Iran: Isfahan

We departed Kashan with Hossien, a taxi driver who throughout the day, morphed into a really interesting guide. He’s a family man; his wife doesn’t work outside the house and together they have two children, a son aged 8 and a daughter 3. He laughed when I asked if his 3 year old was a good girl. ‘She talk, talk, talk,’ was his response. Those with little girls will understand! His lovely wife had prepared tea and sweets for all of us. Hossien is one of many Iranians who are staking their future on a growing tourist industry.

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We’ve seen the tourist buses here in Kashan. They travel enroute from Tehran to Isfahan, stopping for a couple of hours in Kashan. The buses are loaded with Germans, French and Dutch. In addition, bus tours cater for Americans (not many), Canadians and British who are not allowed to travel around Iran independently; it is mandatory that they travel with a guide.

Our first stop on the road from Kashan to Isfahan was the much talked about UNESCO listed Persian or Bagh-e Fin Gardens. This beautiful, cool garden designed in the 16th century is awash with narrow rectangular pools and fountains which are fed by natural springs. Cedar trees abound. There’s some unpleasant history associated with the gardens though, since this is the place where an Iranian Prime Minister was imprisoned and murdered (in the hammam no less) in 1851.

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Next stop was a caravanserai. These inns were dotted all along the famous Silk Road which linked Constantinople (Istanbul today) to China and yes, Marco Polo travelled this route through Iran. This ancient network of tracks allowed vigorous trade to occur and since the traders and animals (camels mostly) could only travel 30 kms a day, numerous caravanserai were built. This one has survived the wear and tear over the centuries, although it is non operational today.

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Our final stop was Abyaneh, another UNESCO listed attraction and a most interesting ancient village with a population of about 300. Often called ‘red village’ because of the colour of the mud brick homes, its inhabitants have lived here since the 7th century. The village is full of twisting lanes and lots of steps. Only the older residents live here today, the younger ones have long moved out to seek work and education. The women especially, still don traditional dress. It is a village where it seems time has stood still, although since it’s firmly on the tourist map, there is the inevitable shop or two selling items like dried fruit as well as souvenirs.

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We drove past Iran’s extremely topical nuclear facility, making sure we abided by the ‘no photos‘ rule. I will say that the country’s nuclear energy drives a very buoyant and widespread electricity network.

Several hours later, we arrived in Isfahan (often spelt with an E). Lonely Planet bills this city as ‘Iran’s top tourist destination for good reason.’ I haven’t seen a lot of Iran yet, but Isfahan is one place to which I would definitely return. It is laden with beautiful green, cool trees, there’s plenty of sites to keep us interested for four days, plenty of places to eat and drink coffee and plenty of people who are up for a chat.

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Naqsh-e Jahan is UNESCO listed and the largest public plaza in the world at 512 metres long. Built in 1601 and largely unchanged, it is truly spectacular. It is home to mosques, bazaars and a palace.

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The bazaar is full of interesting produce and products.

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At one of the mosques, we spent a good hour listening to an Imam address a number of questions about Islamic religion from tourists. The Imam pulled no punches in defending his religion’s stance against people like Salman Rushdie who criticise it. He was an articulate Imam, well educated and well versed in debating skills.

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Naqsh-e Jahan is alive with Iranian school children who are here on excursions soaking up the history of their fine city.

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We spent some time in Little Armenia – an area where Christian Armenians are allowed to practise their religion. The Vank Church is stunning.

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Little Armenia is dotted with these messages of remembrance. On 24 April 2015, it had been 100 years since the Armenian genocide by the Ottomans. A day later, on April 25 2015, Australians remembered 100 years since the ANZACs landed in Gallipoli. Interesting Ottoman connection.

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The Abbasi Hotel became a firm favourite for its stunning gardens and ash -e reshte (noodle soup) from the teahouse.

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The river which once ran through Isfahan is dry – not a drop of water, which is a shame because it is adorned with beautiful bridges. There is talk that the water is being diverted to agricultural (pistachio farms) and manufacturing needs (steel factories). There is also talk that Iran has used a lot of its water, including its ground water. A few years ago when we were in Chicago and marvelling at the Great Lakes, I commented then that USA and Canada were lucky to have so much fresh water. Recently, I noted that the Canadian government has passed legislation to stop their water being sold to other countries. Water – it’s fast becoming an issue.

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We ate well In Isfahan!

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And drank some good coffee!

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Our hotel in Isfahan was Iran Hotel which was in a fantastic location. We could walk to pretty much everything. There are 3 nice coffee shops in the same alley as the hotel and in addition, the manager is most welcoming and generous with his time. We gained a much better understanding of Iran from talking to him.

We have been overwhelmed by the number of Iranians, who, despite limited English skills, have welcomed us to their country, who laugh loudly when we say we’re from Australia and follow up with, ‘Australia good.’ The friendliness cuts across all age groups – school boys and school girls who call out to us from buses, adult men and women. Iranians are very warm and welcoming to foreigners. They like to initiate a conversation to practise their English and in no time, a group has formed around you listening to every word. In Isfahan, we have been caught out by the Iranians’ generosity. One stall holder (pictured below) would not let us pay for four bottles of water. Another time, I ventured into a camera shop seeking a replacement strap. I was handed one and told it was ‘free’. We are always asked, ‘You like Iran?’ And without hesitation, we tell them, ‘Iran is good.’ And it is good for tourists. It’s easy and comfortable. The western media has done a hatchet job in presenting Iran in a negative way and encouraging tourists to stay away. All I can add to this blog is, get here soon. It’s good; real good.

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