Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Kashan: Historial Houses and Beautiful Beards

We took a bus to Kashan, a small town north of Esfahan on the edge of the Dasht-e Kavir desert, which is famous for its restored traditional houses and relaxed atmosphere – something we haven’t had much of during our time in Iran. We tentatively left the bikes behind in our hotel in Esfahan, hoping they would still be intact on our return a couple of days later. ||

It felt rather novel to take the bus (or the “Super Classic Saloon”) for a three hour jaunt through the desert, a trip that would have taken us three days on the bikes. Unceremoniously dumped on the outskirts of town we were soon approached by touts offering to take us to the city centre. Swarmed, we were quickly reminded why we appreciate the independence we have with bike travel. We negotiated a fare that seemed reasonable and went to our hotel of choice, which was unfortunately closed down, whilst the hotel next door had no showers due to renovations.

With few accommodation options to hand we decided to enquire at a more upmarket establishment that was set in a restored traditional house (Qajar era), centred around a courtyard flanked by pomegranate trees. It was beautiful and had a really relaxed atmosphere but it was a little more than what we wanted to pay. We ended up justifying the cost (as one does when confronted by such temptation) as the owner runs an NGO that is part funded from the accommodation, so in theory we are supporting the Iranian art scene - that and they had WIFI.

This restored house was converted to a lovely hotel, our base in Kashan  IMG_7573

Once we had settled in we went out to explore a little of the town. Thinking it must have been a public holiday, as most of the shops were closed we were informed by a local that it was “too cold to trade”, it was well below 15 degrees after all. Did we mention Iranians feel the cold?

We strolled off and were pleasantly surprised to find the Agha Bozorg Mosque. We were the only visitors and the locals took little interest as we wandered around, it was such a nice change from hectic Esfahan.

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Back at the hotel we met Ali, an American Iranian who was returning to Iran after 40 years living in America. Though America was good to him, he felt the calling of his home country, so now that the kids had grown up he decided to pack in his American life and come back to establish himself in Tehran. We asked him what he had missed in America. He had missed the warmth of the Iranian people, the strong traditions and, interestingly, the freedom of spirit.

Next day we headed to the beautifully restored historical homes of Kashan, which were once grand 19th century establishments inhabited by the Iranian elite. The oldest and arguably the most striking is Khan-e Ameriha, built by Agha Ameri who decided his father’s home needed a little extension and converted it to the largest home in all of Persia, totalling 9000 sq metres, just enough for one man and his family.

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In need of a chai we headed bazaar bound. En route we stumbled across an Iranian bathhouse built over 450 years ago that had been lovingly restored to its lavish past. The original plaster made from milk, egg white, soy flour and lime is said to be even stronger than cement. Ingeniously it had been converted to a tearoom but it has since been closed down, so we continued our march towards the bazaar.

Compared to most of the bazaars in Iran it was small in scale with one main thoroughfare, which made it easy to navigate but took away the fun of getting lost in the labyrinth of laneways which is the true bazaar experience.

Sipping chai at the bazaar teahouse we noticed the only other patrons were a young couple who had the same camera as us. Guy couldn’t help looking over as he was suffering from serious beard envy. Eventually we introduced ourselves and joined tables. Ali and his girlfriend were from Tehran, both architects and visiting Kashan on a day trip to admire the historical homes. They were so lovely and fun, we ended up spending the afternoon with them. Ali has a wicked sense of humour and told us that we can tell our friends that we have had our photo taken with Osama bin Laden. On departing, Ali whipped out a hair brush to brush his beard, making Guy feel very unworthy. They offered us a stay in Tehran anytime, which was very tempting but we have to keep heading south so we hope to see them again on a future visit to Iran.

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The next day we bussed it back to Esfahan to find the bikes almost in tact. Unfortunately someone had helped themselves to our little trinkets that we had clipped onto out handlebars, a gift from our fellow cycling companion in Eastern Europe, Di. Annoying as it was more sentimental than anything - ah well, farewell little trinkets.

P.S. This blog has been back-dated as we are now already in Shiraz

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