Sunday, July 08, 2012

Kerman, Rayen and Bam

By the time I got to Shiraz I'd made the realization that my 3 week visa was never going to get me through what I wanted to see in the country. Too many places were going to have to get cut so instead I decided to just go where I wanted to go, see and do what I was interested in and hope I could get a visa extension later. Visa extensions are not difficult to get nor expensive but being a Canadian there is always a risk that I'd have a harder time of it. You have to apply at the end of your visa so I wouldn't know until the end and so I'd just have to risk it.
Thus I went 8 hrs further east to Kerman. I didn't know a whole lot about Kerman and it wasn't so much of a destination in itself for me as much as a staging point to head further south to Bam. So when I arrived in Kerman I was at the mercy of my hosts and hoping that they'd know something interesting to see for a day. Kerman is a provincial capital on the edge of the desert but at a higher elevation so it wasn't nearly as hot Ahvaz, but only in the high 30's. Also in contrast to Ahvaz, Kerman is considered to be one of the cleaner cities in Iran. The countryside is semi-desert and very dry but there are bare, stony mountains around it as well, adding some beauty. Kerman's biggest negative is social. Apparently there is a drug problem in the region as Iran is the main smuggling route for opium and other drugs coming from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Consequently there are more strict checks at the checkpoints on the roads coming from the southeast. Not that I noticed. It's not like arriving in Skid Row or a militarized zone or anything.
Kerman has a large market area, of which I saw only a small portion as well as a museum that was a public bath. The rest of the time I spent hanging out with my hosts and their friends trying to understand how the social system works for the youth of Iran these days.


The public bath museum in Kerman.


Kerman market has very high, wide arches.


30km from Kerman in Mahan there is a locally famous shrine and garden that I was also taken to. The shrine is for a great Sufi (a more mystical form of Islam popular in Turkey and central Asia) leader whose dervish order is still active and the tomb and shrine were built by an Indian king who was a disciple of the sufi. Shazdeh garden, is yet another example of how the Persians love gardens and every city seems to be full of gardens built by princes or wealthy people and now open to the public for a fee. There are often very nice small palaces or retreats secluded away in their many hectares of grass and trees and ponds or waterways running through them. They are a great way to relax and a large collection of Persian gardens (or maybe the concept in general) has been recognized as a Unesco heritage. This garden was no different and used the natural sloping landscape to form small cascades as the water ran through the middle of the garden. We went after dark for dinner so I didn't get many photos, but I was once again reminded that the Islamic description of paradise and heaven is of a garden and it certainly does feel like a relaxing paradise after the dry heat outside the garden walls.


Mahan shrine.


The palace at the top of Shazdeh garden.


From Kerman I went to Rayen, a small town off the main road to Bam. It was a long-forgotten “baby Bam” and Rayen citadel is the 2nd largest mud-brick structure in the world (after Bam citadel). It's seen a bit of a revival apparently since the destruction of Bam and is also slowly being repaired and rebuilt but when I was there I had the entire site to myself. The citadel was basically a small fortified town and the outer walls and the inner walls of the governor's residence have been rebuilt as well as random sections in other areas but for the most part almost everything inside is mud-brick rubble. With nobody inside and no restrictions it was fun to poke my head in every hole and climb all over everything but unfortunately there is a lot of garbage piled around as well. I found it very interesting and a shame that nobody visits the place. It's at least 1000 years old but was abandoned over 150 years ago and has been slowly disintegrating since. I was there about an hour in the 40C heat before hitching the remaining distance to Bam. Hitching was easy but thus far the distances I've been travelling between cities has been too far for it to be worthwhile for me to use it elsewhere.


Rayen citadel.


Inside Rayen citadel.


Rayen citadel.


Inside the citadel.


Leaving Rayan.


At the end of 2003 Bam suffered a devastating 6.6 earthquake that officially killed 30,000 people, half of the residents in the area (though many believe the number to have been much higher). It also completely destroyed the citadel and most of the rest of the city's infrastructure. Bold declarations of a complete and rapid rebuilding were made shortly after but as with all things, it takes a long, long time. The citadel is only a fraction rebuilt today and it will take them a long time still before they ever finish it. The citadel was huge and pre-2003 it would've been so amazing to see. If they ever finish it I'm definitely coming back to check it out.


The central part of Bam citadel.


There is so much left to rebuild.



Walking around the city there are numerous signs of the devestation still remaining. Many shells of buildings left abandoned or partially rebuilt line the road and some of the old mudbrick markets have been replaced by more modern ones in a different location. It's hot but a pretty desert area with lots of palm trees also and the city is famous for it's dates.
I only stayed in Bam for a day and night, just long enough to see what's happening to the citadel these days (most of the area is blocked off for preservation/reconstruction) and for a walk around town before returning to Kerman.


A very common site in the city of Bam.


The rebuilt market area.


Ammon

PS. I want to make a few more comments on the food.
They make pizza and lasagna here without any tomato sauce and put ketchup on it after. It still tastes good though because they do have real cheese. One of the things I really love is that there are cold water “fountains” everywhere on the main streets so you just have to go out with a small water bottle and keep filling it up all day and keep drinking to stay hydrated in the heat. There is also a lot of fast food served here, though it's all local chains as there aren't any McDonald's or Starbucks here.

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