Goodbye Tehran


While Tehran has much human drama to keep a first-time or umpteenth-time visitor entertained, the heart of Iran still beats in the central plateau south of the city. It behooves a visitor to join the well-paved and heavily travelled freeway that winds along dry washes and barren desert landscapes past the holy city of Qom to Kashan and Yazd, and to places where vast armies once maneuvered and great kings held court and managed the world’s first empire.

Qom, like Tehran, is a congested city, but the highway soon crosses a hot-in-day/cool-at-night arid and windswept land lined with gravel, sand and salt plains (with lots of discarded trash), mixed with empty hills and distant hazy mountains (the Zagros). It is hard for me to imagine that such a place could foster and feed an empire at one time unless up until a millennium or so ago the climate was perhaps wetter and more welcoming of vegetation. I have found no documentation so far to support my theory, however.

If I hadn’t known better, the highway might have been a bypass of Phoenix, Arizona or Austin, Texas. Along the way, Iran’s modernization scheme has already been realized in some locations where so-called rest areas for motorists resemble familial meccas for cool clean fun, and even miniature shopping malls. All sorts of people mingle at these welcome centers, including busloads of European tourists and automobiles transporting whole families of city-dwellers seeking holiday relaxation in a Thousand and One Nights. The cars are predominantly pale-colored or white in color, presumably to ward off the heat of the blazing sun. This region is definitely the antithesis of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness assigned to the depths of the African jungle. Here in a desert, bereft of trees, is the “heart of lightness,” where the Persian sun dominated a nearly cloudless sky every day while I passed through.

The Masumeh Shrine of Qom

The Shrine of Fatima Masumeh (Persian: حرم فاطمه معصومه‎‎) lis in Qom -- considered by Shia Muslims to be the second most sacred city in Iran after Mashhad. Fatima Masumeh was the sister of the eighth Imam Reza and the daughter of the seventh Imam Musa al-Kadhim. Shia women apparently may be revered as saints if they are close relatives to one of the Twelver Imams. And such shrines of family members outnumber even the holy sites dedicated to the founding imams themselves, throughout Iran.

I only viewed Qom's large complex (more than 400,000 sq ft.) through the window of a mini-bus. Since the beginning of Qom's history in the 7th century, many authors equate the city with Shi'ism set apart from the Sunni caliphate. Qom is a "place of refuge for believers," and today is advertized as a deeply religious place that fosteres religious scholarship in various seminaries and organizations.

{ In next week's blog, we venture to Kashan, a conservative smaller city with an unique ambiance of its own. }

A motorists' mecca on the Tehran to Yazd highway

Many kabobs in a fresh new cafeteria

Two serious looking men might be government police/guard -- with posters of cosmopolitan Persian men's wear

A coffee and tea and book retreat on the highway. I was invited by one family to join them and a cup of coffee for a chat about America.

Another highway rest stop in a 21rst century flavor

Richard Bangs samples the perfumes

To be continued.....

#Islam #SilkRoad #Persia #sun #photography #travel

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