Iran Part 11.
Our final day in Esfahan was spent around the square visiting some of the other buildings to admire exquisite Persian art and architecture. For a country that’s depicted as being drab and colourless there’s so much life and vibrancy to it that it’s a real shame it’s not visited more often.
In the evening I made a speech to the assembled company thanking our guide and our driver for their enormous contribution to our enjoyment. They had been fine ambassadors and had represented Iran beautifully, openly and with a desire to show us the very best the country had to offer. They’d even got us into a very sacred mosque by telling the guards we were Muslim pilgrims from Bosnia-Herzegovina and then telling us not to speak to each other and give the game away!.
Peter hadn’t been well so, for the last event of the trip a deputy your leader was installed!. So that would be me then!. I marshalled the troops and got them to their destination for one of the most extraordinary and enjoyable evenings ever.
The Zorkanneh, or House of Strength, is, essentially a gym. It is here that young men, and not so young men, are led through a variety of rhythmic exercises by a half naked man who sits, towel around his shoulders, atop a pedestal and who recites verses from the Shahnameh whilst keeping time on a large drum. Oh, and he has a two bar electric fire on in front of him. No idea why. Perhaps if he wore a shirt he wouldn’t be cold ?. But I digress!
Now you have visualised this extraordinary scene, let us begin.
At a pre agreed signal, a door opens and the men run out and they trot around a large hexagonal pit, about four or five feet deep and roughly twenty feet across before they jump in and then, in time to the rhythmic banging and chanting, the magic happens.
Huge wooden clubs are produced and huge wooden shields that, I was assured, weigh 200-300 pounds apiece and a sort of balletic combat ensures involving much leaping and whirling these objects in such a way that they miss their opponents heads by a matter of inches. It’s like an accident waiting to happen. But such is the skill level and the training that it doesn’t. They get faster and faster until movement becomes a blur and you can only sit, mouth open in wonder, at this extraordinary choreography. Amazing!
Our return to Tehran took up most of the following day. We returned, as we had begun, to a city beset by dark clouds and rain. No wonder Tehranis are depressed if they have to put up with this all the time!.
A final meal was served and we were joined by no less than the Minister of Tourism (Not exactly a hard job in a country with so few) who distributed gifts to us all. Leather wallets for the ladies and paintings for the men. I still think it was the wrong way round but my hand painted hunting scene in its mosaic frame is deeply treasured. The food was suitably splendid as befitting the status of our guest. Even the yogurt was nice (and yes I made a joke about it being Mullah lite!. Couldn’t resist it. Sorry. Blame it on my Autism.)
We went to the airport were security, as on entry, was strict. All suitcases were searched rigorously and thoroughly but, just as I walked up with mine, they cancelled our flight!. Yes, we were stuck in Iran for another day!. Cool.
Going back to the hotel was fun. Another maniac taxi driver but this time one who knew where he was going (see Shiraz for the one who didn’t) and was determined to get there in the shortest time possible. In a monsoon type thunderstorm. Even if it killed him. And us. Unfortunately I sat in the front so I had a front row seat for my doom and I and M shared the back seat. She had hysterics and he kept shouting “You stupid woman” at her.
You think you know Hell ?. I’ve been there!
We had 24 hours to wait which we spent at the hotel. On returning to the airport the next evening the security decided not to put us through rigorous suitcase searches again so they just waved us through. Then they let their other buddies in security give us rather too familiar body searches to make up for it!. Nice of them to share eh ?.
We walked out to our plane. All holiday long I had hoped for a sunset to photograph and yes, there it was, utterly glorious but, of course, I didn’t have my camera to hand.
We climbed onboard. The crew informed us that a rat had bitten through something important on our intended flight of yesterday and the aircraft had been dead when they’d tried to start it. I just thought, Rats!.
So that was it. Iran. Wonderful, colourful, diverse. Not full of western haters. Not full of woman haters either. Women were beginning to take real steps in terms of promoting themselves in itpranian society. Yes, they had a long way to go but the number of women entering the legal, teaching and medical professions was encouraging. Many men I met seemed a little embarrassed about the situation and spoke openly about historical attitudes and the fact that they wanted change. It won’t happen overnight. It’s not happened still and, given its a Muslim country of historical conformity, it may never happen to the extent we have equality in the West. But there is a movement for change and it is growing.
I think the highest compliment I can pay Iran was that I would return without hesitation. It’s not suitable for everyone. It has its rules and its restrictions. But it’s also freer and more laid back than you’d imagine.
So, if opportunity arises give it a go. You don’t know what you’re missing!