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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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Esfahan Bird Garden (Paq-e Parandegan) is not far from the Koh Ateshgah Sasanid fire temple which I climbed on a previous visit and first impressions were that it didn’t look much but initial impressions belied what we found inside the extensive grounds.

 

Founded in 1996 the garden covers more than 50,000 square metres, most of which is enclosed by a net suspended high off the ground giving the 125 or so species of birds plenty of room to fly around freely whilst making sure that they don’t escape their environs.

We saw parrots, budgies, cockatoos, ostriches, owls, pheasants, peacocks as well as the aquatic birds in the large pool; pelicans, flamingos and storks and cranes all balancing on one leg and black and white swans paddling smoothly along in the clear water.

 

My favourites were the toucans which reminded me of those Guinness adverts of long ago and in Farsi they are known as Fala-Fala. Two toucans perching on the branch; Fala-Fala, Fala-Fala.

Esfahan Bird Garden made a perfect outing on a beautiful sunny and warm early spring afternoon. The trees were just breaking into leaf giving the hedgerows and woodlands a lovely hazy-green appearance. The Zayandeh-Rud however was extremely low as there was a drought in this area threatening the production of those gorgeous melons and other orchard fruits that we picked in abundance at the end of last summer. I can now report in May 2012 that the drought conditions have eased and the melons are just as sweet and juicy as ever!

  

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The two mountain ranges of Sala and Sofeh shelter the city of Esfahan which nestles in a verdant plain irrigated by the mighty Zayande-Rud as it winds its way through the province. The plain itself is well developed. The city of Esfahan, described by Fitzgerald as Nesf-e Jahan “Half the World” because of its wonderfully varied history and culture, has been built up over many centuries and there are now signs that the smaller towns and villages are themselves becoming suburbs of Esfahan rather than remaining individual settlements.

Driving into Esfahan from the town of Sede you are suddenly faced with a rocky outcrop. There is no gradual build up to this 13th Century citadel, and it rises from the plain with a suddenness that takes you by surprise. This bastion includes the remains of a Sasanid Koh-Ateshgah Fire Temple at the top, and once seen from the road below, the urge to climb the dusty, rocky mountain to sit in the Zorastranian temple becomes an irresistible challenge. I recommend an early start to ensure that you make the most of the cooler conditions and there are fewer people around to interrupt the peace, quiet and photography. The dry heat however does not sap your energy nearly as much as the humid damp that we experience in the UK and I found the climb, which rises to 1600m above sea level, much more comfortable than I anticipated.

The views from the top of Koh-Ateshgah make the sometimes tricky and earthy scramble well worth the effort and there are plenty of flat rocks along the way where you can admire the ever-widening views, drink some water, enjoy the cooling breeze and catch your breath. It takes surprisingly little time to reach the top, whereas the trip down I found much more hazardous and time consuming.

A fascinating couple of hours well worth spending at this historic monument and all for 65p for the both of us. 

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