We left Tehran at 8am towards Isfahan. The traffic was crazy. Thousands of cars were flowing through the streets without paying attention to any kind of traffic rules. Where there were two lanes marked on the tarmac three had formed and no red light seemed reason enough to stop the flow. Our drivers Jason and Sam seem to enjoy this chaos. Everything seems to work out magically. The biggest challenge was finding the right direction. I couldn’t see any sign pointing towards Isfahan. Our local guide Mehdi joined Jason in the cab helping him to find the way while Sam was taking notes and pictures which could be helpful for future crews going through the city.
In the late morning we stopped at a big mosque called the Fatima Masumeh Shrine. It’s located in Qom, after Mashhad the second most sacred city in Iran. When we arrived at the entrance of the mosque, Jason and Mehdi went through the gate but we women were stopped by a guy holding a rainbow-colored feather duster. Since it’s not allowed in Iran to touch people of the other gender, people use feather dusters to get your attention. After touching us with the feather duster the guy was signaling us we are not allowed to go in but we couldn’t understand the reason. We assumed we are not dressed appropriately but didn’t know what to change. When Mehdi realized we aren’t following him anymore he came back and talked to the guy with the feather duster. It turned out we should use a different entrance. There we received a chador which all women entering the mosque are required to wear. While my manteaux and headscarf doesn’t make me appear particular beautiful and sexy the chador took all remaining beauty away and made me look like a moving curtain.
The Fatima Masumeh Shrine complex was very beautiful with its blue, yellow and greenish mosaic stones and a golden cupola. There was also an outdoor praying area for women shining in silver while the men’s one was shining in gold. Here I also saw men carrying what seemed to be a dead body. While watching the locals I lost eye contact to the people in my group. I waited 10-15 min in the place I saw them last in case they come back and look for me. Since this wasn’t the case I decided to tour around on my own and return to the truck afterwards.
I walked towards one of the entrances of the indoor section of the mosque. People were kneeing in front of water taps washing their faces to be clean for entering the mosque. Before going inside I needed to take my shoes off and put them into one of the plastic bags provided. While being in the mosque you carry your shoes with you at all times so they don’t get stolen. Inside the mosque there was one big open space praying area for mixed-gender as well as separate rooms for men and women. I went into the ladies section which was much more crowded than the common space. Women were sitting on carpets, reading religious books, praying and talking. Some women had even brought their kids and were breast-feeding them. It was a very homelike atmosphere. The highlight of the ladies section was a shrine made out of gold and silver. Here it was very crowded and the women were pushing themselves towards the shrine just to touch it for a few seconds. After touching the shrine they were touching their face in order to transfer something intangible from the shrine to their own body. Just for the experience I did the same. It was really crowded and it took me 2-3 min of squeezing until I was able to touch the shrine.
After I finished looking around I went back to the truck. Sam was waiting in the parked vehicle but the others were still touring around the mosque. I few minutes later everybody was back. The other guys had made a different experience than I made. They were talking to one of the mullahs who were answering religious questions. I heard the questions of my fellow traveler Andrew were a tiny bit too provocative making the mullah a bit upset.
At lunch we stopped at a roadhouse where the boys had chicken with French fries and the girls a salad. About 150km away from Isfahan our truck broke down. It was the wheel rotating the belt of the engine which broke into half. The main issue was we didn’t have the necessary spare parts to repair it since this part of the truck breaks down very seldom. We waited maybe an hour or so until Mehdi managed to stop a public bus. While we and our leader Jason continued travelling towards Isfahan, Sam and Mehdi stayed behind to fix the truck. They were hoping they get towed until the nearest town which is 60km away, get the spare part there and repair the truck. The public bus was very modern featuring air conditioning and a TV. It was very cheap too costing only 37,000 Rials (2.20 USD) for the 150km ride to Isfahan. This price even included a cherry juice and packaged strawberry cake. When entering the bus it was crowded and there wasn’t any free seat for us. Nobody of the younger guys got up to offer their seat to the older people in our group and so we all sat down on the ground. I was sitting on the stair in front of the bus right next to the bus driver where I had a panoramic view over the scenery we were driving through. The hilly scenery was actually more interesting than the TV program which was some kind of sad depressing movie.
We arrived in Isfahan around 6:30pm and took a taxi from the bus station to the hotel. The taxi driver tried to convince us the hotel we going to isn’t nice and we should better go to another one. Probably he’s getting a commission when bringing guests to specific hotels. Despite what the taxi driver was saying the hotel was really nice and probably one of the best ones I have stayed in on a Dragoman trip.
For dinner Andrew took us to a restaurant recommended by his guide book. It was a very posh one and the interior reminded me of dining in the Persian times. I had some traditional dish consisting of chicken with walnut sauce which was delicious. When the bill came we were surprised by the total of around 800,000 Rials (47 USD) for feeding five people. Food is very cheap in Iran and you can have a proper lunch or dinner for only three USD. Jason got his calculator out and with the help of the restaurant manager he was able to understand the bill. They had charged us for all tiny bits and pieces of our dinner and added 15% tax and service charge on top.
Back in the hotel I was hanging out in the lobby. I really love the nighttime since the whole world is moving slower and the hidden dark side of people shows up. I watched how alcohol got delivered to some people in the hotel, found out how prostitution is organized and how people enjoying themselves with “unlawful” stuff (taking of the headscarf, drinking, dancing) in hidden areas. This night I also met a local Iranian guy called Habib with whom I had some entertaining time this and the following two nights.