Southern Iran

<> Chaykhuneh Vakil Kerman
The Chaykhuneh-e Vakil inside the Vakil bazaar is undoubtedly the artistic highlight of Kerman, one of the largest cities in southern Iran.  And the tea ain't bad either.  Iranian tea is concentrated and bitter requiring sugar, similar to Turkish tea and in contrast with the Chinese style served in Central Asia and the Indian style sweetened milk tea that is served on the Arabian peninsula.


Persepolis bas relief detail

Persepolis horsehead

Persepolis cuneiform bas relief

Persepolis staircase

Persepolis is considered one of the great ancient ruins of the world, and there's no doubt that the reputation of this Zoroastrian-age royal complex stems primarily from the extraordinary bas-reliefs carved on walls and staircases.  Fine bas-reliefs are arguably the major contribution to pre-islamic artistic heritage in Iran.  That horsehead is often depicted in promotional photos of Persepolis, but it's the exception to the rule.  This was also the first time I'd ever seen cuneiform-descended script in situ.   Cool!





Arg-e Rayen

The Arg (castle) in Rayen, a lofty hill town at over 2000m elevation south of Kerman, is being groomed as the touristic substitute for the destroyed Arg in Bam, a much larger site.  Intensive restoration work has been completed at the Arg-e Rayen, and it gives an idea of what the Arg-e Bam might have looked like before the December 2003 earthquake.  The appealing snowcapped 4000m+ Mt. Hezar lends a dramatic and beautiful backdrop here that doesn't exist in Bam.


Bam bazaar

This is the current Bam Bazaar.  The original bazaar remains a dug out dirt ditch occupying a city square, a full two years after the earthquake.  At least they cleared out the rubble in that square, which is not the case for most of the modern city of Bam.  The vast majority of commerce takes place inside shipping containers like these shown, wired for electricity and in some cases with even air conditioners installed in a cut out rectangle.  Appallingly little has been done to reconstruct Bam properly, and the earthquake looked it happened 2 months ago rather than 2 years.  Without even invoking international relief funds, the central government monopolizing wealth of the 2nd largest oil reserves in the world (but only one quarter of which is poured into the national budget, the other three-quarters mysteriously disappearing) should be held accountable for the shamefully lethargic progress of repairs.  There is little will shown on the street as well, unlike the phoenix of Ko Phi Phi in Thailand, where a vigorous reopening and visible efforts in reconstruction by private citizens only one year after its destruction by tsunami should be used as a model.  Or the renaissance and complete rebuilding and revitalisation of Gujarat 5 years after their killer temblor.  It doesn't look promising in Bam, where I don't understand why they're even attempting to invest funds and labour at the moment into restoring the totally annihilated Arg.

Bushehr door

A lovely Bandari door in the old town of Bushehr on the northern Persian Gulf coast of Iran.  The bandari culture of this coastal region is quite distinct from the persian interior, and represents a mix of Persian and arab and african influences stemming from historical trading migrations.  The brass door knockers in the form of a human hand is a pecularity of Bushehr.  Though much of it is in decay, the old city in Bushehr still contains  many examples of lovely designs that should be conserved, and walking the narrow alleys meandering through the residents' daily life is  a very enjoyable experience.


Bandar Langeh

Another Bandari city on the southern Persian Gulf coast is Bandar Langeh, whose port is active but historically trumped in its importance by the British port of Bushehr up the coast and the modern shipping hub of Bandar-e Abbas not far away.  Without the bustle of commerce or the legacy of empire, the sleepy atmosphere and people of Langeh is a relaxing antidote to stress and travel fatigue. There isn't much to do here except wander through the ruined buildings of the old bandari town (even the seashore is offlimits to foreigners and totally developed by port and shipping and military interests) but it is a tranquil, sunny, and pleasant sort of nothing-to-do.

<>Bandar-e Abbas beach
<>If you've ever wondered what fully chadorified muslim women do at the beach, here you go.  Though considered a "hole" by many foreign travellers, Bandar-e Abbas is not only a transport and commercial hub of the region, but a vacation destination for Iranians (and some international persian gulf tourists) seeking winter warmth, seaside beaches and shopping.  A poor man's Dubai if you will. I enjoyed my time here and flew out of Iran from Bandar.

Hormoz island port

Hormoz island is the most pleasant quick getaway from Bandar.  Formerly the site of the most important colonial garrison in the region, the Portuguese eventually were driven out by Iranian forces with British help, and ever since has calmed down into a quiet fishing island, where endless lunch breaks and a cheerful island mentality overcomes locals and foreigners alike.  The ruins of the russet coloured Portuguese fortress on the northernmost promontory of the island still tower over the only village, like the jagged peaks of the mountains which cover most of the island.  Small shared boats such as these coming into port are the only means of public transportation to the mainland, where locals must go to buy food and supplies.

Minab market

All foreign tourists come to the colourful Thursday market (panjshanbe bazaar) in Minab, east along the gulf coast from Bandar, to see the famous "masked" women unique to this region.  The often colourful burqas are believed to have arisen historically as a matter of fashion more than function.  Minab is a smaller, less developed version of Bandari life that is more traditional than Bandar-e Abbas but more lively than Bandar Langeh.  Very much worth the short hour's shared taxi ride from Bandar.  Friendly, graceful, and tolerant Bandari people were a welcome contrast to the more in-your-face, follow-you-all-over-town, interrogate-you-from-a-list-of-questions brand of friendliness found in some parts of inland Iran.