From Tehran to Kerman
It’s 5:00 when the alarm clock goes off in our hotel in Tehran. We get dressed, brush our teeth, grab our things and sleepwalk into the lobby, where our driver is already waiting for us with a smile on his face. We get in the car and sprint off to the Mehrabad national airport.
We get through security and are left to wait for our flight to appear on the panel. We quickly realise that we are among the only foreigners (apart from the travel groups) to patiently sit there and wait. Like all the other locals, we grab our bag with our supplies. Remember the small breakfast the guys at the hotel had packed for us, since the poor tourists might starve to death without a proper breakfast? If not, go check it out here.
We unpack the bulgy bag and unveil what looks like at least 30 plate sized naan pieces, a decent box packed with dates, jams (for some reasons there’s a lot of carrot jam), butter, cream cheese, yogurt and milk (yes, we have to drink milk, because milk is good for you). The natives sitting around us nodded proudly at our bounty, while we must have made the most baffled, frozen-in-frame faces ever.
Arriving in the heart of one of the world’s oldest religions
The flight was uneventful. We arrived at Kerman airport and the fun part was that we got out of the door and almost on the street, where people were queuing to go through the check-in, we waited for our luggage to arrive on the small belt. A security guy asked us if our bags were ours and we showed our ticket and were free to go. I was impressed and slightly startled.
Although it was only 8 am and it was October, the temperatures were already around 30 degrees. We see a huge, intimidating guy in sweatpants approaching us. He waves at us and shakes our hands..we are puzzled..it is Masoud, our driver for the coming 3 weeks.
He gets us into his SUV, turns on some techno music and flashes on the streets. We soon realise that, although his English is far from being perfect, he loves to speak and speaks a lot. He takes us to our hotel and tells us to relax and nap until 5 pm, when it is cool enough for us to see some sights.
Needless to say, we ignore his advice and get out and about under the scorching sun. We walk all the way to the bazaar, which is the main attraction we can reach on foot. We roam through the usual crowds of cheering people welcoming us and wanting to sell us every kind of foods (did we look that famished?).
On our way back we see several people literally flooding the straps of green vegetation and we wondered how they could use that much water in a city so close to one of the hottest deserts in the world. As a matter of fact the Dash-e Loot desert is a large salt desert, where the sand can reach a temperature of up to 70 degrees and where a +50° is an average temperature. Ironically, winters, although short, are really cold and most houses have heaters.
We get back to our hotel, where our driver was already freaking out, because his tourists had escaped his care and ignored his advice and we could have died of a heatstroke!
The Jabalieh dome
Our first stop is the Jabaliyeh dome, a symbolic building with an octagonal plant. It predates the Islamisation of the country and might have been a Zoroastrian building. A few words on Zoroastrianism. You might have heard the name of Zarathustra..well, to keep it short, it is the oldest still living monotheistic religion and its symbol is the eternal fire.
The flame in the fire temple in Kerman has been burning for the past 1022 years and it is said to derive from an even older fire from over 6000 years ago. The Zoroastrian people do not use the Muslim greetings, like “salam” and dress differently than their Muslim brothers. Their religion contains many festivities and celebrations and still counts a vast community all over Iran.
With a setting sun, we look at what is left of the old castle that 3000 years ago already protected Iran from the Afghan bandits from the East, since the Afghan border is only 500 km away.
Fresh ice at 30°+, 500 years ago
We also saw our very first ice tower! Did you know that over 500 years ago Persians built big vaults to store ice inside so that they could enjoy some chilled beverages and slush ice in the scorching heat of summer? Impressive, right? In the winter months, they would fill the vaults with ice, that would suffice them for a whole year and stay in its solid state, even during the hottest summer days. The trick was a specially shaped dome up to 100m high that would work as a natural freezer.
The dome had an approximate diametre of 100 metres. Where we are standing, it would have been filled with ice.
The roof had a hole to allow the circulation of air, which would act as a cooler, much like a modern air conditioner.
Time for dinner! Finally, we had skipped lunch, since the tea house we were supposed to go to at the bazaar was closed, because we were in the middle of the religious 12 days of mourning for Hussein. So our driver Masoud told us to go to the restaurant at the hotel..we went..the lights were out and no one around. We called and an old man came slouching to us. We asked if we could eat something, it was barely 8 o’clock, to which he replied fish kebab and chicken kebab. Since it seemed our only option, we agreed. We got a chewy kebab that was impressively dry, which I did not even bother to take a picture of.
The following morning we complained to Masoud about dinner. He seemed surprised that we wanted the full Persian culinary experience and admitted that his usual Dutch tourists would not venture in the depths of food.
The gardens of Bagh-e Shahzde
In the semi desert outside Kerman you can find a beautiful oasis with water, plants, flowers and gardens. Upon arrival, you feel like being beamed into a different dimension. From the arid and dusty outside to the cool, green inside, where water runs in abundance.
The view of the gardens with the entrance.
We also visited the city of Kerman and its bath house, where we discovered that Persians used cupping way before it became mainstream. And even had their own Jacuzzi!
Time for lunch! This time, we got serious: We went to a traditional restaurant with the traditional Persian carpet corners. We were served a chicken soup in a loaf of bread for starters.
Followed by Kebab, chelow and vegetables and a nice herb tea for dessert.
We also had a very shy and well behaved cat begging for some leftovers.
Dinner was uneventful, since we still had the aftermath of the glorious lunch. We tried an Iranian fast-food: Felafel sandwich.
Rayen Castle – a protection from Afghan invaders
Off we drove into the dust towards the Afghan border, or well only about 300 km away from it. Rayen castle is a magnificently constructed castle out of mud-bricks that served exactly its purpose of defending the Medieval Afghan invaders from the East and the Arab invaders from the West. The impressive part of it, apart from it being constructed entirely out of mud, is that it is said to have held a population of 100,000 people at its peek. Some of the buildings were up to three stores high.
Next stop was a waterfall in the mountains. The Khoshklar waterfall lies at 2700 m and its water is -really- cold. You can really feel the difference from the +35 in Kerman, which is still at a staggering height of 1700m above sea level and the chill at 2700m.
On our way back, we saw an old couple baking bread in a traditional mud oven.
So it was time to get back and go for lunch. More Chelow and kebab with very sour pickles, freshly baked bread, dizi (the stew in the jar which contains meat and chickpeas), yoghurt and salad and a big jar of Doogh, a yoghurt drink with salt that works wonders to quench your thirst in the heat.
In the evening, Masoud surprised us by bringing us to a Shisha lounge, where I tried my very first Shisha and loved it. The only downside was that it made me very hungry, though.
If you made it to the end of this very long post, kudos to you. To be honest, I was not expecting this to get this long..and we are only still at the beginning of the trip.
See you in Meymand!