Quite A Drop

Trip Start Feb 04, 2007
Trip End Mar 09, 2008

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Flag of Iran  ,
Monday, October 22, 2007

We had to tear ourselves away from Esfahan - the nature of the place would have made it easy to linger four or five more days with new sights to see and people to meet. We should have followed our instincts to linger.
The drawcard for Shiraz is the Persian ruin of Persepolis where first Darius and later Xerxes built a ceremonial and monumental city. The negatives for Shiraz are, I hate to admit, everything else.
Shiraz is something of a hole. But so is Tehran, yet Tehran retains a certain rumbling charm courtesy of easygoing people and some good hoteliers and food options. Shiraz layers sharkish taxi drivers, a mixed bag of food, and hotels that require renovation in order to earn the accolade of being labelled merely decrepit. The reception seemed so ordinary that we found ourselves continually asking one another whether we were still in Iran - an accolade to the rest of the country but a real indictment for Shiraz.
We would have been easily in and out of this place in a day and a half but for Claude cementing a solid cold and me going out in sympathy with a poor dinner decision. Never one to bear sickness with a martyr's silence, I was all the more vocal as this hotel was a Claude selection sans Western toilet. And as the stew commenced a battle with my innards which it won convincingly the hotel evaluation process was subject to repeated reexamination.
What stings me was that it wasn't all worth it in the end. Somehow the ingredients are all there for a grand sight at Persepolis - a good chunk of the ruin remains despite the site being pillaged for building materials by the locals until very recently. In preparation I had read a good wedge of Persian history too, so I even felt I had some context and era in which to place the visit.
Despite paying the little extra for the English language guide, it was hard to get down as to what function the city actually served. Our guide kept saying everything was very complex, and we would no doubt find wondrous books about it in the libraries of our home country. Beats the hell out of him was most of the buildings were for though... and he didn't seem curious enough that he would even find out for the next group.
The appended visit to the nearby tombs of Darius and Xerxes turned into the real highlight. They loom excellently over the surrounding country and are of a scale large enough to convey the power of their occupants. I really like the little detail whereby three tombs are basically identical but Darius' is minutely carved with text repeating all his achievements lest any future generation forget he was "the man". Indeed he was, so fair play to him.
So it is, onward to Yazd, hoping for a return to the Iran we had loved up to this point.
* * *

I had a few different methods of keeping my headscarf on.  In the beginning I wore a material headband and then the headscarf tightly plastered over the top to keep the whole unit secure.  After a short while this became too stifling so I stopped wearing the headband underneath.  Wearing the scarf on it's own wasn't really working either as it kept slipping off.  i tried to pin it in place once (when we attended the English class to ensure I looked trustworthy) but this was too suffocating.  In the end i stuck with the loose head wrap which 90% of the non-devout female iranian population wore - think i am going for a drive in a convertible on a windy day. Think, I wouldn't be wearing this if I wasn't being forced into it.  This was loose fitting, a little more comfortable but prone to falling off at the most inopportune moments.

Many times during my visit a stranger would approach me speaking enthusiastic and fast-paced Farsi.  I would turn and face them with a beaming smile, proclaiming a hearty "Salaam!".  They would smile and "salaam" me back and then continue with their tirade.  I would then look confused.  They would then walk off thinking I was crazy.  Iain would later saunter up to me informatively saying "your scarf has fallen off".   It sounds obvious but the combination of extremely friendly people, the inability of males to point to or touch my head/scarf and the language breakdown meant that this happened, embarrassingly, too many times. 

Shiraz was affected greatly by the fact that I was sick as a dog.  I somehow developed a bad cold on one of the buses heading over which meant that after dinner on evening one I headed to bed and crashed.  The room we stayed in (chosen by me) was the worst hotel we have stayed in for a while (hey, it was the best of a really substandard lot).  Team the dirtiness with the fact that the proprietor was trying to sell us a Persepolis tour every single time we walked past - you can see this was less than pleasant.

Even venturing outside to stock up on much needed tissues and fruit, I found the people were less friendly, more used to tourists and more inclined to rip you off (even despite the fact that you might leave the country with a poor impression of Iran).  I have since discovered that Shiraz is the single most visited city of Iran - so it is no surprise to see that the locals are a little more savvy and a lot less appreciative.

I forced myself out of bed to see Persepolis on day three but I think my general weariness and complainy state (I know this is not a word, but I'm sure Iain would beg to differ when describing me) meant that I was not awestruck.  It was interesting and our guide had some basic knowledge (which he read off photocopies) so all was good unless you had any actual questions.  Generally speaking I was suprised by just how ruined the ruins were.  It was difficult to gain an understanding of just how huge and impressive Persepolis once was.

On our final afternoon we wandered the few sights of Shiraz.  I was eager to visit the Shah Cheragh Mausoleum which I had heard was very impressive on the inside.  After finally locating it, we spent a moment taking in the impressive outside vista.  A man with a multi-coloured feather duster immediately approached us to tell us that we were not able to enter as we were not Muslim.  Many sights have restrictions at certain prayer times so I asked when we would be able to enter. "Never! Only for Muslims!" This was not true as we had spoken to other tourists who had visited the previous day and our guide books raved about this unmissable sight.

We thought we should abide by his ruling as he seemed to have a special seat at the front of the mosque and was turning away others while we were there.  Also, there were armed guards loitering.

On the way home, in angry rebellion, I chose to sing as loudly as I could down all the major streets while Iain walked a few embarrassed paces ahead of me astounded still further by my consistent inability to carry a tune.

In summary, Shiraz - skippable.
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