Mongolia Rally Diary – Isfahan

After some lovely days in Teheran we continued south in Iran to Isfahan, a town known to be the most beautiful in Iran. It is known for its great architecture of buildings and bridges, and it used to be the capital of the Persian Empire.

The drive from the capital to Esfahan was done in no time on good roads, and the hotel was supposed to be easy to find – just branch off to the right from the main road as soon as we arrived to the city center. After just a few attempts and we found the hotel in the busy streets just a 15 minute walk from the bazaar.

Surrounded by the bazar buildings and the decorated Mosques we wandered around the enormous Naqsh-e Jahan Square – “image of the world square” – which is an important historical site which was built between 1598 and 1629, and is the second biggest square in the world with its 89 600 square meters. In daytime this is a buzzing area with several Mosques situated here and the with the busy market area, and in the evening local people arrive with their picnic basket and the square are lively with families eating their Ramadan evening meal as soon as the sun has set, and youths hanging out with friends.

The bazaar in Isfahan is one of the oldest and biggest in the Middle East, and is situated on the north side of the Naqsh-e Jahan Square. You will find shops and stalls of all kinds of Persian handicrafts all the way around the square as well, but the main bazaar full of history is the vaulted 2 kilometer long street starting from the main entrance called Qeisarieh, and linking the old city with the newer part. Inside there is an oasis for the shopper – Persian carpet shops, clothes, all kinds of crafts, silver, spices and food. It was exciting to see the artists doing their work, and the most fascinating was these women decorating ceramics with the typical Persian blue patterns. It takes quite a steady hand and a good portion of patience to do this work all day long!

In the evening we followed the advice of an eager carpet seller and went to the Setareh hotel and their roof top restaurant. I loved the ambience of the place; with the dominant part was the tea brewing area with a big silver tank of hot water, and lovely tea pots and the typical tea glasses. They served a buffet for a starter, which was perfect for me since the restaurants in Iran are not loaded with vegetarian options. However, the various mixed salads and rice with butter makes a meal – topped with saffron ice cream for dessert.

Isfahan was a pleasant city to walk around in – it was easy to orientate, you were not bothered on the street when walking alone and people were friendly and smiling when asked a question. I walked down the main street to the city center, stopped at a local baker in line with the locals for steaming hot and fresh bread, and then walked over one of the famous bridges over the river Zayandeh  – which means “life giver”. This river used to be a very important water source for this area in the middle of the desert, but today the river is totally dried out at the time we were there. I do not know if it is permanent or seasonal, but a dried out river is always a sad sight when you think of the water scarcity that a lot of places in the world struggle with. The bridges are still beautiful though, and in the archways you could see people sit stare dreamily over the dry banks of the river, youths hanging out with friends and girlfriends sharing some secrets with smiling eyes.

The taste of Isfahan for sure gave me a thirst to see more of Iran. We went back to Teheran were we were invited to stay with one of our new friends, and finally we got the message we waited for before we could move on: our passports with visas for Turkmenistan had finally arrived in a DHL office! We ended up in a taxi for several hours to find the correct office – and three smiling girls opened their passports to take a look at the visa we had been waiting for so long. Just to discover…..the five days transit visa for Turkmenistan had started running the day before we got them. I can promise you one of my travel mates was stressed up – but I was keen on going on a camping trip in the mountains of Iran as planned! We had quite some discussions on our next moves…follow the next chapter to see how it ended!

Have you ever been to Iran? How was your experience?


About the Author Elin

I´m an Oslo based web publisher with passion for communication, travel and a green lifestyle. When I travel, I prefer to go slow, sustainable, and “live like a local”. Why slow? It is about challenging the cult of speed, and to enjoy the small things in life and to live in the present.

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