After our beautiful time in Esfahan we went further south to Shiraz – a 1,5 million people city in the former core area of the Achaemenian Persia. We arrived there early in the morning and thought it would be the best to go to one of the main attractions directly – the Nasir-ol-Molk mosque – since the morning light is essential to see the beautiful colored light inside the mosque.
Considering the strict islamic laws ruling the city today nobody would think that despite all of that, the oldest findings of wine were discovered here (approx. 7000 years old). But that´s only one thing which indicates to the rich and long history of this area.
While we were waiting for the gates to open some other tourists, especially from China, were tumbling in as well. When the mosque opened it felt a little bit like in the asian big city subway, while people rushed in to get the best spots to take photographs. We were quite annoyed by the multiple photo sessions going on, blocking half the place for hours. At least we could get some good pics after quite a while and must admit it’s really a beautiful collection of glass windows.
When we came out again the heat was already challenging us (even if Shiraz is said to have a quite mild climate because of its 1500m altitude) and when we were walking through town with all luggage on our backs Alina even started to get sick. After some time she stayed in a shady place and took a nap while I was going further to change money and tried to figure out how to get to our actual destination. We found a couchsurfing host in a village nearby, called Ghalat. Yet we had no idea what was waiting for us there.
Shiraz was invaded several times over the centuries.Thanks to good local politics and diplomacy it was mostly spared from destruction and is well-preserved in many parts.
We took a bus from the fort in the city center, changing one time to get to the newer part of Ghalat. We met a european girl there, which was surprisingly speaking Farsi, which asked us why we are here and where we planned to go. She was quite shocked when she figured out that we actually had no idea about the reputation of the place. When we started walking into the old village up hill the traditional mud houses turned up and just made a beautiful Picture with the small oasis along the stream originating from the big rocky mountain ascending behind the village. It was difficult to find the house of our host but after some communication and the generosity of a passing pick-up truck offering us a ride we finally found Nazi´s guesthouse. First we were shocked since we thought it is just another guy trying to make money through Couch Surfing but it turned out lovely and we could stay free of costs. A nice elderly woman gave us a room and drinks and while Alina tried to recover I started to look around the place finding a bunch of proper iranian Hippies hanging out here. Jam-sessions were omnipresent as well as the one or another exhilarating substance. It was such a surreal place, while realizing being in Iran. People were extremely relaxed and easy. Society rules and police seemed completely absent. You could meet iranian fulltime travellers as well as young people from Shiraz enjoying their free time in the various cafes and restaurants or making a barbecue and smoking shisha along the river.
Ghalat originally had a long tradition in wine making, but farmers started to grow Cannabis recently since serious droughts destroyed the grape harvests. It is now getting famous for that in most of the country, called Irans “little Amsterdam” or “Shiraz Vegas”. Besides the peaceful atmosphere we experienced while being there, clashes with officials are happening from time to time, even with dead.
We took Ghalat as a base for a few days and also went to the historical sites of Naqsh-e Rustam, Naqsh-e Rajab and finally Persepolis. Naqsh-e Rustam is an ancient necropolis dominated by four big tombs cut into the cliffs. since one is clearly the tomb of Dariusz the Great (522-486 BC) the other three are believed to be the tombs of Xerxes I (486-465 BC), Artaxerxes I (465-424 BC), and Darius II (423-404 BC).
The reliefs below the tombs are actually much younger – from the Sassanid period. It is said that the kings in that time were not even sure who made the tombs originally but just used the place to improve their reputation. The nearby, similar reliefs of Naqsh-e Rajab are worth seeing but not really impressive compared to the tombs and what we visited next.
Persepolis has still a very impressive appearance. Even the few remains of the former completely destroyed pearl of Persia can give you a hint of how spectacular this place must have been especially for people used to the world 3500 years ago. The city was destroyed by a fire after the invasion of the troops of Alexander the great in 330 BC who allowed his men to loot the place. Since Alexander was quite diplomatic in general and did usually not destroy the places he conquered, it is not clear if the following destruction due to a fire was an accident or the revenge for the destruction of the Acropolis while the second persian invasion by Xerxes I.
We were quite surprised when they started to close the place at around 6:30 since we came purposely for sunset… It was not to bad since we met two guys being amazing Rammstein singers and really fun. It went so far that we cancelled our taxi and invited them to stay with us in Ghalat since they never heard about the place and we really wanted to show it to them. After an incredibly funny night they gave us a free ride to Esfahan on the next day and so we had a really nice and funny road trip together.
Since we were already on the way north again we decided to change our plans drastically. The heat in Kerman – our next planned Destination – was already climbing to around 50 degrees and since we were struggling already with 40 degrees and our plan was to camp in the desert we just admitted that we need to come back for that another time of the year. So we met our friends in Esfahan again, stayed a few days and then met up with our friends in Kashan to spend a night in the desert together.
The night was awesome, having one of the most serious chicken barbecues ever and waiting for the sunrise is just as amazing as it sounds. Also there we spend some more days and enjoyed time with the people around us.
Our final Destination was the green North of Iran. We catched a bus directly from Kashan and reached Rascht on the same day. Also here we found a couchsurfing host which is actually bartender but since he was just searching a job at the time he could spend a lot of time with us. We went to some nice cafes in Rascht which seems to be famous for that and its many restaurants. We also met his friend and had hilariously surprising moment when he suddenly pulled out this shirt…
The next day we went together to the famous town called Masuleh in the nearby mountains. Driving around in the lush green forest and rice field covered landscape feels much more like south-east Asia.
Our friend dropped us close to Rudkhan castle for camping as well, but since there was public holidays it was incredibly crowded. We decided to stay far down in the forest nearby the road and climb the mountain in the morning. Camping in the forest was nice but we were shocked by all the rubbish brought from the domestic tourists doing their barbecues along the river. Even some people were having parties with electronic music through the night on a nearby car park.
The climb on the next day was hard but nice and the dense green forests felt really unusual after all that weeks in the desert. Unfortunately after all the countless steps in the wet heat we had to accept that also the castle had public holidays and was therefore closed. Despite the hundreds of people walking up nobody found it necessary to inform anybody about that. The Iranians did not seem to care and had a dancing competition going on in front of the gate.
On top we also made friends with a lovely iranian couple, with whom we went down, had lunch together and had really long and interesting talks. They even gave us a ride until the next town and organized us a taxi to come back to Rascht. From there we got again a ride from a complete stranger, who brought us to our friends home (just to remind you how awesome the people are) On the next day we made a tour to the Caspian sea, to finally touch the water of that one as well. Unfortunately swimming there is not really enjoyable since men and women are separated by blue plastic walls and dress codes are surveillance by the police driving around on the beach. Even we got a small encounter with them. When Alina was just about to light a cigarette the police was already driving behind us (on the beach!). Luckily, because of friendliness and negotiations, we could escape the fine.
I had really long, deep and political talks with our host the last nights, which made it even harder to leave. But in the end we had to leave back to Tehran, to get our flight to Delhi (breaking our overland plans 🙁 ). Due to the collective sorrow about the death of Ruholla Chomeini in these days we left between black flags and interesting posters, headed back to our lovely friend Hadi in Tehran, packed all our stuff, ate some delicious iranian food and sweets for the last time and went into the air. I am still thinking about this lovely country, being imprisoned by his own and militarised to the teeth and just hope, they will be freed by their own and never have to use their scary military power.