great idea not only because we would be satisfying my mission to track down the river, but also we would be heading North West out of Esfahan into cooler climes. This was welcomed by both Feri and Will and therefore I had no resistance to my on-the-spot decision made at the Khaju Bridge two days before.

Feri duly contacted our trusty chauffeur, Rahmon, who was, as always, up for an adventure, and at 8am the next morning we heard the toot of his taxi outside our door. We packed the car with a thermos of cold water/ice, tea, biscuits and bread and cheese (nuno va panir) for when we couldn’t find an eaterie open during Ramazan, and of course, the inevitable picnic rug. The Iranians are “Kings of the Picnic” (and BBQ) and no household is complete without their rug/s. They do have an advantage of course in that the weather is far more conducive to outdoor pursuits and al-fresco dining than the UK where we would struggle to get good value out of said picnic rug each year.

011Our 2-hour journey in the search of the Zayandeh Rud began with a drive through the mountains. Hot and barren with the dust swirling around the car as we drove across the wasteland, I was pleased when we began to detect a slight drop in temperature the further North and West we drove. After 2 hours in the car, we finally arrived at the Zamankhan Bridge on the Zayandeh Rud. This is the first accessible bridge on the river and is an amazing place to stop and take in the beautiful scenery. We had found the Zayandeh Rud which was missing in Esfahan.

Here the river is beautifully clean, free-flowing and powerful as the water cascades through the two-arched bridge with tremendous force. A magnificent sight to see.

We initially settled for a rest on the bank of the river, a cup of tea and a snack before exploring the area so Rahmon found us a lovely cool and shady spot under the trees where we could relax for a while.

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After a rest we went exploring. That sounds rather intrepid and actually it merely involved walking up and over the bridge to the other side of the river! But nevertheless, it was worth doing. Walking up to the bridge itself there were several tradesmen; a few selling postcards and typical tourist merchandise, but most selling dried herbs, fruit, nuts and kashk in lots of different shapes and forms. Whilst I adore Iranian cooking and all the different herbs, dried fruit and nuts, I am not a fan of kashk. Kashk is made from drained sour milk or yoghurt by forming it and letting it dry. It can be made in a variety of forms, including rolled into balls, sliced into strips, and formed into chunks all of which were on sale here. I don’t like this stuff as to me it smells and tastes like vomit. If anyone has had a baby throw up 3-hour old half-digested warm milk on their shoulder you will know what I mean.

Kashk is used quite a lot in Iranian cooking but I tend to give it a wide berth.

Walking along the opposite riverbank gave us a beautiful view of the Zayandeh Rud as it wound its way around the corner towards Esfahan. At some point the flow was dammed and we asked about access to this area but were told it was cordoned off. Shame as I would have liked to have seen how they stemmed the flow and diverted it to other regions as part of the summertime water management plan.

After yet another glass of tea (chai) we got back into the red-hot car and started the long drive home. On the way back, we came across a waterfall, only there was no water! We stopped for a look-see and were not disappointed.

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Next time: The waterless waterfall

Learn the lingo:

Car                               Mashin

Picnic blanket        Patu ye picnic

Water                         Ab

Bread                          Nun

Cheese                        Panir

Tree                              Derakht 

 

 

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Some of the most impressive and enduring memories I have of Esfahan are of the amazing bridges and the vast  and mighty Zayandeh Rud river that runs through and over the arches and piers. Zayandeh Rud means “the life-giving river” and by the time the smaller tributaries and feeder-rivulets further upstream come together at Esfahan, the river is between 100m and 200m as it flows through the city.

In Spring and Autumn when we have made our previous visits, the river flows freely and is clean and clear. The reflections of the bridges add to the picturesque scene and the view is stunning. The river enhances the architecture of the bridges and in return, the bridges reflect in the river in all its glory. This is especially true of the Khaju Bridge at night when it is illuminated to perfection, but I also love this bridge during the day when I can see the amazing decor and experience the “tea-room” on the plateaus.

This visit however I was shocked and disappointed to find that this mighty river had run dry-albeit by enforced water management plans. There was no water, no reflections, no soothing swish of the small waves upon the river banks. Instead, a bare and barren river bed was stark against the same majestic architecture of the bridges. At first I was sad to see this sight but then I began to think differently.

The Zayandeh Rud, living up to its life-giving name, had been dammed upstream and its water diverted to more needy areas. A sacrifice. Giving up its beauty and impressive appearance to give life and help to other cities. What a privileged position to be in and how mighty. A temporary loss of beauty and magnificence in Esfahan to rescue other lands. The Zayandeh Rud for me came to life that day and I really appreciated its versatility and generosity.

In addition, being more practical, it is not every day that you get to see a river bed! I could see now why the river is so clean and clear. The river bed is devoid of detritus and only a few formations of rocks litter the route. It was still an impressive sight but one I don’t want to see again.

 

I came away from the river wondering where the river was. Where could we find it? At that moment, our next trip North-West of Esfahan was born and we soon arranged to go and track down the mighty Zayandeh Rud further upstream.

Next: We go in search of the Zayandeh Rud.

Learn the lingo:

River                      Rud/Rood

Bridge                    Pol

Tea house             Chai-khane

Night                      Shab

Day                          Ruz 

 

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Amir & Will on laptops

Amir & Will on laptops

Over the past 5 years I have watched my son Will grow up through his teenage years. In Iran, Feri’s sister has done the same with her youngest son Amir who, coincidentally, is just 1 month younger than Will. Common stories of untidy bedrooms, homework started and finished at the last minute, football, too many hours on computer games etc etc were shared between us in the UK and her in Iran. It was clear that these two adolescents were very similar but, growing up in very different environments, I wasn’t prepared for the”common  language” of teenagers to surpass their knowledge of each other’s actual  language when they were thrown together on our recent trip to Iran.

Knowing that Will can’t speak Farsi, and Amir speaks no English I was of course a little concerned that our holiday in Iran would be marred by this barrier. I needn’t have worried. It mattered not one jot and on the first night of our stay Will was out on the town with Amir and his friends. He even had to borrow some clothes as our cases had not accompanied us to Iran. This impressed me even more. I’m not sure that landing in Iran for the first time, not speaking the lingo and dressed in someone else’s clothes I would have felt confident enough to go out with strangers but off he went!

Over the next 3 weeks Will and Amir communicated quite adequately, and by all accounts had great fun together and with Amir’s Iranian friends. Will played football with Amir’s 5-a-side team-again in borrowed kit. He was the first Englishman to play in the local league and was impressed by the skills that they showed. He was also playing on a new 3G pitch, something which we don’t have much in the UK yet and it was an experience for Will. Football definitely has a “global language” of its own most of which I do not intend to share with you here, but it certainly helps to break down barriers! Some of the translations are a bit literal but that makes them more the funnier. Again, most are not suitable for this article!

Apart from playing football, when we arrived both England and Iran were still involved in the World Cup group matches, albeit hanging on by the skin of their teeth. On the Tuesday night everyone was rooting for England. On the Wednesday night we had great hopes for Iran playing against Bosnia after their brilliant performance against Argentina. Sadly Iran looked tired and spent and lost the match but it brought us all together supporting one team.

I’m not sure what impression people have about teenagers in Iran, and I can only comment on our boys, but to me Will and Amir were  doing the same things in Iran as Will does in the UK. This may surprise some people. Will went ten-pin bowling. He went Go-karting and went to restaurants in Esfahan to eat and “chat” with the other guys. One major difference is the segregation of the sexes so that boys and girls shouldn’t mix when unchaperoned and some of the guys were keen to ask Will questions about his girlfriend, and the more relaxed environment in which girls and boys can mix. However, I think it would be a shame if this was the dominant topic of conversation but I do understand why they ask. The allure of “forbidden fruit” can be very appealing but they also need to understand that the grass is not always greener and their traditional values and family oriented society can be to their advantage in the long-term.

Overall I was amazed by how these teenagers from East and West were able to get along quite happily without a common language. However, Will did meet up with one of Amir’s friends who was born in England and who could speak English. His name? George.

Only Will could come home from a holiday in Iran with a new friend called George!

Will and George

I needn’t have worried.

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Monday at do shanbeh bazaar

Monday at do shanbeh bazaar

Although “do shanbeh bazaar” literally translates as “Monday Market”, the shops, stalls and traders which make up this bazaar in the town of Sede can be found here all week. Having said that, it is on Mondays that it is at its busiest and more traders flock to the site filling up the street and pavements on both sides. Walking through the bazaar is slow work and not just because of the crowds of people, motorbikes and cars which all share the thoroughfare, but because there is so much to see. You also need to watch where you walk so you don’t trip over uneven paving stones and the odd hole in the road which can catch you out.

I love the atmosphere in the bazaar with traders shouting out prices to attract the passing shoppers and the noise of the constant haggling  by the wily women who know just how to get the best deal. I hate haggling. I am not used to it but watching Feri’s niece in action is an awesome sight and she always comes away with a reduction; £5 off a fresh flower display (eventual cost £15) was one of the best!

Iranians are born traders and you can end up paying a lot more than others if you don’t adopt the haggling mentality. My husband always tells me to identify items that I would like and then disappear from the scene so that he gets a good deal for being a “local” or “native”. If traders spot a tourist they will inflate the price substantially so my advice for buying in Iran is “caveat emptor!”

The variety of goods found in the bazaar is amazing and it is much more exciting and exhilarating than shopping in a sterile department store. It really is a “one-stop-shop” and I usually come home with a bag full of goodies which haven’t dented the purse too much. The nice thing about this market is that it is not focussed on the tourist trade but is very much about local produce and household goods that anyone will need.

I do get a lot of stares from the locals when I am in the bazaar. Sede is not a tourist town unlike Esfahan where they are much more used to tourists and Westerners and this can be difficult to tolerate sometimes. I understand why they stare but it can get a little disconcerting when people deliberately stand in your way to get a good look at you!

Mini-pumpkins

Mini-pumpkins

Walking up and down the street I am always amazed by the different goods that you can buy; Fresh fruit and vegetables (melons are a speciality of the Esfahan area), shoes, haberdashery, lights, material, sheep’s heads (for calapoce), ducklings and chicks, wedding dresses, nuts and dried fruit in abundance and hardware to name but a few. Some of my favourite shops and stalls sell women’s clothing and I have noticed a huge difference in the fashion since first coming to Iran four years ago. Colours are brighter, manteaus are shorter and are belted or have nipped in waists, scarves are worn further to the back of the head exposing more hair and make-up is applied with abandon. All very different and far more daring than on previous visits.

With all this activity going on you could easily walk past the bazaar mosque which offers an oasis of calm. The mosque is beautifully decorated with mosaic tiles and is clearly a focal point for the market community especially at prayer times.

The lovely thing about this bazaar is shops and stalls are rarely shut up and locked when the owner is away for any length of time. They may just put a sheet of cloth across the doorway which signifies that no one is there but I have seen no looting or theft despite the easy access. You can leave your bags of shopping hanging on your motorbike handles and it will still be there when you return. It is a much more relaxed and trusting environment which is a privilege to experience.

I love going to the bazaar especially at night when it is cooler and people are buying fresh produce for their evening meal. Life doesn’t stop when it gets dark, in fact it is at dusk that things come to life under the many lights that illuminate every street. I dread to think what Iran’s contribution to Global Warming may be due to their use of electricity to light their world but I do know that it makes life a lot easier and the days a lot longer when you can see what you are doing!

Next: Teenagers East & West meet up for a night out.

Learn the lingo:

Saturday                    shanbe

Two                              do

Monday                     do shanbe (two days after Saturday)

Watermelon             hendoune

Peach                          hulu

 

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Pots at Pirnia House, Na’in

I have just returned from a 3-week trip visiting family in Iran with my husband and son and, having caught up on my sleep and my washing, am able to put pen to paper (metaphorically speaking) to write up our latest adventures in this wonderful country. Over the past 5-6 years or so, Iran has been in the headlines mainly because of the nuclear debate, humanitarian issues and political elections. Over the past few weeks however, Iran has been the hot topic in many of the UK newspaper travel supplements describing the country as the latest holiday destination now that the UK Embassy is to open and relations are thawing.  This is great to see as I have long been telling people how wonderful Iran is; the people, the architecture, the history, the food, the culture. Sadly most people only get to see the country as traditionally portrayed in the press. Reporting is usually biased and unless you have experience of the “real” Iran, this negative picture of Iran is the one that remains. My mission is to write about my visits to Iran so that those who are interested enough to read about them are more aware of what Iran offers.

I must caveat my writings to make it clear that these are my experiences and I only write about what I observe. My husband is Iranian and therefore is fluent in Farsi. This undoubtedly helps to smooth the path in many instances. We have a house in Iran and therefore accommodation is not an issue. The family are very welcoming and always help when we want to travel outside the immediate Esfahan area. These are advantages that enable us to settle very quickly when we arrive in Iran and make the most of our trip each time.

Although I have been to Iran before I have never been in the summer months and therefore had to prepare for daytime  temperatures of between 35-43 degrees C and it was also the first time that my son has travelled with us. We also had a week before Ramazan began which would also prove to be an experience for us as I have never been in Iran during the month of fasting.  Both me and my husband travel on Iranian passports but Will needs a Visa. This was the first obstacle to overcome as we couldn’t send off his passport until late April when he returned from a field trip to Iceland which didn’t leave us much time to secure his passage before our departure in June. The travel agent we use to book our air tickets was really helpful and for a relatively small fee did all the paperwork and application for us and managed to get Will’s visa in good time.

Will chilling already

Will chilling already

So it was on Sunday 22 June that we travelled to Birmingham airport with two reasonably weighted cases (the boys) and my case weighing in at a cool 26 kilos-a full 4 kilos short of my maximum allowance 🙂

We flew to Esfahan via Istanbul landing safe and sound at 4.00am. Unfortunately our luggage didn’t as it was left behind in Istanbul. It was only after we had given our details to the very courteous security man that we emerged from the airport to see Feri’s nephew Ali there to pick us up. That was a surprise as we were expecting to get a taxi home, but a very welcome one after the disappointment of our wayward luggage.

Even at 5am it was hot and getting hotter but the air conditioning in the car did its job and we arrived home to meet the family for breakfast.

Luckily I did have some spare clothes that I had left behind from my last visit and so could at least shower and change after the long journey. Will was able to borrow some clothes from Amir which he was grateful for and so normality returned. After an afternoon sleep, dinner with the family and meeting the new addition to the family, a baby rabbit, we turned in for the night ready for our adventures to begin in earnest the following day.

Next: Do shanbe Bazaar (Monday market) and teenagers East and West meet up for a night out.

Learn the Lingo:

Breakfast                     Subhune

Lunch                            Nahar

Dinner                           Sharm

Rabbit                           Khargoosh (literally “donkey ears; khar = donkey, goosh= ears) 

 

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Khargoosh

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When I visit Iran my camera is with me everywhere I go. I take thousands of photos but I am definitely a snapper and not a semi-pro and my camera is a very basic point-and-shoot model. I take photos so I don’t forget my experiences and  they are not necessarily well-planned or thought out-just taken ad-hoc when I want to capture an experience, or a memory. Going through some of my photos I realise that many of them won’t be seen by anyone else as they don’t match anything I write about; they are odds-and-ends collected during the course of a day’s roaming.

Here’s just a small collection which you might find interesting;

The village baker at work-fresh bread 3 times a day

The village baker at work-fresh bread 3 times a day

Engagement/Wedding dresses

Engagement/Wedding dresses

Very old vinegar vats

Very old vinegar vats

The gold quarter

The gold quarter

Cuddly toys

Cuddly toys

Even Shaun the Sheep is big in Iran!

Even Shaun the Sheep is big in Iran!

Work in progress

Work in progress

More gold

More gold

Road to nowhere!

Road to nowhere!
More dresses

More dresses

Spring chickens!

Spring chickens!

Inside a pigeon tower

Inside a pigeon tower

Congregational mosque Esfahan

Congregational mosque Esfahan

Three wise men!

Three wise men!

Abyaneh-dresses for sale

Abyaneh-dresses for sale

Sexy underwear.....ladies only!

Sexy underwear…..ladies only!

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