After a seven or eight hour bus ride overnight from Esfahan we arrived in Shiraz nice and early. Thankfully we could check in at our hotel (Niayesh) upon arrival and rest for a few hours then catch up on some work/ trip planning before exploring the city. We didn’t really know where we’d go when we first headed out in the late afternoon, just that we’d have a walk around the neighbourhood and perhaps find something to eat.
We came across a mosque that looked popular with lots of people visiting it. At the entrance to the grounds we had to separate – female and male entrances. I was given a chador to wear and told to wait at the entrance as I wasn’t allowed in alone. Soon an English speaking volunteer appeared to guide me around what was no ordinary mosque! Antony too had a guide to show him and another foreign male around. We met up again afterwards. The girl who guided me around was fluent in English, very passionate about her faith and knowledgeable about the Aramgah-e Shah-e Cheragh, a mausoleum of one of Imam Reza’s brothers who was killed on this site in 835. It turns out we were visiting one of the holiest Shiite sites in Iran!
The countless mirror tiled mosaics that covered walls and ceiling inside the shrine were just beautiful. At one point my guide asked me to look closely at the pieces and explained the significance of these. Something like we can see parts of ourselves in these tiles but not the whole picture- this reminds us that we can know ourselves partially but God knows us fully. Also we are small parts of a much bigger picture. There was more to it but I have forgotten!
The inside of the shrine was divided into an area for women to sit and pray, read the quran and touch the tomb of Sayyed Mir Ahmad. Likewise on the other side of the tomb was the men’s area that Antony got to see. People were very fervent in their prayers and some quite emotional when praying and touching the tomb.
The inside was truly beautiful but I was only allowed to take the three photos above which don’t really capture it. Outside selfie sticks appeared and it seemed it was ok to take more photos. The whole place was just beautiful.
I stayed in the courtyard soaking up the atmosphere and watching the changing sky. Once Antony arrived we were welcomed in to a special office for foreign visitors where more volunteers offered us tea and sweets. They invited us to ask questions and engage in discussion about Islam if we wished. We were given some interesting pamphlets in English about the shrine, Islam in general and a couple of letters written by Ayatollah Khamenei to the youth of Europe. The girl who showed me around was still a teenager (she seemed so mature I was shocked to find this out at the end of the tour!). She spent about 5 -10 hours a week volunteering as a guide at the shrine. We were not asked nor given the opportunity to pay for the tour- it was completely free as was the entrance to the shrine, open 24 hours a day. A fantastic experience and a highly recommended place to visit!
The next day we explored the magnificent Persepolis, a UNESCO world heritage site about an hour from Shiraz. It deserves its own post.
I headed off by myself the day after that to see the Nasir-al Molk Mosque- one of the most photographed mosques in southern Iran. I didn’t quite make it early enough to see the whole winter prayer hall lit up by the splendour of the stained glass windows but I got a brief glimpse before the coloured light disappeared. I thought the sun had gone behind a cloud but after exiting the prayer hall I saw that the caretaker for some unknown reason had drawn the curtains across the stained glass windows preventing the light coming through!! In this particular part of the mosque the pillars are carved and the mosaics are also beautiful, making it a perfect place to rest and contemplate (or watch those having a photo-modeling session, donning chadors and religious poses in front of the windows!).
I popped in to see the Madraseh-ye Khan, a theology school founded in 1615 and still in use today. Much of the original school has been replaced after damage from earthquakes.
Everywhere you go in Iran you see the familiar faces of the original ‘supreme leader’ Ayatollah Khomeini and the current supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. They are literally everywhere. Posters, banners, grafitti, mosaics- you cannot go a day without seeing them somewhere!
After a couple of nights at a hotel we headed to a couchsurf hosts place… another Mohammad! This host was 19, lived with his parents and sister and loved paragliding. His lovely sister and mother left a few hours after we arrived as they had to attend a family celebration in another town.
It was the last Tuesday of the year which meant it was Chaharshanbe Suri or the Festival of fire, a prelude to Nowruz (Iranian New Year). We headed to the countryside to celebrate this with Mohammad and his father and a lot of other relatives of theirs. There was a basic building where everyone ate but most of the celebrating happened outside around the fire. It is tradition to jump over the fire so there was plenty of that, along with singing and dancing which for some was clearly fueled by alcohol (forbidden in Iran!). Everyone was friendly and one or two people there spoke English so could help with communicating with the others.
Because the food was meat going to be cooked on the fire/bbq, we stopped to get a felafel for me on our way to this place. Felafel are a good, cheap, vegetarian fast food available all over the country and I had had plenty of good ones up to this point.
Unfortunately something was obviously not good with the felafel I had as the next morning I was terribly crook. All the next day in fact I spent lying on the floor or rushing to the toilet. It was nasty. I had rehydration stuff with me which I was drinking all day to replace what I was losing. Mid-afternoon I took one of my emergency ‘put a stop to it’ diarrhoea pills (although only to be used when absolutely necessary, I had reached that point!) but the vomiting still continued. Mohammad and his father were extremely kind and caring, showing a lot of concern for my health. Mohammad phoned the hospital and insisted I visit to get checked up. I assured him that you just need to let these things pass and the next day I will be fine. By 10pm though when he insisted once more, I relented and crossed the road with him and Antony in assistance to the hospital 200m down the road. I virtually collapsed on the doctor’s desk, showed him the pill I’d taken to which he shook his head. I was then put in the care of a female doctor in training who put me on a drip and gave me something else as a jab in the butt. No idea what it was but it worked! After an hour I felt SO much better. Wished I had listened to Mohammad and come earlier!
The visit & medicine I received cost in total $18 NZD. Was so good to be hosted by locals who helped facilitate this visit! By myself in that state it would have been too much.
The next day I was well enough to leave the house (yay!) and have a look at some of the other sights of Shiraz with Mohammad and his cousin showing us around downtown. We saw the citadel, the bazaar and then the tomb of the amazing poet Hafez (died 1389). Despite a day of being horribly sick we did manage to see a bit here in Shiraz. Again the highlight though was not the sightseeing but our host and his family- so caring and genuine! We left the city that evening on another overnight bus headed northwest…