We set off from our beautiful hotel, which was formally a 180 year old house with three courtyards and endless rooms off them, to see the sights of Yazd.
Rather than take the main roads which form large rectangular blocks, we will navigate the smaller lane ways towards the centre of the old city. We start confidently, but are soon surrounded by collapsed and derelict mud brick buildings. More interestingly, they are on multiple levels, abandoned courtyards below and ruined buildings above. Given the flat nature of the terrain, there must have been significant excavation to create these courtyards. Could this have happened at the same time as the water storage facilities were dug? The large size of the houses, and the upkeep required may have led to their abandonment over time. An additional impediment to keeping these buildings would be the installation of modern services such as sewerage, piped water and electricity.
Back on track, we emerge into the busy centre of Yazd. Here, many more women are dressed all in black, unlike in Tehran and Esfahan. Are the smaller cities more conservative or is it due to the fact we are moving towards the Baluchi region of Iran? As we set off for the Mosques on Anne’s itinerary, we see for the first time the local bread making process in action. The video, posted below, shows how the pebble marked effect is created in a two step process. In the first step, the dough is hand thrown onto a round cushion like object that has raised knobs which would have been pebbles in older times, then the resulting pizza base like bread is tipped off the cushion onto a circular metal plate that is rotating the bread to be cooked both into and out of the oven. As each piece is finished, it is quality checked and placed on a wooden rack, but they are gone in a flash. People buy up to 20 at a time for meals at home, so the bakery production line of five people runs flat out just to keep up with demand. We are offered a a piece, Anne suggests we take a reject, because of a small hole in one part. It’s delicious, bread that was baked in the last 30 seconds.. The cheerful banter with each other and us, seeing the process in front of my eyes, these are the type of experiences I enjoy while travelling.
In the bazaar, we find the usual types of shops seen elsewhere, but we note very little foodstuffs sold in the bazaars we have visited previously, while there are many varieties of clothing, spices, jewellery and hardware all mixed up.
The food tends to be on the streets here or in specific areas of the bazaar. This does not always apply to spice shops whose presence we detect as the smell of delicious spices. While most spices are sold separately there is always a large bowl that contains layered spices, 16 in all that is used in Chicken dishes. I must say that the best food we have tasted in each city has predominately been the home cooking of our friends and their families.
We encounter a new type of shop that just provides filling for pillows and cushions. You bring the inner linings and choose the quality softness and volume you want and you pay by the weight. We have noticed so many young children, but have not seen any pregnant women. Is this because loose outer clothing hides this from us, or do they not venture out in the later stages of pregnancy?
Anne is intent on finding and photographing the highest minarets and wind towers in Yazd. The only problem is that they all seem similar to the pictures we have seen and all about the same height.
As we scour the lanes and alleyways moving from dark covered to light uncovered sections, always surrounded by dried mud brick walls, the city sounds fade to be replaced by silence and the occasional sound of a motorcycle navigating its way towards us – or is it away from us? It reminds me if those movies where the director uses the fading light, narrow lane ways and the sound of footsteps to show the hero/heroine is being followed, with of course the appropriate music.
In the old town, we come across many traditional doors. They have 2 door knockers. One is long and narrow, the other round. They make different sounds and are designed to tell the inhabitants whether a male or female is at the door so that the right person opens it. You can guess which is the male or female knocker…
We meet in the fading light another German speaker, running an antiques shop after his lifetime in Germany. Anne’s German comes into play again, although he does speak good English. He advises that while the city is generally safe, wondering the unlit lane-ways at night for tourists has led to incidents. Good advice which we heed.
We found this great fresh baked cake and biscuit shop. We can buy four single cakes or biscuits for about 30 cents. We have been back twice in one day and our waistlines will grow if we stay here too long. Almost across the road is this great store selling pots and pans. Anyone who has a wedding gift to buy could do no worse than get the 10ft high matching pot and pan set. Might need an adjustment to the kitchen cupboard, but a great gift that covers all numbers of visitors for lunch, dinner or any occasion.
Our second day started with a visit to the Zoroastrian ‘Towers of Silence’ where bodies were placed after death, not before, to have the bones picked clean by vultures. This practice was stopped some 70 years ago, so no vultures circle overhead while you climb to the top of the towers in the hot sun. We did see black and white pigeon at the top of the male tower, a vulture reincarnated perhaps? While the city of Yazd has encroached towards the towers, they are still surrounded by a dry desolate environment, with no sounds of birds or other wildlife, just the breeze blowing around us as we sat in a contemplative mood at the top of the men’s tower, which of course is higher than the woman’s tower, but has a gentler ascent. Anne wants all of you to know she walked up both towers, me just the tallest and easiest one.
This was also the day that blog writing returned with a vengeance. We had both been suffering from writer’s block, which we have heard happens to writers but not experienced ourselves. So many great people and experiences in the last 10 days that I think it was all to much for our minds to organise and document coherently for the blog. This afternoon we both found that the words just flowed, hopefully readable to all of you who follow us. We were able to make up ground, we had become concerned if we leave writing for too long that we forget details and sequences. An afternoon well spent, along with a couple of naps for me in the process.
We met a charming Brazilian couple staying at our hotel. They are not only visiting Iran, but Lebanon and Jordan. Jordan we have wished to visit over the years, but the opportunity has never eventuated. The variety of countries represented we meet while travelling is ever growing, interestingly earlier this year during the peak season in Yazd, 60% of the hotel guests were Italian, rather than the usual Chinese, Koreans and Japanese. I wonder what drives the interest in Iran from different cultures from year to year?
A visit to the water museum was fascinating and informative, but left us with more questions than when we went in. The clever use of hand built underground canals or ‘qanats’ as they are called here would take water from the foothills into towns where storage reservoirs were constructed underground with flights of steps leading down to where water can be collected. Larger houses may have had direct access to water from a qanat. This to would have entailed excavation work and due to the coolness of both water and earth, food storage areas were also built. Wind towers dot the city landscape, used to remove hot air from the vicinity of the water. A complete planned water delivery system. The nature of construction was difficult and dangerous and the workers chose to wear white to work so if they were killed, and probably entombed, they would be buried in a white shroud. Today in the larger cities, this supply system has been replaced by piped water, but the domed brick storage tanks and wind towers dot the city landscape, a testament to an ingenious and clever way to manage water supply just using gravity feed in a harsh environment where every drop of water counts.
We round off our stay with an late afternoon visit to the Bagh-e Dolat Abad gardens containing the tallest Badgir or wind tower in Iran. Like many of the sights in Iran, it is down a couple of back streets and through a nondescript archway in a mud brick wall, postmarked with the scrapes of passing trucks and cars. Inside are acres of gardens filled with buildings and the imposing bagdir or wind tower, some 60 meters high. We are able to enter the building at the base of the wind tower and look up inside the construction to see the way it has been built looking like the segments of an orange. The bagdirs are designed to catch slight breezes from up to eight directions and direct them down over a pond of water creating an evaporative cooling system. We have been singularly impressed with the care and maintenance that has been given to all the gardens we have seen except this one. Weeds cover a good portion of the landscape and creepers have overwhelmed trees in other areas. Any disappointment was swept away by the views of the tower from among the pomegranate trees.
No taxis were to be seen for our return to the hotel. A gentlemen of uncertain age, with a car of even more uncertain age and adorned with many dents and scrapes stopped for us. He could not speak English and did not know where the hotel was. Through sign language, we indicated we could direct him. The journey was interesting as I contemplated from time to time what I would look like after impacting the windscreen, seat belts being an optional extra, but with the good graces of the other drivers we arrived in one piece looking forward to being back on the bikes tomorrow.
Dinner, packing and off to Kerman.