Friday 31 October to Sunday 2 November
It was a 3 hour drive from Mary in Turkmenistan to the border. We had got used to the rough roads, the 30cm deep potholes, driving on the verge or zigzagging around the holes in the road, dodging traffic travelling in both directions. We even took a bumpier detour to save 20km of driving.
The border was chaotic, but we are now used to that. A young army officer (don’t think he even shaved) representing customs tried to make it difficult for us, but our guide, big Oleg, was en guard and not taking any rubbish from a young uniformed upstart. Then a long wait at passport control and a long wait in the bus to take us out of Turkmenistan. Hundreds of trucks were lined up in wait. It appeared that those travelling from Turkmenistan were empty.
Into Iran and many questions about where we were going. I pulled our itinerary out of my bag at least four times to provide guaranteed assurance that we had a plan.
The customs officer was most kind to us, reminding us that Iran drew with Australia in the World Cup series, but went ahead on points. Bruce told me that was years ago. He treated the ladies in front of us very rudely, rummaging through their bags and pulling stuff out to make quite a mess.
We finally met our guide who quickly arranged to buy some rial from a money changer. For $US100 we had five 500,000 rial notes, that’s 2.5 million rials. At least they are larger denomination notes than in Uzbekistan.
After a hearty lunch of barley soup, chicken & rice, minted yoghurt drink and shallot flavoured yoghurt we hit the road to our first stopover in Mashad.
For the first time since China, the roads were well made, smooth and in good condition. The 180 km drive was so comfortable we had trouble staying awake.
Mashad is the holiest town in Iran, the resting place of the martyr Imam Reza who was poisoned in 808AD. The area of the shrine and associated buildings is the Haram-e-Razavi. It is under constant upgrades to cater for the 20 million pilgrims who come each year. We walked through 5 or 6 courtyards. It was getting close to evening prayer time and since it was Friday, the holy day, thousands were there to pray.
I had to wear a charbor, a massive white cloth that left just my face uncovered. Most women were in black so I was very noticeable.
We were shown into the Foreign Visitors Assistance Office where we watched a video on the shrine and were given a pack of photos from it.
From there our guide Hadi showed us through the various glitzy courtyards and mosques.
The fervour with which thousands prayed was frightening.
We set off the next day for an excursion of poets. Leaving the city of a normal workday, construction sites were busy and people were making their way to offices. And ladies were slinking around, shrouded in black. It wasn’t until we were out of the city centre that we saw a more conventional form of Islamic dress.
Our tour in Mashad was visiting the mausoleums of two of Iran’s most famous poets.
First stop was Toos, just outside Mashad city to visit the tomb of Hakim Abolghasem Ferdosi. He lived between 329AH and 411AH (940AD and 1020AD). He is recognised as saving the Persian culture and language. He spent 33 years writing Shahnamah (Book of Kings). The museum had contemporary art work of dragons being slayed and slaves rising up against cruel kings. It describes the Zoroastrian culture. The hero of his works Khosrau II accidentally slayed his own son. I must research more!
We then made a stop in Qadamgah, which means place to store food. Miraculous spring waters appeared where Imam Reza stopped and took water. The water is said to quench thirst and relieve tiredness and exertion. The Imam also left the impression of his feet in a rock, so this is now a holy place of pilgrimage. It is also said that Timur passed through here.
The last stop of our journey was to Neishabur, about 80km east of Mashad. This is the burial place of two more famous Persian poets. Omar Khayyam, the 11th century poet and Sheikh Attar, the 12th century poet and philosopher. Neishabar is also famous for being totally destroyed by the Mongols in retribution for killing Ghengis Khan’s son-in-law.
We returned to Mashad in the evening. Iran daylight hours are quite different. The sun rises very early and in November it is gone by 5pm. The streets sparkle as all the shops come to life in the evening. It was a great time to visit the Bazaar-e Reza with its 800m long mall.