Go Around The World

Iran Part 2 – Behind Closed Doors



Kashan was not on our list before but recommended to us by Hadi. To go south was even planned a few weeks later since we expected to get a ferry to Dubai or find another solution to reach India without taking a plane. But unfortunately it turned out there was no way (at least no affordable one) to go further overland for us (we will make another post about that issue). Additionally we found out, that it was already super hot in the south (mid May) and just getting hotter every day.

As a result we planned to head south first and after a 3 hours drive on half way between Tehran and Esfahan we reached Kashan. It is an oasis City with around 275.000 inhabitants on the road crossing the desert from Qom to Kerman, famous for spices and especially rosewater, which is produced in the nearby villages at this time of the year. Lots of domestic tourists come for this event, while international  ones seem to be more interested in the preserved traditional architecture in the old center of the city. We found a nice hostel with a reasonable price (27€ per room, per night – with shared bathroom, including breakfast) called “The Noghli House” just in the middle of the labyrinth like alleys. The whole place, including the neighbouring “Doost House”, is held completely in traditional style, has lovely staff and a nice rooftop cafe.

Random  Fact:
Although Kashan seems to be not a really important city today, it has a very long history of human settlement and even was an important center of pre historic civilisation. The oldest findings of houses and the still standing “Tepe Sialk” are around 9000 years old.

If you are now wondering about the “reasonable price” you are right. But since transport and food is really cheap in Iran, accommodation is quite expensive. It is nearly impossible to find rooms for less than 20€ in a cheap guesthouse and sometimes you won´t even find one of them, but hotels with even higher prices. Actually the generosity of Iranian people made it possible for us to stay in cities, since this is far from our budget.

Our time there was super relaxed and we had lots of fun with the staff. Nearly all of them were musicians in a way, especially playing the “Tar“. Also wandering around in the old alleys in the center enjoying a very special and quite atmosphere was a good thing to do. Around there you could never imagine you are in a big city, it felt much more like a village. Also Walking in the Bazaar was nice even on friday, since it was very interesting to see all the fixing works and the emptiness in this old but breathtaking architecture felt magic.

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After it was clear for us that we had to move on to Esfahan, since we had a couchsurfing host there and we could not afford this for longer we were invited by one of the guys we were hanging out with, to stay in his home. What we would find behind the closed doors of his home was really unexpected and just felt like a parallel world. An appartement just like in europe but with a much bigger fridge. Alina and me were finally free to dress in any way we wanted, and all that supported from the cold air of the aircondition – there couldn´t be a bigger difference from outside. Before we left Kashan to Esfahan, where our closed door experiences were even intensified, we visited “Fin Garden – Bagh-e Fin“. It is one of the most famous, typical persian gardens, rebuild in the 17th century while they say its roots are around 7000 years old. It was nice to see but very busy with tourists and even the water and the trees struggled to beat the incredible heat at noon.

Random Fact:

Entrance fees for touristic sites are 200.000 Rial (remember – 20.000 Tuman – ca. 5€) in nearly every case. Sometimes this feels strange, since a small traditional house costs the same like huge attractions like Persepolis. Also that’s the reason we skipped many attractions on the way to the astonishment of several people, since you have to carefully choose if you travel the world on a small budget.

While there were at least some lonely farms on the way from Tehran to Kashan, as we headed further down south the typical desert landscape intensified. The abandoned houses and dried out farms, just as lonely as this triste roadside playground, felt like tiny Islands in a big, big emptiness.

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Esfahan is a 2 million people city in central Iran, situated on 1500m altitude in the lush plain of “Zayanderud” river. It is famous for its beautiful architecture and green spaces, especially along the “Rud” river which reminds on the time when Esfahan was the Iranian capital during the “Safavid dynasty” in 16th and 17th century. Despite its size it feels very calm, relaxed and friendly – a bit different from many Iranians opinion we found out. But especially at night you can experience an extraordinary atmosphere, meeting all the people gathering along the river, singing old songs along the shore. The “Khaju bridge” is even famous for that and every night crowds of men stream to there, meeting up for singing together.

Random Fact:

After some liberalization measures in the 1990s music is not completely banned in Iran, although it is still controlled and partly restricted. While you will never visit a Pop concert here, music in the family and some carfully chosen genres of music are tolerated. Women  nevertheless, are just not meant to sing anywhere.

Another famous, 300m long and 400 years old bridge is Si-o-seh pol (meaning: The bridge of thirty-three spans), especially beautiful when “rud” river has water, while it struggles with seasonal dry outs in recent years due to over usage and climate change. We were certainly lucky with that how you can see on our various photos. Naqsh-e Jahan square and its surrounding bazaar aswell as the two famous mosques Shah Mosque and Sheikh Lotf Allah Mosque, the first famous for its size and architecture the second for its sheer beauty, is probably the most adorable human made place in iran. If you come after 7 you can sneak in and see at least the inner Yard of the Shah mosque for free. But probably it is worth to visit them both during the day if you can afford it. Th surrounding Bazaar is also very interesting and full of metal handicrafts and spices. Even we found a small good restaurant, which was eager to give us nearly 50% discount and free Drinks after we told them that the prices are to high for us, although it was well frequented.

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Staying in Esfahan was just adorable, also because of our lovely host, with whom we enjoyed a lot of time behind the closed doors. We also did a little sight-seeing with him, but it wasn´t as far as interesting. Especially the highly promoted “Shaking Minarettes” were quite different from what we had expected. The guy shaking them from inside, looks a bit like he is in the middle of some sexual act, which still makes it a rare and funny, unforgettable experience. Also to see the birds tower which is used to feed birds and collect the Guano fertilizer underneath, as well as the Zoroastrian fire temple from really ancient pre islamic times was interesting to see but both were unfortunately not possible to enter.

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We met many of our hosts friends as well, reaching from young people who´s biggest dream was to escape their restricted world until persian patriotists. We could also feel, how the strict rules in this religious society affected people everyday life. Filtered Internet is just the tip of the iceberg, while it went so far as couples had to leave the house separated, since any relationships before marriage are forbidden. Also couchsurfing is restricted as long you don’t get a special permit for it. As a result we also had to sneak in as good as possible. After Ramadan started it got even more crazy. Even for us, and especially for Alina, smoking on the road was now a bigger risk…

Random Fact:

Punishments in Iran are somehow brutal with an ancient touch. It is hard to combine all the different stories we´ve heard so don´t take it as a total truth but for drinking alcohol in public you can get something like 50-60 whip lashes and dig 14 graves afterwards. If you just break fasting during Ramadan in public you will have to eat 5kg of raw onions and get a few whip lashes on top as well. Serious criminals are also hanged in public sometimes. Still, if you´re a tourist you might get away with a fine in many cases.

Besides all of that alcohol, mostly homemade, was widely spread behind closed doors and in many cases not the only forbidden thing found there. In the evenings we had nice gatherings, with lots of talking, drinking and smoking, always with the heavy punishments in the back of ones mind. Or, watching this little girl on Youtube (only via VPN Connection of course), singing  in an incredible way behind her own closed door, knowing that she will most probably never get a Pop star. This world nearly felt impossible to combine with the outside one and the feeling of getting close to these people being imprisoned in their own land with all there dreams and wishes, was really intense. After a few days i stopped wondering why people throw credit cards in wishing wells in this Country.

Wish well in Fin Garden

2 thoughts on “Iran Part 2 – Behind Closed Doors

  1. Johanna und Thomas

    Euer Bericht und die Bilder – sehr bewegend! Wir wünschen Euch weiterhin viele fruchtbare,
    bereichernde Begegnungen mit den Menschen der Gegenden, wo Ihr Euch gerade aufhält. Wunderbar, was Ihr erlebt! Schön, dass Ihr es teilt!

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