We left Hamadan around mid morning and began the drive to Kermanshah. Along the way, we were going to stop at Kangavar to see the Anahita Temple, Bostun to see some bas relief carvings and a site just outside Kermanshah to see Sassanian rock carvings dating form the 4th century A.D.
As we left Hamadan, we passed a number of fruit stands with men selling large orangey coloured fruit. Bahman had Hamid pull over and wait while he hopped out, made a purchase, stowed the fruit in the back and got back in the van. Uh Bahman what the heck did you just purchase? Bahman told me that the fruit was similar to a honeydew and that we would have it with tea. Yum! I love trying new fruit.
Anyway, as we continued our drive out of Hamadan we drove on a very, very wide and long stretch of asphalt. Bahman to me that Hamadan was a strategic location for the Iranian military during the Iran/Iraq war and the city was bombarded by Iraqi fighter jets. As a result, a large Iranian air force contingent was stationed in Hamadan during the war so the road was modified to permit Iranian fighter jets to land. It was a fascinating bit of history.
Another fascinating tidbit is that the vehicle we are riding in runs on CNG (compressed natural gas). In fact, most new Iranian vehicles run on CNG. According to Bahman, the government decided that vehicles should run on CNG because they are cleaner burning and better for the environment. Huh?! So one of the world’s top oil producers has turned its back on oil … oh the irony. I guess all the more “crack” for the rest of the oil dependent nations …. that is once the sanctions are lifted!
So the drive to Kangavar took us through more of the Zagros Mountains, which are believed to be as old as 350 million years and at one time were covered by the sea. The terrain was very dry and desert like with lots of scrub brush. The terrain kind of reminded me of the drive from Ellensberg to Yakima (for any of you NW residents). However, the winds were brutal. At one point we stopped for a tea break and I had to hold on to my head scarf and manteau because I thought they were going to be ripped right off me, which would have been a big problem – I really don’t want the morality police to arrest me…. I would not do well in prison!
We reached Kangavar shortly after 11 and visited the Anahita Temple before lunch. The temple dates back 2300 years and there is nothing left standing. The temple was most likely destroyed by an earthquake. Most of the ruins have not yet been excavated and what has been unearthed is mostly parts and pieces of columns. The site is massive and clearly would have rivaled the Parthenon in size. Bahman told me the temple was apparently a place to worship the ancient deity Anahita, the Indo-Iranian name for the god of water, In fact as we walked around the site, Bahman pointed out the locations where wells and fountains were likely located. It was a fascinating walk through an ancient, historical site. Another one of “my kind of days”.
After the tour of the temple, we drove to a local restaurant and had what was becoming standard fair for lunch … grilled tomatoes, yogurt with shallots, bread, rice and chicken kababs. The restaurant, like all of the restaurants we had visited, was family run, but the gentleman in charge appeared to be very, very old. Bahman told me the proprietor had lost his son in a car accident so I presumed there was no one (ie a man) to take over the family business. I felt very sorry for the elderly gentleman. He looked like a very sad man.
After lunch we drove on to Bisotun. As we drove, we passed a number of men walking by the side of the road. At one point, we passed a large group of men walking and some were carrying flags. My first thought was a demonstration, but then I remembered where I was. I asked Bahman about it and he told me that the men were Shia Muslims on a pilgrimage to Karbala (Irag), which is home to the Imam Hussein shrine where Hussein ibn Ali was martyred. Shias believe that after the death of the Prophet Mohammad, there were 12 descendents of the Prophet, including Imam Hussein. Shias annually commemorate the death of each descendent. As a result, Karbala is considered sacred by all Shias. (The Muslim faith is divided into Sunni and Shia branches. The majority of the Arab world are Sunnis while Iran and Iraq are primarily Shia.)
As we continued on to Bisotun the wind really picked up and as we neared the mountain location we were going to visit for the bas relief carvings, the sky became quite brown. Uh oh … sand storm. Sure enough as we reached the entrance to the site, the wind was at a gale force and the sand swirled around. It was difficult to see anything. We ended up sitting in the car for about 15 minutes while we watched the storm pass by. As we sat, you could hear the sand hitting the car making a noise that reminded me of sleet hitting the car. Outside we could see people running for cover. One young man took shelter near the entrance building. I urged Bahman to let him in our car, but when we asked him if he wanted inside, he politely declined. Apparently he was a site guard and had to stay outside. Yikes.
Once the storm finally passed, Bahman and I walked a few hundred yards to the first carving in a still pretty stiff wind. There was also the remnants of sand in the air. Anyway, the first carving we reached wasn’t a true bas relief carving (ie small designs and figures cut of of stone), the carving was actually a miniature Hercules statute dating to 148 BC, although the head of the figure had apparently been replaced.
The bas relief carvings we came to see were up the hillside and although difficult to see from the ground, can be viewed through binoculars. Unfortunately, the carvings appeared to be under repair because the site was surrounded by scaffolding and tarps. Damn … it made it impossible to see the carvings which apparently featured Darius killing a group of chained traitors while a winged Zoroastrian angel hovers overhead. The carvings date to 521 BC and include a myriad of carved inscriptions in the “lost languages” of Elamite, Akkadian and Old Persian. Oh well … the scaffolding looked nice … and I did get to see a picture of the carving at the entrance booth….
We got back in the van (while I continued to taste sand) and drove on to the last site of the day …. the Tagh-e-Bostan, which featured Sassanian rock carvings from the 4th century AD. As we drove, we passed a caravanserai (a building that was used as a resting point on the ancient silk road trading routes), which was located in front of the flat Farhad Tarash rock face that is said to be the most popular climbing destination in Iran. Apparently it was artificially smoothed in the 7th century for an inscription that Khosrow II (former Sassanian King) wanted to place on the rocks, but he never got around to it.
The Sassanian rock carvings were really quite spectacular and were built into the side of a cliff. There were three carvings. The first was carved into the rock face and featured Shah Ardashir II trampling his enemy and receiving a crown from a Zoroastrian god while Mithras approaches with a sabre.
The second and third carvings were constructed in alcoves with the first featuring hunting scenes on the side walls and the coronation of King Khosrow II in full armor and the second featuring King Shapur II and King Shapur III having a chat. The first carving in the alcove still had remnants of the original colours and was really quite beautiful. Now that I had seen the site, I could understand why UNESCO had classified it as a world heritage site.
The site also featured a number of stone carvings, ancient pottery and remnants of columns that had been excavated from the area. I wandered around for a bit before Bahman and I decided we need an ice cream break. I had some kind of a caramel/vanilla ice cream treat on a stick and it definitely helped in the heat.
We wandered back to the van and drove on from the site to our hotel. As we drove through Kermanshah, I noticed that the style of dress being worn by the women walking about was much, much more conservative in this part of the country. Whereas in Tehran and even Hamadan, most women wore a manteau and head scarf, in Kermanshah the women seemed to only wear a chador (the full length black cloak). Bahman confirmed to me that the area was much more conservative than Tehran and Hamadan. Glad to see my powers of observation are still working.
The hotel where we were staying for the night was brand new and absolutely beautiful. My room was gorgeous with a flat screen T.V. (although I have yet to watch any television since I left Seattle and the streak continued in this hotel), queen size bed and large walk in shower. My kind of place.
After catching up on some blogging, I met Bahman for dinner downstairs. I ended up ordering grilled trout that had been cooked with saffron. The fish was served with grilled vegetables and the requisite soup and salad. (I continue to eat my way through Iran.)
I got a good 8 hours of sleep and was ready for our very long drive to Ahwaz (about 360 miles south) the next day. I was both excited and anxious about this portion of the trip. Excited because of the chance to visit Shush (Susa) and the Chogha Zanbil temple and nervous because Bahman had advised me the temperature in Ahwaz was 38 celsius and 100% humidity. I had no idea how I was going to survive the heat and humidity with all the clothing I had on.
Anyway, I headed downstairs to breakfast and as I walked in I noticed that the wrestlers had taken over the restaurant. I had learned the previous evening that the hotel was hosting a number of Iranian wrestlers who were in town for a wrestling competition (the second most popular sport in Iran behind soccer aka football). So with all the males taking up residence in the hotel, it did not surprise me that when I walked in for breakfast I was the only female in the room. Now I’m a pretty confident person, but I nevertheless felt pretty uncomfortable as everyone turned to stare at me. I looked around a bit desperately for Bahman, but he had not made an appearance so I grabbed some breakfast from the buffet and tried to look invisible at a table in the corner. That was a little tough though when you are the only person in the room with blue eyes who is covered from head to toe in fabric.
I ate very quickly, and after having some tea with Bahman (who arrived just as I was leaving), I went downstairs and stood outside the hotel to put some space between me and all that testosterone. There wasn’t a cloud to be seen as I walked out into the entrance courtyard and the air was lovely and cool. As an aside, both Hamdan and Kermanshah are mountainous cities with Hamadan having an elevation of 6,069 feet and Kermanshah having an elevation of 4,327 feet. As a result, the temperatures were manageable and the air fresh.
Anyway, while I was standing outside waiting to leave, I was approached by one of the wrestlers. He was a 20 something young man. He smiled and said hello. He clearly wanted to speak to me, but was obviously nervous. I asked him a couple questions, but he did not seem to understand. He disappeared and minutes later he was back with a sidekick. The young man’s buddy had a better command of English and began asking me questions about where I was from etc. After some chit chat, the boys finally asked the question …. can we have a picture. Bahman had by now appeared on the scene and he took the boys’ cell phones and snapped a couple photos. They both smiled, thanked me and said their goodbyes. And so it continues…. As I said before, if you want to feel like a rockstar come to Iran! Next stop Ahwaz.