Central Iran - A Journey through Persian Culture

A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles. – Tim Cahill

Esfahan, with it’s tree-lined boulevards, persian gardens and a number of important Islamic buildings makes it probably the most beautiful city in Iran. My favorite place was the Naqsh-e Jahan Square. In the afternoon, the place was quite empty but in the evening and especially on weekends it gets crowded with people who pick nick, walk around or simply enjoy the atmosphere of this amazing spot in town.

Besides Nash-e Jahan, one of the most impressive mosques that I have seen on my journey is the Masjed-e Jameh Mosque in Esfahan. On my way to visit the place, I walked through one of the bazaars and came along a little restaurant filled with lots of Iranian people at lunchtime. While I was wondering what might be on the menu, I got introduced to Cyrus, whose family runs this old traditional place for many decades. Apparently, the place was pretty popular and I decided to give it a try. As there was no table left, Cyrus asked me if I would mind eating next to the kitchen. This wasn’t a problem for me and this way I also noticed what was to appear later in my food. This restaurant served a meal, especially famous in Esfahan called “Bergani,” a dish of certain kinds of minced meat, spices and served in a loaf of bread. There was also fresh salad and the drink was a special mix of yogurt, water and herbs.

After an unusual but tasty meal, Cyrus led me to the mosque and pointed me to some important details. Later, in the shadow of Masjed-e Jameh, I took the time to read a little about the history of Iran and the events of the last decades.

The next day I wanted to leave Esfahan towards Shiraz, but before departing from the city, my friend Omid did his best to find a Nikon shop in town. On my last day in Van (Turkey), the autofocus of my SLR camera broke and I had no idea where I should find a Nikon Repair-Service. The guy in the shop told me, the camera had to be sent to Tehran and we agreed that I would return to Esfahan in three days to pick up the hopefully fixed camera. I was not sure if the timing was realistic, because the transport to and from Tehran alone would take two days. But what were my chances? The next service with enough time on the spot, would probably be available in Bangkok.

Travelling south to Shiraz, famous for its poets and once for its wine, I stopped in Perspolis, one of the ancient capitals of the Persian Empire, which was ingloriously destroyed in 330 BC by Alexander the Great. In the evening I reached Shiraz and stayed for two nights with Tahereh and Mahmood, who gave me a warm welcome. In the evening hours I learned more about Iran, the people and the shortcomings in the country. Since I was slowly running out of time for Iran, I had only one day to get to know the city of Havez and Sa’di and was out in the streets from early morning to the late evening.

But before I returned to Esfahan, I spent another night in Yazd, one of the oldest cities in Iran, which is on the edge of the desert. On my way, I was once stopped by the police, and this time I actually wasn’t aware of any wrongdoing. However, the word “radar” was mentioned only once briefly before the conversation focused on more important issues, such as the price of my spare tires. The guys had a friendly smile in their faces, and thus the whole situation was pretty relaxed. We shook hands and I was back on the road.

My SLR was back in Esfahan and the Nikon service in Teheran was fortunately able to fix the problem. Wow! This is what you can call “express service”.

As much as I enjoyed being back in Esfahan, I needed to have a critical look at my five-day time window for Turkmenistan, which was about to start in two days. It was a long way from central Iran to the border with Turkmenistan in the north. Nevertheless, I remained another day in town and on my last evening enjoyed a delicious lamb kebab with Pary, barbequed on the rooftop of her apartment building. At 4:00 a.m. next morning she escorted me to the outskirts of the city and I was facing an almost 900 kilometer ride to Gorgan.

The roads were in good conditions. At 9:00 a.m. I was already in Tehran and in the afternoon I reached the wooded and green area of northern Iran. Farshid, who never lost contact with me while I was travelling through his country, advised me to spend the night in Gorgan with his cousin Amin. He was apparently expecting me and together with his friends we had a good night out in the woods. When they went to work next morning, I set out towards Ashgabat.

Within the last weeks, I certainly had more tea than I had in the past two years, and to leave Iran felt as if you were to say goodbye to good friends. On my way through a country that I had hardly known before and which was rather a strange place before setting my own foot on its ground, I was greeted friendly wherever I went. People shouted at me in traffic “Welcome to Iran”, gave me a “thumbs up” or showed me with a smile how welcome I was in their country.

Grown up in the western world, I was struck by hospitality in a part of our world where I wouldn’t have expected it and where at times the generosity of people made me feel ashamed. It’s these experiences that will live longest in the memory.