Border crossing, Bandar Abbas and Evaz
Border crossing into Iran
Shortly after breakfast, we arrived in Bandar Abbas and another interesting immigration process began. More precise… their import process for the car was far from straight forward. The security guy that had ‘held us safe and happy’ during the process of immigration, had fixed us up with a fixer for the car. However, we had also received the name of a fixer from the shipping company. We had decided to go with him and our new Indian friend had negotiated a very fair price for both of our cars…
About four hours later, when we had all papers, copies and stamps, it turned out the guy had ‘misunderstood’ the Roman 2 for an Arabic 9. In other words, a $70 difference in the agreed fee…he accepted his mistake (as he wrote $50 in Roman to start with...) and we left the port area.
By the time we arrived in the city centre, all shops and banks had closed for the midday break (from 13.00 to 17.00). We parted from our Indian friends (who wanted to get out of Iran as fast as possible to escape Ramadan and the hot weather. They would return for an extensive visit after their tour through Europe). We however decided to have a late lunch and waited for the shops to open again to get cash, sim-card and car insurance. Getting the cash and sim card went easy, finding the company that had sold other overlanders their car insurance was a different story… During our search we arrived at a mall, where we walked over to the coffee shop, as most times some speaks English there. We were directed to Ahmed, the owner and manager of the brand new local cinema. As he had lived his youth in U.A.E. and had studied in Hungry, he was about the only person in the mall that spoke fluent English. He brought us to the insurance shop and offered his help to get the insurance sorted out and we gladly accepted as Farsi is not a language we speak fluently… After about 45 minutes it turned out that we would not be able to leave with an insurance that early evening as all main offices had closed for the day.
When we explained Ahmed that we intended to stay at the beach just out side of Bandar, he offered us to stay with him… how could we not accept that! We had really nice evening with him and we learnt a lot about the Iranian customs and history and also took his advice to alter our route through Iran…as the weather (heat) in Bam and Kerman is unbearable at the moment.
After picking up our car insurance in the morning, we said goodbye to Ahmed and headed in the direction of Shiraz (in stead of Bam). He had offered that if we were to get to Evaz, his home town, to give him a call and he would arrange a stay with his parents in law. And so it happened…we were welcomed as close friends into their home, were shown the local museum of Anthropology, had a tour around the city and a nice outdoor dinner at the local boulevard surrounded with about fifty other families doing the same.
During the museum visit, to our big surprise, Ahmed’s wife and son (whom we thought were in Dubai) walked in as well. The museum was located in the old centre, in a hundred years old (luxurious) house. The next morning Amin offered to show us the (ancient) water system Ab-Anbar, that can be found through out town and in the surrounding valleys and mountains. During our drive he also showed the school of his wife and kids (the 29th of Iran), the cemetery (including the victims of the flight 655, that was -accidentally- taken down by the Americans 3 July 1988), the three (!) universities and his pride; his current building project of a luxury apartment block.
It was an incredible experience that ended with a traditional dish for lunch that would normally be served at weddings. If hospitality has not been invented in Iran, it has certainly been perfected here; what a great start of our tour through Iran.
Back in tourist mode; Shiraz
Although we had seen several ‘tourists’ in the malls of Dubai, it became more than clear that we had entered the more popular tourist destinations again… Shiraz is already a buzzing city from itself, but add the hundreds of tourists around the hotels and must sees (agreed, it was far from crowded, but still…), we could not ignore we had truly liked the quietness of the last couple of months.
We arrived in Shiraz just after sunset and headed for the Hotel where we wanted to stay for the coming 2 nights. After a bit of manoeuvring, we were able to get the car onto their car park (on the edge of the old town) and ready to check in.
In the morning we went to Vakil bazaar, Pars museum, Vakil Bath, Vakil Mosque and the citadel.
Vakil Bazaar is Shiraz’s main market place and home to hundreds of shops and stalls. Satisfyingly labyrinthine, the bazaar is the place for buying rugs, spices, jewellery, and household goods. Where we came across various courtyards and caravanserais. The bazaar is made of bricks, limestone and chalk. The foundation of the bazaar is made up of huge stones and solid rock. Few traditional bazaars in Iran have been built with such beauty and precision, on such a solid foundation. The roof of the bazaar is very high, and it is covered with beautiful tiles, ceramics and brick. The different parts of the bazaar have got their own special names, depending on the type of trade and the type of goods sold in that portion of the bazaar. For us the nicest place of the bazaar was Seray-e-Moshir, a beautiful caravanserai.
The citadel (or ‘Arg’ in Persian) was built in the 18th century by the founder of the Zand dynasty, Karim Khan. Having made Shiraz his capital, the citadel was one of Karim Khan’s many ambitious construction projects in the city. Lofty and rectangular, the fortress features four circular towers (which were historically used as prisons), and is more unusual on the inside than the outside. One of the towers has a noticeable lean, having subsided onto the bathhouse underneath. The bathhouse is the nicest part of the interior of the citadel.
On our way back to the hotel we visited Vakil Bath and Vakil Mosque. Vakil means regent, which was the title used by Karim Khan, the founder of Zand Dynasty. Vakil Bath is an old public bath in Shiraz and was a part of the royal district constructed during Karim Khan’s reign, which also included Arg of Karim Khan, Vakil Bazaar, Vakil Mosque and many more administrative buildings. During the time of its construction, 18th century, private baths in homes were rare and going to this bath was considered a royal treatment. It is now a small museum, so that one can get a feel for the bathing process. Vakil Mosque was built between 1751 and 1773, during the Zand period and it was restored in the 19th century. The mosque covers an area of more than eight thousand square meters. It has only two iwans instead of the usual four, on the northern and southern sides of a large open court. The iwans and court are decorated with typical Shirazi haft rangi tiles, a characteristic feature of the art and industry of Shiraz during the latter half of the 18th century.
The next morning we continued our tour of Shiraz with a visit to The Shah-e Cheragh (‘King of Light’) mausoleum is the picturesque resting place of two of the martyred brothers of Ali Reza, the 8th Shia Imam. Although killed in the 9th century, the present-day burial site has been considerably developed since the Qajar era. The central courtyard has a fountain at its centre, and the shrine features characteristically Iranian, intricate blue tile work and a dazzling mirrored interior, making it one of the prettiest mosques in Shiraz. Non-Moslims were not allowed to visit the inside of the mausoleum, so after a walk around the main square we left and headed to Eram garden.
Shiraz is famed for its cultivation of fine gardens, and Eram is arguably the model par excellence. Eram falls within Shiraz University’s botanical gardens, and is replete with cypress trees, trimmed hedges, and rosebushes. At its centre is a small pool and a splendid Qajar-era palace, but unfortunately it is closed to the public. After a nice cool walk in the shades of the large cypress trees we drove to Quran gate. The Gate was first built during the reign of Adud al-Dawla (936-983 AD). By the time of the Zand dynasty, it had sustained a lot of damage, so it was restored and a small room on top was added, in which hand-written Qurans were kept by Sultan Ibrahim Bin Shahrukh Gurekani. It is believed that travellers passing underneath the gates received the blessing of the Holy Book as they began their trip or journey from Shiraz. When we visited the Quran gate was also being restored, making the pictures less attractive.
Our last stop was the Hafez tomb in a well-kept garden in northeast of town.
Hafez is arguably the most loved and respected poet in the vast canon of Persian literature and he is considered the master of the ghazal (a short, amorous, rhyming poem). Iranians from all ages can quote his verses on demand.
After our visit of Hafez tomb we left Shiraz and arrived at the ancient site Persepolis end of the afternoon. Even though it was still very hot we decided to visit the site that afternoon. So we filled our water bottles, put sunscreen on and walked up the entrance stairway to reach the top terrace. The construction of this dual stairway, known as the Persepolitan stairway, was built in a symmetrical manner on the western side of the Great Hall. The 111 steps were 6,9 metres wide and rises of 10 centimetres. Originally the steps were believed to have been constructed this way to allow for nobles and royalty to ascend by horseback. New theories suggest that this was to allow visiting dignitaries to, in fact, walk up the stairs while keeping a regal appearance, permissible by the ease in which the stairs could be climbed due to the small distance between each step. Whenever important foreign delegations arrived, their presence was heralded by trumpeters at the top of the staircase.
Persepolis, literally meaning "city of Persians", was the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (ca. 550–330 BCE). Archaeological evidence shows that the earliest remains of Persepolis date back to 515 BC. It was Darius I who built the terrace and the great palaces and his work was continued by his son Xeres.
Persepolias was destroyed by Alexander the Great when he set it on the fire. Actually when Alexander the Great arrived at Persepolis it was the jewel of Persia and, when he left, it was a ruin whose spot would be known for generations only as "the palace of the forty columns" for the remaining palace columns left standing in the sand. It took him 3000 camels and donkeys to carry the gold and silver he robed from Persepolis.
On the top terrace we visited three main structures; Gate of all Nations, Apadana Palace, and Throne Hall.
Gate of all Nations
The Gate of All Nations (also the waiting Palace/The Xerxes's Palace) is one of the palaces in the Persepolis located directly after the entrance stairway. This gate was not on Darius the Great's initial plan for Persepolis but was added by his son and successor, Xerxes. The reason it was called the Nations Palace was that different people from different countries entered the hall and then moved on to the other places in Persepolis, and it was a sort of waiting room.
Darius I built the greatest palace at Persepolis on the western side. This palace was called the Apadana. The King of Kings used it for official audiences. The work began in 515 BC and his son Xerxes I completed it 30 years later. The palace had a grand hall in the shape of a square, each side 60 metres long with seventy-two columns, thirteen of which still stand on the enormous platform. Each column is 19 metres high with a square Taurus and plinth. The columns carried the weight of the vast and heavy ceiling.
Next to the Apadana, second largest building of the Terrace and the final edifices, is the Throne Hall, also called the "Hundred-Columns Palace". This 70x70 square meter hall was started by Xerxes and completed by his son Artaxerxes I by the end of the fifth century BC. In the beginning of Xerxes's reign, the Throne Hall was used mainly for receptions of military commanders and representatives of all the subject nations of the empire. Later the Throne Hall served as an imperial museum.
There are also two tombs carved into the mountain, just behind Persepolis. We visited one of those tombs and it belonged to Artaxerxes II.
After that we went back to the parking and it was still very hot…what to do… Next to Persepolis is the Adapana hotel, built by the last Shah of Iran in 1953 and after being closed for many, many years it finally reopened it’s doors again. So, we gave it a try and were able to negotiate a good rate for a double room with aircon.