|Iran: Coming home to a place I’ve never been before - Part 3||
Part 3: Mashhad to Shiraz
En route from Mashhad to Tabas (616 km)
We left Mashhad for Shiraz on May 7, with overnight stops at Tabas and Yazd, traversing the vast landscape of the Great Salt Desert. After a lunch stop in Bardeskan at the Mission Kitchen Restaurant and tea near Eshq Abad, we arrived in Tabas. Our first stop was the magnificently beautiful gardens, which were an unanticipated delight. Truly an oasis in the middle of a great desert, these gardens were lushly verdant with abundant varieties of trees, plants and flowers, with pools of water and small canals along the stone-paved paths.
After touring the Tabas Gardens, we sat down with some of the local residents for tea and met Hajj Ali, one of the witnesses to the failed U.S. military operation named “Eagle Claw” on 24 April 1980. Hajj Ali explained that he was working that night and had to prepare food for passengers on the two busses that ran between Mashhad and Yazd. The bus from Mashhad to Yazd arrived but the one from Yazd was delayed, due to being detained by the American invaders who wanted the passengers’ clothing in order to flee incognito. Hajj Ali said that the passengers, mostly pilgrims headed for the shrine of Imam Reza (AS) spoke of large planes (C-130s) that crashed in a desert storm Allah had ordered to foil the American plot. It seems that the assault had nothing to do with rescuing hostages at the U.S. Embassy but could have been an attempt to recover uranium, which had been given to the Shah under the U.S. Atoms-for-Peace program.
We checked into our inn in Tabas and immediately saw that the amenities we had enjoyed in the hotels in Tehran and Mashhad were absent here. Our room had the barest of necessities but we still felt thankful for a place to sleep after our long hot trek across the desert, that is, until the swamp cooler malfunctioned. We had just fallen asleep when suddenly, the device let out an awful shrieking noise then began humming loudly like an overloaded electrical motor. Speculating that the motor had overheated, I turned off the cooler and waited a few moments before turning it on again, which unfortunately, yielded the same result. With no windows in the room or other means of ventilation besides leaving the front door open and thus allowing scorpions and other uninvited guests to enter, we resigned ourselves to spending the night in our box-like room and doing our best to cope with the sweltering heat.
En route from Tabas to Yazd (369 km)
After spending the night and reporting the inoperative cooler to the manager, we had breakfast early and set out to find the Operation Eagle Claw site. After driving west for about an hour, we finally came upon the site west of the village of Robat Khan on the north side of the road surrounded by a chain link fence and next to a roadside mosque. There were only two helicopters, one in fairly good condition and the other clearly damaged with bent rotor blades, and a bus. There was one lone sign in Farsi explaining the significance of the place.
After leaving the site, we traveled on to Kharanaq where we stopped in the small village to have tea and look at a restored Safavid caravanserai now used as an inn and the picturesque ruins of an old mud brick citadel on a mountainside believed to be over 1,000 years old.
Located between the Great Salt Desert (Dasht-e Kavir) and the Lut Desert (Dasht-e Lut) at an elevation of 1203 meters above sea level and with an annual rainfall of 60 mm, Yazd is a city with a hot, dry desert climate. To compensate for the extreme summer heat, residents of Yazd have cleverly engineered wind towers, or wind catchers (badgir) which direct the desert breezes into buildings and homes to create a cooling effect.
We arrived in Yazd just in time for a scrumptious buffet lunch in the painting restaurant at the Qajar-era Moshirolmamalek Hotel Garden, after which we sipped tea while resting and waiting for the hot desert sun to recede a bit. Later in the afternoon, we visited the Friday Mosque (Masjed-e Jame’), Amir Chakhmagh Mosque and then sampled some of Yazd’s famous traditional sweets including baklava, qottab and pashmak. Next, we stopped by the foreboding towers of silence (dakhmeh), remnants of pre-Islamic times built by Zoroastrians.
En route from Yazd to Shiraz (443 km)
We spent the night at the plush 5-star Safaiyeh Hotel in our own suite of rooms, quite the opposite of roughing it in a torrid room in Tabas the night before in the desert heat with a malfunctioning swamp cooler. After a cool, restful night’s sleep and breakfast in the hotel’s ornate dining room, we somewhat reluctantly checked out and headed down the road. Following Highway 78 west past Taft and Deh Shir, we stopped at Abarkuh for tea and a look at the 4,000 year-old cedar tree there. Leaving Abarkuh and following Highway 78 to Surmaq, we then got on Highway 65 and headed south for Shiraz, stopping briefly for lunch at the Tufan Restaurant in Safashahr near Dehbid.
We arrived in Shiraz, city of poets, literature and gardens, late Wednesday afternoon, stopping at the magnificent Quran Gate at the northeastern entrance to the city. After checking into the Shiraz International Parse Hotel, we walked over to Shohada Square next to Arg-e Karim Khan, then on to visit the Vakil Mosque, with its unique green marble minbar, and Vakil Bazaar before returning to our room for the night.
Having already enjoyed nine days in the Islamic Republic, we realized that this evening, our first in Shiraz, marked the halfway point time wise in our Iranian tour. Looking forward to nine more days of exciting adventures in Iran but already feeling apprehensive about the approaching date of our inevitable departure and return to the U.S., we drifted off to sleep with pleasant thoughts of arising to the first full day of our sojourn in Shiraz.
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