As safe as houses…

Days: 561-562 (7 January 2016 – 8 January 2016)

Total distance travelled: 141,101.1 kilometres (87,640.44 miles)

We were trundling down the highway, the view in all directions that incredible mix of arid landscapes and snow capped peaks.

The skies were again blue, although perhaps a combination of winter haze meets Persian industry (think smog) meant that it was as clear a day as it might otherwise be.

Our seats were good ones in the very front row of the coach and we settled in for what remained of the couple of hundred kilometre journey that would take us to Kashan.

If we thought we (besides the driver) had the best seat in the house, time (and only a short amount of it) would prove us to be quite wrong.

As we continued to trundle on, and I have no idea when exactly it occurred, one fellow sat in the seat immediately behind the driver and another, well he went a little further and sat himself down on the stairs which provided the perfect perch right beside the driver himself.

A vocal exchange began, with all three involved and us no wiser as to what was going on. Eventually, a thermos appeared (almost magically) and cups of piping hot tea were poured. Then, with equal finesse a plastic bag was summoned, and just like that they were sipping hot beverages, tearing off chunks of bread and morsels of cheese.

Here, in the middle of the Iranian desert, a picnic had begun.

We were even invited to join the trio in their meal!

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A perfect perch from which to watch a Persian picnic…

It served as yet another example of how welcoming and friendly these people have been in our short visit to their country and left us with more good feelings as we made good our arrival into Kashan in the early afternoon.

Honestly, I can’t recall if we were worded up by the Swiss, found it on Triposo or perhaps it was Dani the Spaniard (we did run into him in Kashan as well) who gave us the lead, but we’d found ourselves beds at the gorgeously appointed hotel Khan-e Ehsan for the night.

Again it was a case of the images not a true reflection on the season.

A sun drenched courtyard, blue skies, a tranquil pool and comfortable lounges… only the minute you drifted into the shade, you froze your arse off and we were still clad in at least a sweater, even whilst bathed in the suns rays.

This was in no way a slight against our lovely setting, this nights hostel another gorgeously appointed in a lovely old building.

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Pleasant in the sun, freezing in the shade. Our gorgeous lodgings

In fact, the very reason we’d taken the time to stop in this city was to see some lovely old buildings, we’d just barely expected such an affair to be the place we’d also be resting our heads.

I’m unsure if there was something significant about this day in particular, but Kashan felt sleepy.

Like so many of our Persian lodgings, this one was a off a main road, accessible thanks to a long alley, and immediately opposite and across the major thoroughfare which divided the neighbourhood, a smaller street.

With a purpose and with little fear of traffic, we crossed for ahead lay a minaret, not glistening with tiles like many, but clearly outlined by the bright blue sky above (almost, but not quite silhouetted).

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First impressions of the Agha Bozorg Mosque (left) & Revealing it’s lower level and the school below (right)

Both a mosque and school, this was the Agha Bozorg Mosque, and its first appearances were a little deceptive.

We could obviously see how it extended up towards the sky, yet when we finally entered it was apparent that it also sunk below.

On occasion, a young man could be seen below and we were not allowed to descend to this area, a functioning school.

Graciously, we were essentially allowed free reign to marvel at the upper levels, so appreciate it we did.

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Sometimes you don’t need words…

We’d been given a tip as to an apparently good restaurant which it turns out was attached to a somewhat swanky hotel, so with lunch now on our minds we sought it out.

Along the streets, we were able to appreciate more street artwork, but not the kind that you might think of should you think of Melbourne, Valparaiso or Bogota (or any other city famed for its street art).

Instead, what we saw here sported images of the Ayatollah (that would be Khomeini) as well as portraits of dead war heroes. Martyrs from the Iran-Iraq wars (including one who looked suspiciously like Scott Baio).

I chuckled at the time as I peered through a shop window and spied a Sega Mega Drive II (a gaming console from the 1990’s), amusing at the time, but a sobering reminder of how economic sanctions saw this ancient piece of game equipment as a luxury item in a country such as this.

Eventually we found the luxuriously appointed hotel, complete with Xmas tree ready to celebrate this most Christian holiday in the Islamic Republic.

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Iranian kids: Gaming like it’s the 1990’s… (left) & Xmas spirit in the Islamic Republic (right)

A quick glance at the menu told us this place was not in our budget, so back on the main road we instead settled for a kebab.

With that pressing business attended to, it was time to look into the very reason we’d come to Kashan.

It was time for a bit of house hunting!

The city is famed for its traditional houses, and they form the very reason that tourists visit (although if Wikipedia is to be believed, this still only equates to roughly a thousand foreign visitors per year) so that puts it into real perspective (to compare this to another Islamic site, apparently the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul gets over ninety million visitors every year).

At the entrance to the first such house, we purchased a ticket that allowed entrance into multiple homes and way within.

Kashan on the whole was pretty drab (like many Iranian cities), the dull brown mud brick ever pervasive and at least during these winter months, the few trees looking rather skeletal and therefore doing little to break up the image.

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Tabatabaei historical house

Finally inside the first historical home, Tabatabaei there was a break in this monotony.

Even in the first of this buildings (or is it a series of buildings cobbled together?) rooms, we were immediately assaulted by colour, as the sun streamed through the small antechambers many stained glass windows.

Suddenly, our eyes were under assault.

After our eyes grew accustomed to this sudden change in palette, we realised that as far as furnishings went, these rooms were incredibly spartan… in fact, empty.

Perhaps it was a deliberate ploy. A way to draw our eyes to the other beautiful features of this timeless structure.

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Arches, reflection, afternoon sun, colour…

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Plaster, mirrors. Arches, glass and domes…

Almost every surface of this once grandiose home bore some form of decoration.

The walls, the windows, the ceilings… there was always some form of pattern, colour, tinted glass, mirror. Even the glass like pool in the garden served as a means to amplify the effect (there were even some trees here that actually bore green foliage).

It was for this that those thousand or so tourists came every year.

It was also this that almost ninety one million others who visited the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul missed…

Being winter, the sun was always going to set sooner rather than later, however night seemed to bring some life to the city of Kashan.

The downtown area was fairly compact, at least in relation to where we were staying, so a short walk had us into the local bazaar.

Keen to have an explore as the place was abuzz, we also had a more meaningful purpose, as we also had a need to exchange a few more Euros into Rials.

Without meaning to, we even wandered into the old caravanserai, Aminoddole, itself attached to the marketplace.

Of note was its gorgeous light well (essentially a hole in the ceiling to allow sunlight in), still stunning even though it was doing nothing in relation to its purpose being night.

Speaking of gorgeous at night, given how close it was to our hostel, we took another quick peek at the Agha Bozorg mosque which did indeed have a decent lighting budget as well.

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Ancient ventilation, still doing its thing (left) & Agha Bozorg, worth a look at night too (right)

That night, with our options looking limited around the town anyway, we opted to dine in and experience the meals available through our accommodation.

Keen to experience a bit more of the local fare, we ordered a pair of dishes, both it seemed spinach based in what proved a real mixed bag.

Even better, we thought we’d wash it town with a nice cold beer each!

The obligatory side of rice appeared alongside the first plate, upon which sat a pair of large fried fritters, dark green and coarse in texture.

This was a strike out, very heavy in egg flavour (never appealing to Sarah) and not all that pleasant, but its follow up was far more enjoyable, yet still challenging to describe.

It too was green, a stew of sorts, the spinach sharing its space with chickpeas and when mixed with the rice and accompanying flat bread, gave us at least a meal for the evening.

Their names however… no idea (subsequent research on Google suggests the stew was likely a version of Khoresht Esfenaj and Aloo)!

In case you hadn’t picked up on the absurdity of our beverage (a beer in a country where alcohol is illegal), let me assuage your fears.

It was a Russian brand (Baltika), and had an alcoholic content of zero percent… and it actually tasted a lot better than some light beers we’ve had!

When morning came, it was a dull one.

A blanket of mono tonal light grey added to the flat feeling for a cold day.

Still, we had business to attend to before we departed and if we thought the previous afternoon had felt quiet, today, Kashan was almost lifeless!

In fairness, it was a Friday, the only day that equates to what we would call the weekend in the country (Friday being the Muslim day of prayer), so it was always going to be quiet, however the drab day certainly accentuated the feeling.

Clutching our tickets from the previous day, this neighbourhood felt a little more… crumbly? As in more of the walls looked ready to tumble at any time.

Still, it wasn’t long before we were at Borujerdi house, keen to see one more example of these once opulent homes before we continued on our journey.

This one was apparently (according to the signage) built back in the 1850’s and standing in its courtyard, felt even more austere than Tabatabaei which we’d visited the day before.

I’ve no doubt overcast skies again played a part in that impression.

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The Borujerdi House courtyard (left) & Stunning mosaic, paint and plasterwork (right)

Today we were never going to get the amazing colours we’d savoured the previous day, as this morning, for the sun it seemed an effort to simply illuminate the day, let alone stream through perfectly placed stained glass.

Still, Borujerdi was not without colour and beauty of its own.

Even more ornate plasterwork, beautifully detailed (and even colourful) painting, carved wooden details and intricate ceiling details

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Stared down by toy soldiers…

It was certainly deserving of the visit and I’m sure the images perform far better than my jumbled words in trying to illustrate the beauty that was this (and indeed the Tabatabaei) house.

We were not long shy of our scheduled departure time, our days travel set to take us back to Tehran and beyond, but there was time yet to re-visit the bustling bazaar.

Only today, unsurprisingly, bustling it was not.

Eerie, cool, empty… bizarre.

But for one lone stall holder doing a large stocktake (or perhaps cleanout) and several black cats that loitered, everything else was shuttered.

To even get one last peek at the Aminoddole caravanserai required some creative camerawork through a small hole in the locked, heavy door.

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Empty: How bizarre (left) & The light well doing what it does best (right)

A short while later, as a local man stomped upon a large sack of stale flatbread, we sat aboard a bus for the four hundred odd kilometre journey ahead that would see us travel via the capital and on to the city of Qazvin, capital of the province of the same name (I’m not certain, but I would be surprised if it gets more tourists per year than Kashan).

 

Notes:

* A bus from Esfahan to Kashan set us back 110,000.00 Rials per person.

* 150,000 Rials got us entry into both Tabatabaei and Borujerdi historical houses.

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