Day 68: I see dead people
Shiraz Travel Blog› entry 95 of 260 › view all entries
Thanks to the people I met here and/or travelled with: Michael (Australia)
The alarm went off awfully early in the morning. I had deliberately set it this early, because I wanted to visit a mosque which only catches light for a few hours after dawn. Last night Michael had wished me luck, but as my alarm woke him up as well he decided to join me after all.
We walked over to the Nasir-Ol-Molk mosque, which apparently is one of Southern Iran's most photographed places. Was it worth it? Well, see for yourself. Though I would have liked the sun to be a bit lower (and the colours of the stained windows to extend a bit further into the main prayer hall) the result was certainly something to get up early for. Hey, what else am I going to do on my holiday? Sleep?
The caretaker of the mosque was quite used to foreign photographers showing up at his mosque at the crack of dawn and while friendly, he refused to open the shades to let more (coloured) light in into the mosque.
To justify the entrance fee, the Nasir-Ol-Molk mosque also sports a small museum, containing photos of many old men of whom I have no idea who they are. Possibly previous imams at the mosque or something. No idea.
The Nasir-Ol-Molk mosque had been the last thing I wanted to see in Shiraz, at least, during the day. Now what to do until nightfall? The guidebook listed one other place in Shiraz, the Aramgah-e Shah-e Cheragh, an important Shiite pilgrimage site containing the tomb of one of Imam Reza's 17 brothers. While I have every intend to visit the tomb of Imam Reza himself, next week in Mashhad, I could not see any need for visiting the grave of one of his many brothers.
But with plenty of time to spare and little else to do, we made our way to the shrine anyway. And I am glad we did. Nothing could have prepared me for the grandeur and pomposity of the shrine. OK, I had seen Khomeini's shrine in Tehran and I knew the shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad would be at least twice or three times as big. But the tomb of one of Reza's brothers? I had thought a simple mosque-style building, not something occupying four entire city blocks!
I guess I will never understand how Islamic reverence of dead people works. While you will never see them worship an image of Muhammed, or any dead Islamic scholar for that matter (with the exception of Khomeini, as I mentioned before), they do flock en-masse to the graves of anyone who has played any type of role in the history of the Islam.
Imam Reza, the 8th Imam, is one of the major players in the Shiite branch of Islam and the only one of the 12 Imams to be buried in Iran. So I can understand his importance for Iranians (but more on that later). Sayyed Mir Ahmad wasn't an Imam. His only claim to fame is a) being one of Reza's 17 brothers and b) being dead.
Mir Ahmad was hunted down and killed by the caliphate (the ruler of Sunni Muslims) on this site and hence a shrine was erected here. A shrine which through the years ate up more than four city blocks and is still being expanded to this day.
To enter as non-muslims we had to get through strict security control. Like at the Khomeini shrine I was not allowed to take my camera inside, but somehow Michael's slipped through (so the photos you see here are his).
Once inside it was quite an impressive sight. Not just the huge monument built around the tomb of Mir Ahmad, but also how the people reacted upon entering the place. Men who on the other side of the gates acted like the typical shout-y machismo guys, would become quiet and humble once they passed through. Women who would hide themselves in their chador outside the gates would hide themselves even further in their chador once inside. Speaking of chadors, these are mandatory for women inside the shrine complex, so women who wouldn't normally wear one could borrow one at the entrance. Strangely enough these 'rent-a-chadors' are not the standard black variety, but instead are white or another light colour, with some nice flower motifs. A lot more friendly than the common black, me thinks. I wonder why chador wearing women don't dress like this more often.
Inside the complex there were two shrines. One for Mir Ahmad and one for two of his brothers (who probably died of natural causes and don't need a separate shrine in their name). Both these are richly adorned with mosaics of mirrors and other shiny objects and are in fact hugely impressive.
Although as non-muslims we weren't supposed to be welcome inside the shrines themselves (hey, Michael is Jewish - shhh, don't tell anyone!), nobody stopped us from entering or bothered us when we joined the locals by sitting on the (carpeted) floor, soaking up the aesthetics and atmosphere.
While at first I had not intended to visit the shrine and actually couldn't be bothered, I have to say that the Aramgah-e Shah-e Cheragh had in fact been the highlight of Shiraz, both in terms of striking architecture and the surprising peacefulness in the middle of a busy city.
After our visit we wandered around the centre of the city for a while. We were both thirsty and tried in vain to find a Monobrow store. It seems that Monobrow branches are limited to the more modern (and touristic) centre of the town and have not yet gained a foothold in the more conservative commercial part of town.
We turned around and headed for the bazaar instead, hoping to find some liquids there, which we found in a lovely traditional tea house.
After we quenched our thirst we figured that now we had seen the shrine, we might as well visit the last sight mentioned in our guidebook as well. After all, we hadn't thought much of the shrine and it turned out to be a highlight, so perhaps the Bargh-e Naranjestan would be a similar highlight.
Not wanting to walk anymore, we took a taxi there.
As for the garden, well, let's just say we would have been better off taking a taxi home. The Naranjestan garden is maintained by the Naranjestan university, which means it doesn't get any government funding, i.e. the entrance fee was well-above average: 30,000 rials. $3 may not seem much, but can I remind you that we could have visited Persepolis six times for that amount of money? And these three bucks were just to visit a simple garden (not all that well-kept) and an old pavilion full of more shiny mirrors and mosaics, the likes of which we had just seen for free at the shrine.
After lunch I went back to the hotel for a prolonged siesta, while Michael continued his sightseeing tour around Shiraz, visiting the places I had already seen two days ago. He had figured it made no sense to split up in Shiraz and meet up again in Kerman three days from now, so instead he made sure he could leave Shiraz together with me and we travel together to Yazd tomorrow and Kerman afterwards.
In the evening we went to the tomb of Hafez. Unlike most tombs in the country, Hafez, who lived in the 14th century, wasn't an Islamic scholar or an Imam (far from it) but he is equally loved and revered by Iranians.
The tomb of the Shiraz-born poet is especially busy in the early evening and I have to say the reactions of the people visiting his final resting place wasn't all that different from that of the people visiting the Mir Ahmad shrine this afternoon. Respect, reverence and even tears were shown as men and women walked past his grave, touching the tombstone and reciting his works.
The tomb is surrounded by a large park where we met Alla and Sergei, the Belarus couple, as well as several other couch surfers (including another 'famous' Czech couch surfer who had previously spent a day with Alirezza and his sister - it's a small world).
Giving this impromptu couch surfing gathering a miss turned out to be a good thing. We later heard that the 'party' they were planning to go to, had turned out to be a dud. Instead Michael and I had a great time at the Hafez park where we encountered the first genuine entrepreneurial place in the whole of Iran. A small café on the grounds had several tables and chairs laid out on the walkways (none of this traditional day-bed thing) selling tea, soft drinks, ice cream and snacks. This was the closest thing to a European style café we would find in the whole country. Well, except for Tehran maybe.
Another reason for staying at the Hafez park was that we had found a nice looking place for dinner in the Lonely Planet. Typically the place turned out to be gone when we got there. While it may have been great, it hadn't been popular, so it closed about a year ago. In the whole area there was no other restaurant to take its place. As we knew there wasn't much to write home about in the area of our hotel we became a bit desperate. Shiraz, a city with interesting sites, decent hotels and great juice bars, would be the one city in Iran without a decent restaurant (as in, even worse than in other cities in Iran?).
I guess so, because we never found a restaurant, other than some fast food places. What we did find was a huge take-away place. Two in fact, with huge (and I mean HUGE) kitchens which could cater for at least a few hundred people.