Friday, October 31, 2008

30 Oct - 1 Nov - Quetta, Pakistan

We have entered Pakistan now. So far we are really enjoying all the new smells and flavours of this colorful country. The people are very happy and friendly.
We are very close to the earthquake (in Ziarat), which we felt while sleeping in our roof top tent.
More details to follow later.

Monday, October 27, 2008

28 October – Towards Pakistan

Time to move on towards Pakistan. First via Zahedan to Mir Javeh on the Iranian side of the border. And the next morning we hope to cross into Pakistan and drive to Quetta. From Quetta we drive via Multan to Lahore. After reaching Lahore we will decide if we want to spend more time in Pakistan, or if we continue straight into India.

26-27 October – Bam, Iran

The oasis and town of Bam was hit by a massive earthquake in 2003 and 30,000 people died. The famous citadel, Arg-e Bam, was almost completely destroyed. Today, Bam is under reconstruction. It means that everything is a chaotic mess. And ugly. But it is of course a very interesting experience to visit a town that has been hit by such tragedy, and to look at the efforts of rebuilding the Arg.

In order to post this text and pictures on Blogger, we had to spend half a day to find an internet connection that bypasses the filters of the paranoid Islamic Republic of Iran.
We love freedom.

25 October – Arg-e Rayen, Iran

We left the Kaluts, passing some old caravanserais and mud brick villages along the way.

Half way between Kerman and Bam is the town of Rayen. The Arg (Citadel) of Rayen has become famous after the larger Arg of Bam was destroyed in an earthquake in 2003. Arg-e Rayen is a fortified town, about 1000 years old. It had been abandoned for 150 years when restoration started in 1996. It is very impressive to walk around in this beautiful and partially restored mud brick town, surrounded by high walls that look like they are from a movie.

23-25 October – Kaluts Desert, Iran

After Kerman we drove into the Kaluts Desert north of the oasis of Shahdad. This is, supposedly, the second warmest place on the planet. Summer temperatures can reach 65 degrees centigrade. But in late October the temperature is very pleasant, around 37 degrees during the day and 20 during the night. The landscape is very beautiful, with giant sand formations sticking up like large sand castles everywhere.

We spent the next two days playing in the sand. We love the desert, and the Kaluts is really a great playground for kids. At night we marveled at the stars and the thick Milky Way.
While exploring the exciting sand castles and beautiful landscape, we managed to get stuck in the sand. The children were very excited. Finally they could use the shovel and the sand ladders! So everybody helped out, digging the car out of the deep sand. On the second attempt we managed to reach firmer ground again. What fun!

22-23 October – Kerman, Iran

We had a lovely morning in our bush camp outside Meymand. The semi-desert is very beautiful.

Atlas was practicing both his walking and his mechanical skills.

We continued via a very scenic mountain road to Kerman where we had a nice stroll through the old bazaar. The children love spending time in the bazaar, always getting candy from some of the vendors and checking out the plastic toys available. We stocked up on spices, fruit and vegetables.

21-22 October – Troglodyte village of Meymand, Iran

The village of Meymand lies in a remote and mountainous area between Yazd and Kerman. The village has been continuously occupied for more than 3000 years. Today the village consists of roughly 400 cave homes. Many of the homes have been abandoned, but there are still around 100 inhabitants in the cave village. This is the real Flintstones.

Meymand is a very photogenic village. The people are friendly (and old) and invited us to see their homes. But the conditions people live under are quite bad, like in the poorest parts of Africa. Hopefully some tourism can lift these people out of their extreme poverty.

19-20 October – Naein to Yazd, Iran

We reached Yazd after short stops in Naein, Ardakan and Meybod. Yazd is a pleasant city and was an important hub on the Silk Road. It is said that Yazd is one of the oldest cities in the world.
The city relies on its ‘qanat’ system for water supply. A qanat is an underground water channel, dug by hand for many kilometers, which transports water from the mountains down to the desert towns and surrounding fields.
Another interesting feature is the ‘badgir’. It looks like a chimney sticking up from the roof of every house, but in fact it is a ‘wind catcher’, an ancient ventilation system which helps to regulate the inside temperature during the hot desert summer.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

15-18 October – Esfahan, Iran

We are now catching our breath in Esfahan, in the center of Iran. We are enjoying the old bazaar, the old architecture and the bustling city life.

We are tasting more of the tasty Iranian cuisine which is rich in taste but very mild, so the kids eat with healthy appetite.

Esfahan is by far the most pleasant city we have experienced in Iran so far. The commerce is intense during the day. The traffic is kindly chaotic. After sunset, the young people meet discretely along the river and on the old bridges which gracefully span the river.

Now it is time for us to experience the eastern parts of Iran. We are heading towards the city of Yazd. We are preliminary planning to cross the border into Pakistan on October 30.

13-14 October – Shiraz and Persepolis, Iran

Shiraz has a nice bazaar where we spent some time and caused traffic jams. Nina studied the latest ladies fashion, but she did not make any investments…. We enjoyed a traditional Iranian meal in a restaurant, with Iranian music, before we continued towards Persepolis.

Persepolis is the star attraction of Iran, and it attracts quite a lot of visitors. During the Achaemenid dynasty, Darius the Great started to construct a monumental capital city in 518 BC. Work continued for almost 200 years. But when Alexander the Great came on a not so friendly visit in 330 BC, his armies burned the city to the ground. Persepolis remained lost to the world and buried in sand until the 1930s when excavations started. Today it is magnificent to wander around the ruins and admire the richly decorated walls. The city must have been very impressive in its glory days.

The mighty rulers of Persepolis were buried in rock tombs high up on a mountain wall a few kilometers north in what is today called Naqsh-e Rostam.

To really fill our ruin quota, we also made a quick stop at Pasargadae, the capitol city prior to Persepolis, under Cyrus the Great. The ruins are not nearly as impressive as those in Persepolis. But we were very fascinated by the 20 men who tried to dismantle a tarmac road with iron bars and sledge hammers.

11-12 October – Southwestern Iran

We drove down from the mountains and came out on the hot and humid plains of southern Iran. The ruins of Shush leave most things to your imagination. But we were lucky enough to be invited for lunch in an Iranian home. Neda Zarbakhsh, her parents, some of her 11 older brothers and sisters, and their spouses showed us how to enjoy a real Persian lunch. Neda is 18, speaks good English and is the first person in the family who attends university. We sat there on the Persian carpets, enjoying the tasty lunch. Afterwards we had some tea before we had to continue our journey.

In Choqa Zanbil we stopped to look at the huge ziggurat (reminiscent of a step pyramid) from the 13th century BC (Elamite period). It was plundered in the 7th century BC and after that it was ‘lost’. An oil company discovered it in 1935 when studying aerial photos of the oil rich area.

So far we have only met two other foreigners in Iran. We are a very exotic happening wherever we show up. Everybody wants to take pictures of the children who are posing patiently while mobile phone cameras are clicking.

To take a break from the attention, we are bush camping every day, far away from any people. We have found very nice places to bush camp all through western Iran.

6-10 October – Northwestern Iran

Passing the border from Turkey to Iran (at Bazargan) took about three hours. The Iranian border control process would make an interesting topic for a PhD degree in inefficiency. Anyway, our vehicle was not searched, we were not asked to pay any diesel tax, and there were no bad surprises. So we were very happy and excited (and a little bit tired) when we rolled into Iran. However, Nina already thinks that her mandatory headscarf is itching…

Iran is a very big country, and distances are long. We drove south along the western shore of Lake Orumyieh. Our first tourist stop was Takht-e Soleiman. In the 3rd century AD, it was called Azergoshnasb and was the spiritual center of Persia during the time when Zoroastrianism was the state religion. There is a crater lake in the middle of scattered ruins, surrounded by a city wall.

Our next stop was Taq-e Bostan outside Kermanshah. We admired the beautiful Sassanian bas-relief carvings from the 4th century AD.

Close to Kermanshah is the town of Bisotun where we looked at some even older bas-relief carvings, from the 6th century BC (Achaemenid period). This time the reliefs were very high up on the rock face, surrounded by texts in three lost languages. It is quite amazing how well preserved these carvings are after so many years.

Introduction to Iran

Most travelers we have met only have good things to say about Iran. We will start with some hard words about the regime.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a brutal religious dictatorship financed by vast oil reserves.
A cruel apartheid system is used to repress all women, who are at best considered to be second class citizens. A woman’s testimony in court is worth half a man’s testimony. A woman has to cover everything except her face, hands and feet. She is restricted in every aspect of life.
Unemployment is very high due to the commando socialist fanatic religious economy that the Islamic Republic is practicing. Unemployed, and sexually starved young men roam around in search of something to do.
The countryside is dirt poor. People live as they did 2000 years ago, add the occasional tractor and a diesel pump for irrigation.
The current president Ahmadinejad, and ayatollah Khamenei, are desperately trying to drag Iran even further into the religious abyss.

Enough said about the regime. What about the people?
Despite the terribly difficult situation the Iranians are facing, the people are extremely friendly. They want to talk and they are interested in the world outside Iran. They invite you to their homes and invite all their relatives at the same time. They love children, so we have an advantage there, coming with our four blond kids, creating quite a commotion wherever we appear.
This said, when people in general are so nice and friendly, one can forgive that the young men are staring, or that Iranian men behind the wheel are more dangerous than nuclear warheads, or that old Iranian women pinch small children on the cheek (quite hard, because they love children so much we are told).

Sunday, October 5, 2008

3-5 October – Mt Ararat, Turkey

The drive past Mt Ararat (5137m) is very scenic. The Ararat is the highest mountain in Turkey, and is snow-capped year round.

We have now arrived in the town of Dogubayazit where we are making our last preparations before leaving Turkey and entering into Iran. We are camping close to the Ishak Pasa Palace which sits beautifully on a hilltop.

We have really enjoyed our four weeks in Turkey. There is so much to see that you could easily spend three months or more only touring Turkey. But now it is time for us to see what Iran is like. We are very curious!

1-2 October – Ancient city of Ani, Turkey

We crossed some high mountains and difficult mud tracks in order to get up to northeastern Turkey. There are roadblocks and military posts everywhere due to the past civil war between the Kurdish guerilla and the Turkish army.

Ani has been inhabited for maybe 5000 years. In the 10th century AD it became the capital of Armenia with perhaps as many as 100,000 inhabitant. Almost 400 years later, it was heavily damaged by an earthquake, and the Mongols who ruled over Ani at that time did not care to rebuild the city. The buildings have been crumbling ever since, for several hundreds of years. The setting of Ani is spectacular. It is surrounded by a deep river ravine. On the other side of the ravine is present-day Armenia, its military watch towers looming everywhere. This used to be the border to the Soviet Union.

We enjoyed a sunny afternoon in Ani. It has its own magical air.

29-30 September – Lake Van, Turkey

From Nemrut Dagi we continued east, across the Euphrates river, to Diyarbakir, an important city for the Kurdish population in Turkey. We have now entered the Kurdish area. We stayed for only a short while, enough to walk on the city walls while being pursued by children who were throwing fire-crackers around to celebrated that Ramadan was over.

We continued south to Mardin, a pleasant town where we visited the bazaar and had a lovely dinner on a terrace overlooking the plains of the Tigris river.

When arriving to the town of Tatvan by Lake Van, the skies opened and the rain poured down. Eventually, as it was getting dark, we found a place to set camp right by the lake. It was still raining. It took only a few minutes before an old couple came to our car, with a full dinner on a tray. We ate greedily in the car and fell asleep to the smattering of the rain on the tent.

The next morning we woke up and the sun was shining. The lake was beautiful and in the other direction we could see snow-capped mountains. And then the old couple came with breakfast. Homemade bread and goat cheese. Tea and fruits. People are really so hospitable in Turkey!