It’s been 3 weeks since we started out from a green and pleasant land; Goodwood and the UK seem like such a distant memory. We are now very much accustomed to the daily routine of the Mongol Rally – a proactive morning routine, planning the day ahead with any WiFi available to check in on the road ahead and likely border trouble, then head onto the road to see what we find. As always, heading East.
The Traditional Hotel in Isfahan offered the first actual breakfast cereal since Europe, albeit chocolate shapes made almost entirely of sugar. The dining hall as converted from another courtyard next door to the original hotel building, with a large lightweight roof covering the space to make for a 2-story highly stylised eating area. Forgetting who exactly had the key, we managed to lock ourselves out of the room. Rhys considered scaling the courtyard walls onto the roof and landing inside the room’s private courtyard. Reception also came to the rescue with a very large set of keys and the unenviable task of finding the one that fitted our room. We ended up finding that keys to other rooms also fitted our lock – glad nothing was left here unattended! Reza meantime had made a for the bank – changing up dollars for RIals for some spending power.
Ucci took the first drive of the day, meeting his nemesis from Istanbul once again – tight back roads with little to no breathing room. With traffic down a 3 metre market lane up to UK high street capacity, he ended up having to drive the Micra through a pseudo 3-point manoeuvre to avoid a flood of traffic from both directions. Isfahan bid us a farewell (for now) with a view out across the city from the southern highway bridge, quickly entering into the hill and mountain ranges almost entirely comprising bare rock and few hardly grasses.
Lunch was in Abadeh, with Mickey getting his first tank of the day. We were introduced to Sahid (Sayd) – a young teenager running front of house for our chosen restaurant; he was extremely sharp, and from Reza’s conversations with him a good sense of humour for his age as well. Rhys and Oli went for the Huel choice – our powdered space food for a money saver, Thomas the chicken kebab and salad. In a slight change to the norm, a leaf salad was served with the bread which had a peppery lemon flavoured leaf – almost a cross between lamb’s lettuce and lemon balm. What shortly followed lunch was a small dust storm, gusting through Abadeh and coating us in a layer of road dust, grit and anything light enough to catch flight in the wind. Lunch was promptly finished, choosing to sit outside meant any food left was full of dust.
On the route down as Reza’s suggestion, we detoured for the ruins of Parsegarde – resting place of Cyrus the Great, the creator of the Cyrus Roll and the first recorded human rights. With but a few foundations left and glass dividers to prevent any further damage from Alexander the Great’s raiding of the palace and tomb. We made the visit as prompt as possible so as to reach Shiraz in good time for the evening, with 3 sites on the agenda there.
Shiraz was a bustling city bordered to the North by a substantial mountain range, cut though by both arterial roads and rail line, the journey itself made us feel very small indeed, surrounded by sudden, grand mountains. Wasting no time, Reza guided us to the first of 2 stops pre-hotel; the Hafez tomb was a nod to Iran’s Shakespeare. A peaceful garden in memorial to the poet Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī, who lived in Shiraz in the 14th century. A short journey later saw us at the Karim Khan Palace – the foundation of the Zand Dynasty of the early 18th century, complete with a full citrus orchard in the central courtyard, and lacking foundations, 2 of the guard towers had drifted away from the main fortifications.
The 4-star hotel, the Karim Khan Hotel, was an upgrade last minute by our tour guide operator, Laleh Sadir through IruntoIran. We made use of the free lobby WiFi as the room connections cost 3000 Rial, per connection, per hour. Something resembling extortion. We freshened up and headed back out to the gem of our southern Iranian tour – the Shah Cherag Mosque, via a restaurant for dinner. In keeping with the Persian theme, Kateh Mas Traditional Restaurant was a tourist hotspot for the live traditional Iranian music and certainly the Maître D’hôtel’s sense of humour.
Shah Cheragh beckoned. The mosque’s outer and inner courtyard were sizeable and magnificent in their own right, with mosaic lined portals in and out of each section. We cautiously entered the inner shrine after several local visitors asked for photos of us, and found ourselves welcomed to a half filled shrine with mirrored walls and crystal lined domes. Speechless, breath taking architecture, where the light was reflected across every facet of each pillar and dome. Hastily ushered through to a more public area of the mosque, a cleric who was very keen to show us around the enormous site as a private tour, while giving us particulars on the mosque and the Islamic faith.
A taxi back to the hotel saw us complete or 3rd week on the road, still stunned by the beauty of what we had just seen.