Part 2: Rey to Mashhad
On Thursday, May 3, 2012, we departed Tehran in an almost-new 2011 Megan belonging to Mr. Reza Farshad, our driver for the rest of our trip, whose skillful driving kept us safe throughout our journey across Iran. We headed for the southeastern suburb of Rey, stopping at the Shrine of Hazrat Abdul Azim (AS) and Cheshmeh Ali in Rey before hitting the road for Mashhad. Hazrat Abdul Azim was the 5th generation descendent of Imam Hassan (AS), the 2nd Shia Imam and a companion of the 9th imam, Muhammad at-Taqi (AS). Also buried there are Imamzadeh Tahir, the son of Imam Sajjad (A.S.), the 4th Shia imam, and Imamzadeh Hamzeh (AS), brother of Imam Reza (AS), the 8th Shia imam.
After leaving the shrine, we stopped briefly at Cheshmeh Ali, a historical site in Rey where pottery dating back to 3000 BC has been unearthed. Finding the place was not without a brief comedy of errors, since every time we stopped to ask for directions to Cheshmeh Ali, the person would tell us to go the opposite way that the previous person had indicated. After arriving, we were greeted by a group of women, widows cared for by the mayor of Rey we were told, who insisted that we have some of their Ash-e Reshte (noodle soup), and who appeared to adopt my wife as one of their own.
En route from Tehran to Bastam (416 km)
We left Rey on our way to Bastam heading southeast on Highway 44, the main east-west route that skirts the northern edge of Dasht-e Kavir, the Great Salt Desert of Iran. Cleaving its way between the dramatically contrasting landscapes of the dry desert to the south and the snow-capped Alborz Mountains to the north, the route passes through Garmsar, the birthplace of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, then on to Semnan, Damghan and Shahrud. We had a lunch of Akbar Jujeh (grilled chicken and rice) at the Hadis Restaurant near Semnan which, according to the locals, was founded by two of the sons of Prophet Noah (AS), Sim and Lam. Damghan, some 342 km from Tehran and the birthplace of Qajar ruler Fat’hali Shah, is the home of the oldest mosque in Iran, the Tarikhaneh (lit: House of God) Mosque.
At Shahrud, some 410 km east of Tehran and roughly the half-way point in our journey from Tehran to Mashhad, we turned north and traveled 6 km to Bastam, our destination for that night. Before arriving at our hotel, we stopped to see the impressive shrine of Sufi mystic Bayazid Bastami. Following our visit, we checked into the Bastam Tourist Inn, a delightful hotel with pleasant accommodations in a rural, wooded setting.
En route from Bastam to Mashhad (503 km)
After spending the night and eating breakfast at the inn, we headed out for Mashhad, backtracking slightly to Shahrud and from there, back on Route 44 through Sabzevar, Neyshabur to Mashhad. After lunch at the Khayyam Restaurant in Neyshabur, we visited Khayyam Gardens, which contains the tomb of poet, mathematician and astronomer Omar Khayyam and the shrine of Imamzadeh Mahruq (AS). The tomb of mystical poet Farid ad-Din Attar is located about a kilometer to the west of Khayyam Gardens along with the grave of famous Iranian painter Kamalolmolk.
We arrived in Mashhad Friday afternoon at the Tourist Tous Hotel, an inn with cottage-style rooms and beautiful landscaped grounds. After a restful night and breakfast, we took a taxi to the shrine of Imam Reza (AS) the spiritual climax of our journey. Standing in front of the shrine, I was overwhelmed by emotion and began to cry tears of joy for I could not believe I was really about to fulfill a pilgrimage to the holy shrine of Imam Reza (AS), who said, “Anyone who visits me among my friends… will benefit from my intercession on the Day of Resurrection.”
Following the completion of our ziarat (pilgrimage), we headed over to the Pesaran-e Karim Restaurant for a lunch of traditional Iranian food and music after which we walked up Khayyam Boulevard to do some shopping in the Sepad Complex. We found a shop specializing in world-renowned Khorasan Saffron so we stocked up and bought extra for gifts. Next, we visited the shrine of Khajeh Rabi’ north of Imam Hussein (AS) Square and paid our respects to the martyrs buried there. Among them was a fourteen-year-old victim of the 3 July 1988 missile attack by the USS Vincennes on Iran Air flight 655, about which I wrote an article in 2008. Later, we headed back to the hotel for afternoon chai (Persian for tea) and enjoyed the beautiful weather while relaxing in a rose garden.
We awoke Sunday morning to cool weather, quite the opposite of what we had expected. After breakfast, we traveled to Tus, about 24 km northwest of Mashhad, to visit the tomb of Abol Qasem Ferdowsi, composer of the classic Iranian epic poem, the Shahnameh. Inside Ferdowsi’s tomb are large carved tableaus depicting stories from the Shahnameh. We then stopped at the Harunieh Dome, which is located less than a kilometer from the Fersowsi Mausoleum. It is not clear what the building was used for, but it is mentioned as the Tus mosque and tomb, and Ferdowsi’s school and mosque in diaries. Next, we went on to the quaint mountain village of Torqabeh, where we explored the shops and had lunch at Seyyed Jaqarq and Sons Restaurant, a traditional restaurant there owned by Mr. Hamid Jaqarq. Afterwards, we headed back to Mashhad to browse in the upscale Almas-e Sharq Shopping Mall off North Khayyam on Baharestan Boulevard.
We returned to our hotel room to pack and get a good night’s rest before venturing out the next morning for a long hot trip across Iran’s Great Salt Desert on our way to Tabas, Yazd and Shiraz. Knowing that Allah had tested others before in the desert, we wondered what trials He may possibly have in store for us as we continued our journey.
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