Rasht, Mahsuleh, Takt-e-Soleiman

Rasht Travel Blog

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Hugh was discharged from Hospital with oral antibiotics. He was so much better than when we admitted him. The Paediatrician was so lovely. Both days on his rounds he had something for Hugh. The first day a lollypop and the next day some sort of Persian New Year trinket. He was also very helpful in writing a report for our travel insurance. He definitely got excellent care there. We checked out of our hotel in Tehran and started our drive north to the city of Rasht. The next day was the first day of Persian New Year. Instead of midnight for our new year, their’s started at the bright and early time of 9:20am.
There were many Iranians gathered in the foyer of our hotel watching a TV screen, and then suddenly applause broke out and they started doing the rounds of kissing each other. In a country where alcohol is forbidden, it was highly civilised and there was certainly no one stumbling around drunk or any raucous whoo hooos! The streets were a little quiet but soon the shops started opening and it was business as usual. We headed to the bazaar as I needed to get a more appropriate coat and headscarf. I was dying from the heat in the heavy winter coat I had brought from Australia and needed something much lighter. For the grand price of $20 I had myself a light weight black trenchcoat and then for another $4 a new lighter scarf. It was a lot more appropriate for the weather and looked a lot better too.
Iran is actually dirt cheap even with apparently high inflation. Can you believe that petrol is 10c per litre here?? H couldn’t believe it when I told him we pay $1.40 or more. However they have this stupid system of rationing the petrol to 3L per day per person in a vain attempt to reduce the amount of cars on the road. Anything over the 3L gets charged at the grand price of 50 cents per litre. This system doesn’t reduce the amount of cars. What it does is cause constant line ups at petrol stations (sometimes 1km long) as nobody will fill up their tank and almost every person who owns a car will go to the petrol station everyday to get their ration. Iranians are frustrated with this and think it’s a stupid system but that’s the way it is. Our stay in Rasht happened to coincide with the first day of Persian New Year and this is the day people have a celebration with their families.
In the afternoon we went to visit the village of Masuleh. This was just beautiful. It is a UNESCO World Heritage listed stepped village. The honey coloured stone houses and shops are set into a mountainside so steep that the roof of the house below is the walkway on the next level up the mountain. There were lots of tea shops with rug covered seating out on the terraces. There was a small bazaare and people selling Iranian sweets and trinkets. We didn’t see any other foreigners at all. There were a lot of great people watching opportunities. The next day we had a very long drive to the small town of Takab. We arrived in at around 9pm. Along the way we visited the town of Sultaniyeh (Town of the Sultans) which has a huge brick dome built in the early 1300s as a mausoleum to rehouse the body of an Iman who was the son-in-law for the Prophet Mohammed.
His body was presently in Iraq. If this had happened it would have been the holiest sight in Iran, however it didn’t happen as somebody suddenly decreed that it was forbidden to move the body, so the huge mausoleum was largely unused. It is now another UNESCO world heritage sight, intricately decorated on every spare surface inside and is quite attractive with a bright blue dome. However, it was covered in scaffolding. It has been under restoration for 10 years and counting and didn’t look like it would be finished any time soon. We continued on and Cameron reminded H that we needed to change some US dollars to the local currency. We had changed quite a bit in Tehran, however Hugh’s hospital stay all but wiped that out. Because of the New Year holidays, a lot of businesses are closed, including money changers (there aren’t that many foreigners that come to Iran anyway, and hardly any during the Persian New Year fortnight so it’s hardly worth their while to stay open).
H made lots of phone calls and finally said that he found someone that could change it for us. We drove around and around the town, frequently stopping and asking people walking along the road for directions. After about 45 minutes, we pulled up outside a fairly fancy house and some young guys came outside with a wad of money. I’m not sure how legal this mode of money changing is, but this is how it is mostly done as they rate is the same as what the banks give but there is less hassle. It would be another 2 hours to our hotel so we were keen to get moving, but the money changing dude knocked on the window of the car where I was sitting and said that they would really like us to come up for tea. It would be their honour and they would really like us to experience how Iranians celebrate the New Year.
Well, there was nothing else to say but yes, that would be lovely. They were obviously a very rich family, by the size and furnishings of the house. They insisted we sit in the prized place in the room which was a fancy tapestry covered sofa, while everyone else sat in seats against the walls around the room. An extended family gathering was taking place and we were offered fruit, chocolates, and tea. The guy who changed the money turned out to be a young electrical engineering graduate, however due to high unemployment he worked sporadically (since there aren’t that many tourists) as a guide. H had met him only once at one of the tourist sights and they had exchanged numbers in case either ever needed anything (like this situation). He had good English and kept saying, “Try the pistachios �" they’re delicious”.
“Try the cucumbers” . He was keen to know how he could come to Australia and study there, so we gave him the names of the Australian universities that we could think of. I kept thinking how expensive overseas student places are. His father turned out to be a wholesaler and they were obviously very rich in Iran, but I know the Australian Government makes a healthy profit out of these students and my impression was that they were $100,000 plus. His sisters were there, and they were smart girls too. One of them had just finished her degree in Chemical Engineering, but again, there are no jobs. Hugh was certainly making himself at home, putting whole pistachios in his mouth �" shell and all. I had to fish them out of his mouth, which I’m sure looked dignified.
Then he would put his entire hand in the pistachio bowl and send them everywhere. We were trying to stop him and make him display some manners, but these don’t exist in an 18 month old. We were worried about him making a mess on their very expensive looking Persian rugs. After about 20 minutes we expressed our thanks but said we really must get back on the road. The next day, the scenery and people became even more interesting. We were in northern Iran now and there were a lot of people of Turkish and Kurdish descents. They looked different, had their own languages and dressed very differently to Persians. Again, great people watching opportunities. We drove out to the sight of Takt e Soleiman (which means Throne of Soloman) This was a place I was really looking forward to visiting.
They are, using the LP’s words, windswept 3rd century ruins set in a high, lonely bowl of mountains surrounded by 1500 year old fortress walls, amid volcanic peaks and timeless mountain villages. The scenery was vast bare plains surrounded by snow capped mountains. It was spring, and the snow was melting but there was still a lot present. IT really felt like what I have seen places in Central Aisa to look like. There were hardly any trees and it was cold, and very windy. But so beautiful and to us, extremely exotic! It would be a harsh life living out there. This is yet another UNESCO World Heritage listed sight and was the spiritual centre of the Zoroastrian religion which was around before Islam arrived. These people worshipped fire, and the sight was built here as the elements of fire, earth, water and wind were all present.
In the middle of the complex there is a huge volcanic lake and gas from this allowed an eternal flame to be burning. Obviously the huge temple complex were now just ruins, but it was an awesome sight. The Arabs came through Iran, destroying everything in their paths and bringing Islam with them in 7th century, but they didn’t destroy this sight as they were told a lie which said that Soloman (ie from the Bible) once lived here (which wasn’t true). The caretakers of the complex knew that Islam respected Biblical prophets, so it was spared. However it eventually fell into decay centuries later. So that’s where we’re at now. We are enjoying our time in Iran. There is definitely a lot to see and the actual country and people are vastly different to the impression you get from the news.
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photo by: alexchan