Elvis and Arlo In Iran
A travelogue of two American tourists during their first visit to Iran
April 16-26, 2009

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Background
April 16: Tehran
April 17: Tehran
April 18: Tehran-Yazd
April 19: Yazd
April 20: Pasagardae
April 21: Shiraz
April 22: Persepolis
April 23: Isfahan
April 24: Isfahan
April 25: Isfahan
April 26: Abyaneh-Kashan

April 26

The drive towards Abyaneh passes iron and steel works, military bases, and antiaircraft guns. We also spot eagles, sheep, magpies, and poppies; Hossein jokes about the opium harvest.

popppy fields

Abyaneh has been heavily promoted as a tourist site. The village is one of the oldest in Iran, and the crumbling buildings are a unique reddish hue. The doors and windows have interesting intricate locks.

abyaneh house

Abyaneh resisted conversion to Islam throughout the ages, and stayed Zoroastrian until it was forced to convert to Shi'ite Islam in the time of the Saffavid Shahs.  The elderly population still speak Middle Persian, and the women wear very distinctive clothing. The history is more interesting than the town. It is very quiet.  The old vendors sell varieties of dried fruit with an air of desperation. One friendly wrinkled man lets me ride and photograph his donkey–still the primary means of transport of some of the villagers. 

abyaneh woman on donkey

By contrast, on the road from Abyaneh we pass several motorcyclists. Women in chadors cling to the rear; we see no women driving their own cycles, and Hossein tells us few do so.  Depressingly, while many men and boy riders wear crash helmets; the women apparently are not considered valuable enough to warrant them! On our way, we pass a mullah in full religious garb on his motorbike, and next sight a small rider peering between his father (talking on the inevitable cell phone) and mother from their motorcycle.

iranian family on motorcycle02

Hossein warns not to take photos for the next 25 kilometers: we are passing Iran’s “Los Alamos”, where uranium is supposedly enriched.  We see lots of (very out-of-date) anti-aircraft guns and other threatening military equipment, manned by bored-looking soldiers.  Presumably, most equipment is underground or hidden beyond the horizon, though the whole thing seems like military theater: perhaps the real uranium site is elsewhere and this is a red herring.

Our driver asks if he can turn on some music.  We listen to modern Iranian pop music recorded in L.A., also known as “Tehrangeles” for its large community of Iranian immigrants. Although only traditional Persian music is permitted by the Iranian government, everyone seems to have access to modern popular music recordings.  Similarly, in the cities, most people have illegal satellite dishes, permitting them to view Western movies and television programs.  The government internet blocks are routinely hacked.

Our first stop in Kashan is the Khaneh Tabatabaei-ha or "The Tabatabaeis' House",  a famous historic house in Kashan, built in the 1840s for an affluent family dynasty. The courtyard with fountains and flowers is charming, and there are delightful wall and ceiling paintings as well as elegant stained glass windows

kashan Tabatabaeis House interior

For the first time on our travels, a deluge of rain begins.  We shelter under the tent of a small market selling rosewater products and munch on very tasty and unusual rosewater cookies.  The rain obligingly stops so we can continue our exploration of Kashan.

Fin Gardens, or Bargh-e-Fin, is filled with lovely but dying cypress trees.  The winter two years ago was very severe, and many trees have not recovered.  The central pavilion is especially lovely, framed by a long pool flanked by flowers.  Its ceiling painting is exquisite.  Hossein valiantly tries to tell us about the Fin Bath, where Amir Kabir, the Qajarid chancellor, was murdered by an assassin sent by King Nasereddin Shah in 1852. He is drowned out by a deluge of small schoolboys, and we retreat to the car.

kashan bargh-e fin

Much to our amazement, we stop at an American-style tunrpike reststop, with the familiar layout of a food court, gift shop, rest rooms, and convenience store as well as gasoline. It was built by Iranian who had lived in America for many years and imported roadstops to Iran.

The approach to Tehran is dominated by Ayatollah Khomeini's Shrine.  It is oddly garish; as if Las Vegas were to build a casino with an Islamic theme.  We drive past a methedone clinic into the inevitable heavy traffic.

khomeinis tomb

Our goodbye to Hossein.is somewhat delayed;  he is distracted by the Tehran team winning a big soccer match. A very early start the next morning is made more bearable by our familiar driver–the hardy soul who climbed the Tehran mountain with us and Cyrus at the beginning of our journey. This rounds off our Iranian adventure, and we head back home with many, many memories of our surprising and enjoyable experiences.

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