Today I turn the spotlight on a great place in Iran! Whilst Esfahan gets all the rave reviews – and with good reason, Shiraz sometimes can get a little forgotten. Well, I will never forget my week in Shiraz. A rough summary – I shared a room with an octogenarian, I met a whole bunch of people, I saw the ruins of Persepolis and I nearly got engaged.
No seriously. So this is one week of my life I am unlikely to ever forget! I was there in April… a few years back now. It was a good time of the year to visit, with the temperature in the mid-20s, dry and the sun out every day. Well, the sun is out most days in Iran, especially in the south. I found a wonderful hotel that was a good price – around ten dollars a night from memory, and I shared a room with a guy who is pretty much a legend in my eyes – Charlie.
Charlie was in his early 80s, and from my home town of Melbourne, I met him on the journey to Shiraz from Yazd (another great Iranian city) and we decided to find a hotel together and keep the ol’ costs down. The room had two single beds, a large bathroom and a TV. It didn’t have cable, the TV shows looked so dry and boring, and then what came on? Skippy, an Australian show made back in the seventies about a kangaroo who saves people’s lives – he’s the Australian Lassie basically. So I felt a bit at home.
Shiraz has some wonderful markets, if you’re looking for a carpet you’re sure to find a good one at a great price in Iran – much cheaper than neighbouring Turkey. There was a restaurant just down the road from our hotel, and we had lunch there one day. Charlie left for a lie down and I stayed to write in my diary. A group of girls descended on me, wanting to practice their English. Before I knew it I was being whisked away in a taxi to the Tomb of Hafez, a prominent Iranian poet.
There are a few tombs of poets in Iran, they hold a very important place in Iranian life. They usually feature a garden, mud-brick buildings, a shrine. I met the girls again the next day at the restaurant, and one had taken a fancy to me. You know what – I had taken a fancy to her too! It was a crazy escalation of insanity really I guess, it was all happening so fast! We were holding hands! It was a little exciting really, which I think was the main reason it was happening for both of us. A Persian girl and a western guy.
I do remember being told we wouldn’t be able to kiss until we were officially engaged. Running around the Shiraz market holding the hand of a girl in full chador… well it’s something, let me tell you. The blood races a bit. I did see couples holding hands in Iran, maybe two in the month I was there. Iran had and probably still has (although even when I was there their influence had been greatly reduced) the ‘decency’ police. Was I just asking to be arrested? I don’t know, it was two people probably not thinking very straight. In the end, it was not to be. It was never to be I guess. It was fast and it was over quickly after some stern advice the girl received from her mother. But boy…. what a week it was.
On the other side of things, I was still there to see things in Shiraz. I even visited an English class at a university where I talked for two hours with a class on so many topics. I visited the Arg e Karim Khan, a citadel in Shiraz with huge walls and a great garden inside. I came face to face with a portrait of the Allaytollah Kohmeini, and Charlie came along making friends so easily wherever he went.
We took a day trip to Persepolis, an ancient city in ruins outside Shiraz, and the most famous site in the region. The very earliest of the ruins date as far back as 515 BC. It’s an amazing place – where the Shah used to like to entertain foreign guests back before the Iranian Revolution. You can climb a cliff up to a tomb and look across Persepolis and the land. It’s truly stunning stuff.
On the same day trip we visited something that I thought was even more impressive – the Naqsh-e Rustam. Four big tombs carved into the side of cliffs – rather Petra like. Although we saw a few other places that day, these tombs are the images that have stayed with me the best. The tombs are all from ancient Persian kings, and are all over 2000 years old. The size and scale is what is truly amazing, you sure do feel small when you’re below looking up.
This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as Shiraz is concerned. It really is a magnificent place. There’s so much to do and see in Shiraz and around Shiraz, so much history, so much life. For these and the other reason already mentioned, Shiraz is one place I will never forget!
Read more about my time in Shiraz and Iran in the Iran chapter of my ebook Dhaka to Dakar.