Nasir al-Mulk Mosque also known as the Pink Mosque is an elegant piece of art and architecture that belongs to the end of 19th century.  Located in Shiraz, it is a colorful mosque built during Qajar dynasty. Nasir al-Mulk Mosque takes its name from one of the Qajar rulers – Mirza Hasan Ali Nasir al-Mulk – who ordered to construct the mosque. Mohammad Hasan-e-Memar and Mohammad Reza Kashi-Saz were the professional designers of such an exquisite mosque. The construction of the mosque lasted from 1876 to1888. Nasir al-Mulk Mosque in Shiraz-the combination of art and architecture- is one of the attractions for many of the tourists who travel to Iran.

Since the pink color and stained glass windows are applied elaborately in the structure and design of the Mosque, it is known by different names. Pink Mosque, Rainbow Mosque, Mosque of colors, and Kaleidoscope Mosque all describe different interpretations of visitors from this fantastic site.

Glory of colors shining through the stained glass windows of Nasir al-Mulk Mosque

At dawn, the sun shines through the stained glass windows of the Mosque and it glides from the right-hand side to the left-hand side to fill the inside with the glory of various colors combined. The vivid colors spread over the ground, the Persian carpets, the ceiling, the walls, the tiles, and the arches to give soul to the solid structure of the mosque. They caress the amazed visitors’ and worshipers’ faces and inspire photographers with great ideas to take amazing pictures. Maybe the designers had aimed to construct such an astonishing space to hold everybody in awe and to create a sacred space for prayer.

Nasir al-Mulk Mosque has two eastern and western shabestans. The eastern shabestan has a gorgeous tiled altar and twelve columns along with stained glass windows. The arts of tiling and painting in shabestans, and beautiful decorations of Mihrab have extraordinary beauty. The harmony among columns, fantastic geometric patterns, the play of light and colors, and the splendid Muqarnas all dazzle the eyes of visitors and photographers. The mosque has great elements of traditional architecture such as a central fountain, an iwan, panj kāseh-i (five concaves), faience, and plaster-works.

The magnificent use of pink color in Nasir al-Mulk Mosque

Nasir al-Mulk Mosque has been inscribed as one of the national heritage sites of Iran and it annually attracts many travelers to Iran. The best time to visit the mosque is early in the morning and about 8 to 9 am. This is the best time to see the light passing through the stained glass windows and making kaleidoscopic space that amuses travelers, photographers, and worshipers. The interesting point is that Nasir al-Mulk Mosque is still used for worship. Today this glorious mosque is under protection by Nasir al-Mulk’s Endowment Foundation.

Hafezieh is the most popular historic-cultural site in Iran

Tomb of Hafez



Hafezieh is one of the most popular poets in Iran, as well as the most well-known Iranian poet in the world.Every year, millions of tourists visit the mausoleum of this famous Iranian poet.Based on the latest census of 20 historical sites, The Hafezia mausoleum in  Shiraz is known as the most popular place.
The tomb of Khajeh Hafiz Shirazi is located in the city of Shiraz, near the Koran Gate.The Hafezieh Hall of Shiraz builts during the Zandieh era.This mausoleum is about 2 hectares.
Hafez’s Tomb is the most magnificent historical monument of Iran during the New Year Eve.




In Islamic countries there is a congregational mosque in every city. In fact, the most important mosque in any city is called the Jame Mosque. Friday preaching or prayer is recommended to the Shiites and community mosques in cities are used for the Friday preachers. Large areas were allocated in the large cities.
Masjede Jame in Isfahan is the most notable mosque in Isfahan. It is an encyclopedia of Iranian and Islamic art and architecture. Step by step development of Iranian art and architecture can be seen in this complex. It takes at least half a day to visit different parts of it. The complex shows different structures from different centuries, which date back to the 10th century to the 18th century.
The oldest part was built on a Sassanid fire temple, which belonged to the Zoroastrians. The first part of the mosque dates back to the 8th century. The second mosque or part belonged to 1030.
During the Buyid Dynasty in 908-932 one of the oldest parts was built. In Buyid, a court of several prayer halls was built. In later centuries changed in the mosque.
Saheb Ibn Ebad was a learned minister of the Buyid dynasty who lived in Isfahan and played a major role in the development of Isfahan. The Seljuk Dynasty extended the mosque in the 11th century.
The jame mosque shows specifications of Iranian mosques. It has a courtyard and there are four large Eivan (Grand Arches). It has one of the largest courtyards in Iran.
Four Eivans are connected by two storey arcades. Eivans are from the 15th to 17th century. These arcades are decorated with tiles. Some of these tiles are glazed and some are inlaced. There are two marble pools in the courtyard. One of these basins is covered by a structure that reminded Saint Kabeh of Mecca. Muslims were able to practice the Hajj rites before they traveled to Mecca.

View Masjede Jame



This Eivan is known as Soffe Saheb Ibn Ebad. The present Eivan dates back to Seljuk period. There are two beautiful minarets on the top of Eivan, which are 35 meters high, and belong to Aq- Qunlu era.
Interior and exterior parts of Eivan are beautifully decorated with tiles and tile mosaics. The inscription comes from the Safavid dynasty. On the back of this Eivan there is a wonderful sanctuary called “Nezam Al Molk” dome.
Nezam Al Molk was a popular vizier of the Seljuk dynasty. This dome was built in 1030. The dome reminds us of Sassanid architecture.
There is fantastic calligraphy in Kufic script, which dates from the 11th century around the dome. The name of Nezam Al Molk can be seen in the calligraphy. The dome is one of the most glorious domes of Iranian mosques.
The base of the dome is in a rectangular shape, which is transformed into a circular dome. This is a pre-Islamic technique, but the size of the dome can not be compared with pre-Islamic domes, which were much smaller than this high monument. Ornaments of the Mehrab (prayer benches) and also marble stone of the lower part belong to the Safavid era.


Jame mosque

Sofe – ye Darvish (Eivan) is from Seljuk dynasty. Fabulous ornamentations of this Eivans belong to later period. Specifications of ornamentation are different from other parts of the mosque. The magnificent stuccoworks are from Shah Soleiman Safavid.
Behind the Eivan, there are successions of hypostyl halls, which come from different times. At the far end is the tall dome of the Taj Al Molk. Taj Al Molk was a Vizier from the Seljuk Dynasty. He competes with Nezam Al Molk. This magnificent dome was built by the command of Taj – Al Molk.
Interior decoration of Taj Al Molk dome is unique in all Iranian mosques. It is a single shelled dome. Fortunately the dome and its decoration have not been damaged. Great varieties of designs are made of plaster and small pieces of bricks are a splendid sample of huge artistic work. In fact there is a collection of designs which have survived for more than 900 years. The dome is without any Mehrab (prayer- niche).
One of the entrances to the mosque is located next to the dome. For those architects who are seeking traditional adornment, the dome is considered a museum of decorative designs. The Kufic calligraphy around the dome’s base dates back to 1080 and covers the name of Taj Al Molk. The Khaki dome is about 18 meters high and about 9 meters in diameter.

The western Eivan is called Soffe – ye – Ostad. The original construction belongs to Seljuk dynasty. The beautiful tile and tile- mosaic work belong to era of Shah Sultan Hossein.
This Eivan is considered a wonderful museum of Iranian and Islamic calligraphy. Various types of calligraphy such as Solth, Nastaliq, Bannaeis and geometrically designed calligraphy have decorated inner parts of Eivans. For those artists who have selected calligraphy as their field of art, this Eivan has a lot to teach. Next to the Eivan, there is a door that opens to another part of the mosque built by Sultan Oljeitu. One of the most fantastic mehrabs is in this part. Many Iranians consider this Mehrab has a unique structure. It shows an excellent stucco work from the year 1310.
Unfortunately, it was damaged at bombing of Isfahan. There is an old wooden minbar in this part.
The Mehrab’s design shows a combination of calligraphy, imaginary flowers, blossoms and leaves which is a masterpiece in Islamic world. Such a fantastic work can be created by a unique faithful stucco work artist.


Jame Mosque

Each part of the Jameh mosque is a masterpiece of art and architecture. This winter gallery from Timurid era is one of the beauties of Iranian architecture, dates back to 1447.
Every part of it looks like tents used by Timurid. This part is quite cool and warm during the hot summer season during the cold days of the winter season. The style of the winter gallery is almost self-sufficient for heating and cooling systems. Daylight is reflected to Beit Al Sheta through small windows covered with slices of marble stone. The architect has made ideas from tents to create this part.

It was originally built during the Seljuk period. Ornamentation is from Seljuk and IL – Khanid periods. Fortunately his ornamentation from Seljuk and IL Khanid has not been damaged. The calligraphy of this Eivan is from Shah Soleiman Safavid.
The central part of Eivan has a structure which is similar to Eivane Ostad, on the opposite side. Next to this Eivan there is a corridor leads us to a Madreseh (Theological School) from Mozafarid era.

Cyrus II, who was later known as Cyrus the Great, is the founder of Achaemenian dynasty, creator of Persian Empire and the father of a nation called Iran. He was appointed as governor at the Southern part of Iran by Medes who rules from Zagros Mountains at the Northwestern and Western of Iranian plateau. He was also the king of an area known as Anshan for eight years. It was a territory at central Iran.


Famous Reliefs attributed to Cyrus the Great in Pasargadae

Two Major Accomplishments of Cyrus the Great

The reputation of Cyrus the Great is due to two major accomplished tasks he had brought to reality:

  1. He changed the small country of Persia to a powerful empire in a vast territory. No other government had reached this level of authority in the world till then.
  2. His ethical values had made him a well-behaved emperor with humble policies and favorable method by which he treated the conquered nations.

The world was dominated by brutal arrogant rulers who didn’t care about their nations’ rights. In fact, they oppressed everyone with sheer rigidness to put awe in their hearts. Cyrus changed all such mannerism.

When the final years of Medes’ domination was accompanied by oppressing people and treating them unfairly, the level of injustice was so high and suppression so severe that Median people had no choice but to wait for someone to save them from their brutal ruler. Cyrus turned to be this savior character. When he came to power, the new situation couldn’t corrupt him and make another monster out of him. Instead, he won lots of hearts and gained many nations’ respect for his mannerism. Cyrus united Medes with Persians.


The tomb of Cyrus the Great at Pasargadae


The Policies of Cyrus the Great

He maily focused on bringing peace, security, understanding, respect for others’ opinions and justice to his empire. He deeply influenced the civilization at the world of his time with positive impacts. The century in which he established Achaemenian Empire became the golden era of the world history and the century of creating arts and cultures. Subsequently, he brought about the acceleration in evolution of human societies and the development in ethical values, civilizations and human rights.

Cyrus the Great is well-known for his policy of tolerance and respect. When Cyrus defeated Croesus, the last king of Lydia, he ordered him to be saved, not killed and made him an advisor for his empire. He conquered Babylonia without a fight. He respected hand-made gods of all conquered nations despite of the fact that he believed in an unseen God. He went further and even helped the followers of other religions to rebuild their temples and take back their gods to their worshipping places. Historians and the Old Testament has recorded the way he treated captivated Jews forever.


Ruins of the residential palace of Cyrus at Pasargadae

Cyrus allowed the nations under Persian Empire to keep their religions, traditions, dress code, language, etc. He didn’t force the ideas, rituals and beliefs of Persians to the rest of the world. However, today we see that there are lots of powerful influences of Persian culture outside the present boundaries of Iran in a vast area.

The mighty rulers before him used to build minarets out of people’s heads and created heaps of corpses to demonstrate their power to the subject nations. They burned the people alive in fire, gouged their eyes, cut their tongues and boasted of the number of young girls and women imprisoned and taken away by their brutal soldiers. On the contrary, he didn’t carry out bloodshed, plunder, brutality, etc to prove his power. He established a government that tried hard to found unity and peaceful coexistence among nations from India to the Mediterranean Sea. To win people’s support, he used a different policy: He supported their rights, promoted justice and worked for their prosperity.



Ruins of the fortification at Tal-e-Takht at Pasargadae

The Legacy of Cyrus the Great

After the death of Cyrus the Great, Pasargadae, his capital city, wasn’t the capital anymore. Yet, it kept its significance among the succeeding Achaemenian kings. They held their coronation ceremonies there first and paid their respects to him as the founder of the dynasty. Then, they went to Persepolis to keep up with their festivities.

He built the first series of Achaemenian palaces in Pasargadae. He planned and made the first examples of Persian gardens at Pasargadae. He planned water channels and basins along the ducts there. We see the same style of parks and gardens made in Iran using the same plan.


Water Channels of Persian Gardens remained at Pasargadae


Without Cyrus the Great, there wouldn’t be any nation called Persia and later Iran. He united different ethnic groups via mutual respect and humanitarian supports under one flag. He taught everyone that tolerance and kindness is more powerful than any other weapons.

Even until 20th century, all dynasties in Iran tried to connect themselves somehow, through bloodline, etc, to Achaemenians and Persian Emperors. He’s the author and father of Iran. He’s the source of pride for everyone in Iran.

Cyrus II, known as Cyrus the Great, was the founder of Achaemenid dynasty. His maternal grandfather was Astyages, the last king of the Medes, and his paternal grandfather was Achaemenes, the first founder of hereditary rule among the Persians.

Cyrus presented a new empire based on morality, justice, and decency to the world. Unlike the previous emperors, he treated the defeated with compassion, enemies with tolerance, and those with opposing beliefs and customs with liberality. His statement in Babylon, written on a clay cylinder, is the first draft of the Declaration of Human Rights.

The followings are three sites worth exploring to learn more about the rise and fall of Achaemenids. You can leave Shiraz for a one-day tour to visit these spectacular sites and then come back.

Pasargadae: This Is Where Achaemenids Rose to Power


Tomb of Cyrus at Pasargadae, Iran


It was the dynastic capital of Achaemenid Empire, the first great multicultural empire in western Asia. Today, it’s located near Shiraz in Fars province, south western Iran. It’s where Cyrus the Great conquered Astyages, the last Median king, in his last battle, and then founded the first Persian Empire in the same region and beyond. He founded Pasargadae and constructed palaces in memory of his victory. It was the rise of Achaemenids and Cyrus the Great was the author of Achaemenid dynasty. His tomb is also here in this city.

According to UNESCO, “palaces, gardens, and tomb of Cyrus are outstanding examples of the first phase of royal Achaemenid art and architecture, and exceptional testimonies of Persian civilization”.

A brief description of the site

The tomb of Cyrus has long been a focal point for visitors to Pasargadae and the palace area lay almost a kilometer north of it. This area included a palace to receive audiences and a whole series of adjacent gardens. They emerged to be the first Persian gardens. Unfortunately, all that has remained from Achaemenid era in this region are stone foundations and some wall socles.

In this site, the columned hall is the most common form of design. A notable architectural point about this hall was making use of stone-working techniques. It’s notable because all the previous columned halls in Iranian plateau were built in mud-brick walls and wooden columns.

Such an innovation facilitated the production of stone platforms, staircase, floors, and stone columns. Each one of these structures was to become a hallmark of architecture in Achaemenid era from about 540 BCE onward.

The gardens at Pasargadae would appear to be the first known occurrence of chaharbagh or fourfold garden, a specific articulation of space. It went on to become a distinctive characteristic of later garden designs in Iran for centuries.

Pasargadae kept its importance to Achaemenid emperors, but during the reign of the next kings, the capital moved to other cities.

Persepolis: The Glorious Times of Achaemenids



Gate of All Nations at Persepolis, Achaemenid Era


It’s the other dynastic center of Achaemenid kings located about 60 kilometers south of Pasargadae. After Cyrus the Great, Darius I, known as Darius the Great, succeeded in ruling the Persian Empire. He started the construction of Persepolis. It consists of ceremonial palaces, provisional residential palaces, a treasury, and a chain of fortification. It was built as a ceremonial palace complex mainly for celebrating Nowruz, the Persian New Year festival.

The gate to the site was from the south, through a staircase. To the right of this entrance, you can see a huge rectangular block bearing four cuneiform inscriptions in the name of Darius the Great: Two in Old Persian, one in Elamite, and the fourth in Babylonian. These scripts were clearly meant to inform visitors of the nature of Persepolis, the people who contributed to its construction as well as Darius’ beliefs and ideals.

The remarkable parts of the palace complex consist of:

  • The Gate of All Nations.

It was a four-columned square hall with three stone doorways. Two enormous winged bulls are carved at the inner side of eastern as well as western doorways, and the gates are decorated in the upper part with six cuneiform inscription sections.

  • The audience palace of Darius, The Apadana

The double-reversed stairways of this palace are the most splendid parts of Persepolis

  • The Palace of Darius known, the Tachara.

A charming structure which is the oldest palace of Persepolis. Here, you can find three different scripts carved in various historical periods: one in cuneiform from Achaemenid era, one in Pahlavi from Sassanid era, and one in modern Persian from Qajar era.

  • The Palace of Xerxes, the Hadish

It was the Xerxes’ temporary residence.

  • The Central Palace, the Tripylon

A small but lavishly ornamented structure located in the center of the complex. Three doorways and a couple of corridors and staircases were linked to the other palaces. It must be attributed to Xerxes and Artaxerxes I.

  • The second largest palace of Persepolis, The Hundred Column Hall

Its main feature was a square hall provided with ten rows of ten columns. It was an audience hall.

These structures were built by Darius the Great and his successors, Xerxes and Artaxerxes I, and maintained until 330 BCE, when they were looted and burnt by Alexander of Macedonia. Although today you can see only the remains of this complex, its magnificence can still impress you.

Darius the Great was a powerful and sage emperor in the ancient world. His territory was so extended that there were no such imperial expansion until then and long after.

Naqsh-e-Rostam, Mighty Emperors Have Rested Here


Naqsh-e Rostam, Achaemenids’ Necropolis near Shiraz, Iran


It’s one of the most spectacular ancient sites of Achaemenid era dating back to the times when the fall of Achaemenids was about to happen. It’s located almost 5 kilometers northwest of Persepolis, and consists of the colossal rock tombs of Persian kings dating back to the first millennium BC. Here you can see the best ancient rock reliefs in Iran from both the Achaemenid and Sassanid periods.

The rock-cut tombs of Achaemenid rulers and their families dating back to the 5th, 4th, and 3rd centuries BC have been engraved on the façade of a mountain. The tombs belong to Darius the Great, Xerxes I, Artaxerxes I, and Darius II. In addition to being a royal necropolis, Naqsh-e-Rostam was a major ceremonial center for the Sasanians until the 7th century AD.

I highly suggest you to put these three spectacular Achaemenid sites in your checklist for travelling to Iran. It takes just one day to visit them all and learn about the rise and fall of Achaemenids. I promise there will be so many amazing things that can cause your admiration.



Tea first reached Iran by caravans traveling the Silk Road 450 years before the modern Christian era. Residents were largely coffee drinkers until the seventeenth century but now consume four times the world average for tea.

The beverage is served hot at almost all social occasions and family gatherings.

Every morning, in houses all over Iran, a gas burner flickers to life under a kettle that will continue to boil all day. It boils through morning prayers, lunches of rice and kebabs, afternoon conversation and late into the evening meal, sustaining talk of politics, gossip and news well into the night.

The kettle contains tea, one of the most important cornerstones of Iranian culture, and the tea house is its centuries-old keeper.




Tea production is a major industry in the Caspian Sea area and a large part of its economy. Before 1900, there was no tea production in Iran, but in 1895, an Iranian diplomat named Kashef Al Saltaneh decided to change that.

At the time the English had a strict monopoly of tea production in India, with rigid rules against non-Europeans engaging in this trade. Kashef Al Saltaneh, who had studied in Paris as a young man and was fluent in French, went to India, posed as a French businessman, learned the trade and smuggled some tea saplings and seeds to Iran.


After six years of experimentation, he introduced his first product to the market, and started the industry that revolutionalized the economy of two northern states, Gilan and Mazandaran, and made Iranians avid tea drinkers.

He is known today as the father of Iranian Tea, and his mausoleum, in the city of Lahijan, houses the tea museum.


Further reading reveals that Kashef Al Saltaneh’s other honorable titles include Prince Mohammad Mirza, Iranian ambassador to India, and first mayor of Tehran.  Moreover, the stash that commenced the tea plantation might have actually been 3,000 saplings!

Tea houses, or chaikhanehs, have been in existence since the Persian Empire. They gained prominence after the 15th century, when coffee was abandoned in favour of tea leaves that were easier to come by through China’s Silk Road.

Though once the purview of men, chaikhanehs have increasingly become frequented by all members of society, and especially by Iran’s large youth population.

kerman tea house by travfotos

Iranian tea comes in a variety of subtle flavours, but its defining characteristic is its deep reddish-brown colour, which tea-drinkers can choose to dilute with water depending on their preference. Despite its cultivation in the country’s northern provinces, other teas from Sri Lanka and India are also widely consumed as the country imports a majority of its tea in order to meet the large demand.



Most chaikhanehs will serve tea on the stronger side unless otherwise indicated by the drinker. The stronger the tea, the higher the concentration of tannin and caffeine, so a good cup of tea is like a good cup of coffee for those who take it straight. Because of its bitterness, many prefer to have sugar with their tea. The traditional way to do this is to take a sugar cube and place it between your teeth. You then sip the tea and allow the sugar to melt. Iranians, especially in colder regions of the country, find this a convenient way to drink multiple cups. Crystal, or rock sugar, can be found throughout the country and bought in spice shops for this specific purpose.


The taking of tea is a ritual unto itself: most meetings or formal occasions will begin with the offering of tea, and most meals will end with it. Some chaikhanehs have takhts, or low-rise platforms covered in rugs and pillows that you may recline on. Remove your shoes before doing so; most meals are served on a tablecloth laid at your feet.

Traditionally, tea is served from a samovar, a heating vessel originally imported into Persia from Russia. Literally meaning “self-boiler”, the samovar is used to keep water hot for prolonged periods of time through a fuel-filled pipe in the middle of the structure that heats the contents surrounding it. Made from copper, brass, silver or gold, the samovar is still used throughout Russia, central Asia and Iran, and ornate versions from the -Qajar dynasty may still be found in use.

Chaikhanehs come in all shapes and forms, from the simple kitchen-turned-tea room in villages to ornate venues in urban centres, and from underground venues to popular tourist destinations.







The Azari Tea House in Tehran is one of the most famous chaikhanehs known to tourists and locals, with its detailed architecture and traditional decoration. In existence since the 14th century, this chaikhaneh on Vali Asr street contains one of the more interesting embellishments to emerge from tea house culture: teahouse painting.


Don’t believe what people tell you about Iran

Iran was undoubtedly the most surprising country for positive experiences. After months of being told that I would be killed there, and the media reporting that it’s a country full of terrorists, I was humbled to enter a country of incredibly intelligent, thoughtful and kind people. I shared many nights in the houses of strangers and wouldn’t be allowed to leave in the morning without having my bags filled with food and gifts. They have many problems of their own in Iran, and are also aware of how the Western media portrays then, yet they still took it upon themselves to help me as best they could.

The beauty of travel by bike is how slow it is, and how it offers intimate view of the lives of strangers. I cycled between 60 and 80 miles a day, occasionally much more, sometimes much less due to weather, altitude or people I would meet on the way. It’s been hard, but the experiences it has given me sure beats working in an office. My freedom and lack of deadlines or destinations led to aimless wandering, mainly guided by the avoidance of bad weather systems and fitting around the seasons. All I really knew was that I wanted to circumnavigate the world and that I was doing that in an easterly direction.

Whenever I struggled to motivate myself to continue, it was the strangers I met on the road that helped me carry on. I’ve lost count of the favors I’ve been granted and the times I’ve been offered assistance. Wherever I went, human goodness shone through.

The Zagros Mountains Bakhtiari world | traveling with Nomad in Iran as a Australia woman

Bakhtiari world

Kerri-Ann Smith:  Our three days traveling with Nomad. Tours in the Zagros Mountains was a highlight of our recent trip to Iran. We experienced firsthand the world of the Bakhtiari nomads and the stunning natural wonders of the high ranges. Here, perhaps a million people live a nomadic pastoral lifestyle, moving between summer and winter camps with their flocks of goats and sheep.

Out of Shar-e-Kord, the bitumen soon gave way to dirt road that unraveled across green ridges. Like a child’s drawing of mountains, a zigzag line of remnant snow formed white triangles on grey pyramids. Being late May, the lower altitudes were already sweltering in the heat haze of the high 30s and the nomads had reached their cooler summer camps.  Occasional black goat hair tents and simple stone structures covered with boughs and tarps appeared on the hillsides.

Along the way, we enjoyed a picnic lunch cooled by a fine mist floating from a 30-metre waterfall. We traveled through villages of flat-roofed stone houses where some nomads have settled over the last century.  Our guides quickly became our friends as we talked and they shared their knowledge of the area, its people and the issues facing them.



Later, we were welcomed at a camp to experience a nomad family’s typical day. Their lives are dominated by the care and use of their animals – meat, milk products, and wool. It’s raw and unrefined. It’s physically hard. Women in long, brightly-colored and multi-layered dresses poured milk from the afternoon’s milking into large pans for boiling. A hapless goat was selected from the herd and was led away. A gaggle of smiling children giggled as we swapped words: “goat” – “boz”, “milk” – “sheer”. The Bakhtiari speak a Lorish dialect as well as Farsi.

Later, by firelight, we ate succulent fresh goat kebabs and stew. A blackened teapot sat on the fire; the glasses of tea were filled many times. For hours we chatted and ate with the men. The women worked and ate separately. We slept where we ate, under the woven goat hair tent.

The culture and traditions of the Bakhtiari nomads are under pressure from government settlement policy; the need for better access to health, education and employment; and the simple desire for a more comfortable life. Some years ago, the patriarch Assad Allah had sold off the family’s flocks and moved them all into a village. But, unhappy there, he returned to his nomadic roots, bringing his wife, Batool, and many of their four daughters and four sons and their husbands, wives and children.



The chores were underway at dawn. Two men headed out with a rifle, but returned empty-handed. In a branch enclosure, the younger women caught and milked the goats before they could dart for the exit. One boy set out for a three hour walk to school to sit an exam. Then, as the sun crept higher in the sky, we accompanied one young shepherd and his flock of goats and fat-tailed sheep over rocky ridges in search of good grazing.

Some of the women headed out on their daily 2-3 hour walk to collect water from a spring. When slaughtered, animal hides are carefully preserved intact to become water receptacles and butter churns. Batool started the hours of rhythmic churning needed to turn milk into butter. Hung from a sturdy wooden tripod and decorated with colorful pom poms, skins filled with milk are rocked vigorously and left to hang.

While we could have stayed for much longer, we said goodbye and continued our journey through the mountains, visiting villages and seeing the handicrafts of the local people. Along the way, we gave lifts in our truck to a mother seeking medical help for her child and to two men wanting to visit their cousins in a camp further downriver. Hospitality and generosity is given and expected. A way of life.




Our last overnight stay was at Sar-Aqa-Seyyed, a stepped village yet to be discovered by tourism, where the roof of each house forms the verandah of the one above, grasses are tossed with wooden forks and villagers share common toilets along the creek. From there we walked part of a nomadic route along a steep-sided gorge and visited a salt mine worked in the summer by local women. Our last main stop before heading back to Isfahan was the majestic Koohrang spring where millions of liters of water gush from a slit in a cliff before roaring off as a large river.

‘Authentic’ is a ridiculously overused word to describe experiences. But here, it could not be more appropriate. Be ready to be awed.

Kerri-Ann Smith, Canberra Australia

Photos by Kerri-Ann Smith

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Reaching Nisf Jahan with limited time and unlimited wishes, setting aside all worries of this or that world, fully living in those moments

Treasure remains hidden in distant lands. I can’t exactly describe how and when the idea got stuck in my imagination. I feel a curious combination of mysteriousness and sacredness associated with the wordtreasure. Things like vessels, gold pots, jars, stones, carpets and never-deciphered writings do not come to my mind when I think of the word treasure. Instead, whenever I come to imagine some distant land, a vague yet strongly moving idea of ‘holy mystery’ weighs in on me.



Isfahan epitomised that distant land for me. So when a few years back, I sat in the bus destined to Isfahan from Tehran, I was under the spell of the idea of a treasure that was going to be uncovered in the next few hours. I looked through the window and wondered at Isfahan Nisf Jahan (half the world) and the half-hidden sun.

I dropped the curtain abruptly. Secrets should not be revealed so fast.

It took us almost six hours to reach Isfahan, a city of 17th century Safavids, capital of Persia in the 16th and 17th centuries, city of Hasht Bahisht, Maidan e Naqsh-e-Jahan, Imam Mosque, Chehel Satoon, Chahar Bagh Boulevard, mosques, bridges and of Zinda Rood (Zayanderood).

In Isfahan, one strongly notices Iranians’ unwavering love for their ancient culture. They have preserved, maintained and promoted old texts, monuments and even rituals.

As I was about to reach Isfahan, I tried to unpack the meaning of Nisf Jahan. People have put this single city against the rest of the world because of its sheer splendid beauty. I too had read and listened about the unmatched beauty, the splendour of its gardens, palaces, mosques, historical buildings, bazaars etc. Suddenly, an idea flashed into my mind: this mundane and the world hereafter both makeJahan-e Mukkamal (the whole world). This particular Islamic interpretation seemed more valid. Muslim Kings have been in pursuit of emulating and creating the Heavenly Paradise as it has been described in the Holy Scripture. Isfahan might have been a copy of Bahisht, the other yet complementing half of the Jahan.

As I got out of the bus, I felt tired, as were the seniors accompanying me. Contrary to my expectations, first impression of Isfahan was more of an ordinary city. The first people who ‘warmly’ welcomed us in the ‘paradise’ were not Hoors or Ghilman but taxi drivers, not speaking Arabic or our mother tongue but Persian. They were looking for good fortune among foreign people while we too were in search of a treasure in a foreign land. A clash of interest was apparent.

Imam Mosque.

Imam Mosque.

Airports, railway stations and bus stands of all major cities of the world offer a unique opportunity to understand how two strands of worldliness (on the part of taxi drivers) and disinterestedness (on the part of travellers) collide as well as cooperate. Anyhow, we did hire a taxi and arrived at a hotel. It is a long story how we shopped for hotels, bargaining and finally succeeding in getting a room in a comparatively low-rent hotel.

After having a cup of black tea, we left the hotel. I must admit how much I loved the ‘black tea’ in Iran. I couldn’t enjoy Doogh-e-Goshfil and Burgers. Chulo Kababs were delicious but, unfortunately, weren’t for me since I am allergic to rice.

We had limited time — we had to leave for Tehran the next evening — but wishes unlimited. We decided to see all what we could on foot. We started our journey from the main tree-lined boulevard that wasn’t not too far from our hotel. I was reminded of Agar Firdos Bar Roo e Zameen Ast/ Hameen Ast o Hameen Ast Hameen Ast.

It was May which is not hot in Isfahan. It was as mildly cold as Lahore is in February. Cool shadows of breezy trees standing in a symmetrical order along both sides of the wide metallic main road were soothing. Chirping of birds deluded us into a world that is discoloured by globalisation. There were shops on both sides of the boulevard but the bustle of big cities was absent.


Si-o-Seh Pul.

Si-o-Seh Pul.

The markets on both sides of the road made it seem like a western city. Most people wore western clothes, except perhaps the headscarf which has been made compulsory after Inqilab for women in Iran. Iranian women seem to have carved a way to assert their freedom by putting on tight jeans and shirts and with an unflinching love for cosmetics.

In Isfahan, one strongly notices Iranians’ unwavering love for their ancient culture. They have preserved, maintained and promoted old texts, monuments and even rituals. They have also incorporated ancient cultural values and ‘world-view’ in their ‘new’ architecture. This we observed while visiting Hasht Bahisht, Maidan e Naqsh-e-Jahan, its adjacent bazaars, Imam Masjid, Chehel Satoon, bridges of Zinda Rood and reliquaries.

Converting to Islam has not made them skeptical, disdainful or disrespectful to their earlier history and its texts and heroes. We in Pakistan need to learn from Iran in this regard.

The most exciting experience was visiting the three red bridges — Pol-e-Khaju, Si-o-Seh Pul, Pol-e-Chobi — built in 17th century by the Safavids on Zinda Rood. They seem to redefine the meaning and purpose of bridging the brinks. If you really want to connect the two shores, you will have to create a kind of ambience that could make the act of crossing a true, deep experience of bridging two different worlds and diverse perspectives.

Crossing Si-o-Seh Pul (bridge having 30 arches) was a marvellous experience. We literally stopped at every step, praising the wonders of architecture.

In the evening, we spent an hour at a café built under a bridge. I could never forget the moments while sipping black tea, listening to the whispering of slow waters of Rood mixed with the twitter of evening birds and radiant faces of Iranian people. In those moments, I was able to set aside all kinds of worries of this or that world, fully living in those moments. I felt fortunate to have finally grasped the ‘holy mystery’ of Isfahan.


Although the majority of Iranian are Muslims and follow Islamic practices, one can find a mysterious ritual practice  too.

What is Zar?

In southern coastal regions of Iran such as Qeshm Island, people believe in the existence of winds that can be either vicious or peaceful, believer (Muslim) or non-believer (infidel). The latter are considered more dangerous than the former and Zar belongs to this group of winds. Most types of Zar are very dangerous and cause disease, discomfort, and at times serious illnesses for the victim. Everyone is subject to the action of the Zar, but the poor and the deprived seem to be the most common victims. These beliefs are common to many areas in south and southwest Iran, including Baluchistan where harmful winds are usually called Gowat (wind or air).

Zar is a disease?

Special ceremonies are held to calm down the Zar and lessen the patient’s symptoms. These ceremonies, called by a leader, bring together the patient and those previously afflicted by the Zar and involve incense, music, and movement. Based on records regarding the Zar ceremony in Qeshm Island, roughly two phases in the ritual can be recognized: separation and incorporation. Preparations for the Zar constitute the separation phase. This phase begins with a person complaining from feelings of disease and discomfort to cult leaders (the male Baba Zar or the female Mama Zar). As some cult leaders have already been possessed by Zars and have managed to control them, they can help others in controlling their Zars.

Baba Zar & Mama Zar

Having opted for a remedy from Baba or Mama Zar, the patient will prepare to stay in isolation for up to seven days. During this period, only Baba Zar or Mama Zar can visit the patient and use specific treatments such as rubbing a combination of aromatic herbs, such as Guraku and Gešt, and spices on the patient’s body. After the separation phase ends, the patient’s body is cleaned and washed, and preparations are made for the incorporation phase. Members of the cult inform everyone about the upcoming ceremony and, as it is considered a sin not to attend a ceremony, every member of the cult attends.

How is it done?

Everyone gathers in a circle with the patient in the center while a piece of cloth, with eggs, dates, confetti, and aromatic herbs, is spread on the floor. After the patient’s head is covered with a piece of white cloth to keep him/her from the glances of strangers, a tray holding aromatic herbs on charcoal is passed around and the patient and the participants are frequently incensed with the smoke from the mixture. The Zar leader takes the lead on music (drums) and is followed by musicians and others present. The leader usually knows the name of the Zars and the music (specific beat of drums) that goes with them. Baba or Mama Zars also sing and the participants respond in turn. During the singing of the incantations, which can be in different languages or dialects or pure melodic sounds containing no discernible words, a Zar makes itself known by means of a sign that is recognized by the possessed person, who then feels a strong inner urge to move. Every piece of music goes with a specific spirit; with each type of music, some members of the cult may start moving and shaking. If there is no reaction from the patient, musicians change the tune until they see a reaction that helps the healer identify the spirit who has taken over the afflicted. The reaction is usually expressed as a swinging of the upper body, vertical movements of the head, and the shaking of the shoulders. When the Zar is identified, the healer starts a conversation where she/he tries to find out what the spirit wants in exchange for leaving the patient alone. Mama Zar or Baba Zar speak with the spirit through the patient and ask the Zar about the reasons behind the affliction as well as its demands for leaving the patient alone.

The belief among the cult is that if the Zar’s wishes are not granted, the Zar will return and create more problems for the patient. If the demands of the Zar can be easily obtained, they are quickly attended to through the initiation of a ceremony with music, food, and the offering that the Zar has demanded. Otherwise, the demands will be met at a later time in a similar ceremony. For example, if the Zar asks for a sacrifice or blood, there will be a ceremony where the sacrificial animal is brought in (with the patient riding it) and slaughtered, after which the blood is drunk by the leader and the patient. At this point, the incorporation phase is completed, the patient becomes a member of the cult and is expected to participate in all future ceremonies. These ceremonies may take up to seven days beyond the separation phase. Members of the cult must follow certain rules regarding their outfits (clean and white) and must adhere to prohibitions on the touching of corpses (animal or human), the drinking of alcohol, sex with unlawful partners Selling or letting go of the object the Zar has asked for is prohibited as well; if the Zar has asked for an outfit or an accessory, the patient must have that particular outfit/accessory on in all future ceremonies. It is believed that if these rules are broken, the Zars will rise again, thus necessitating another ceremony to appease them.