Qom and Esfahan

Day 12: 22nd July Driving to Qom and EsfahanToday was a memorable day. We left on a cool morning driving towards Tehran. The motorway is fantastic. 3 lanes either side with occasional tolls that are about 50 US cents or up to US$1 per section. Quite affordable. When we were approaching Tehran we began to notice the pollution. Even within 5kms of the outskirts we could not see the prominent communication tower in the centre of Tehran, nor even the mountains that cradle one side of Tehran.The mountains are quite substantial. The ones beside Tehran are up to 3400m high. In winter you can leave Tehran, take a cable car and be skiing within 45 minutes.
However, we were not visiting Tehran and we took the ring road towards Qom.
Qom is Iran’s second holiest city after Mashhad. It is one of Iran’s most religious and conservative cities. There are over 150,000 Shite scholars and students that come here every year to study in it’s madrasehs (schools). We were very fortunate to come here as normally it is not easy for non-muslims to visit. Our guide Arman however, understood what we could see and do. We arrived at the underground carpark beside the Hazrat-e Masumeh shrine complex. It was amazing to see a monorail system being built from the main motorway towards the holy complex. It will carry pilgrims into the area to visit and pray.
The underground carpark proved to be a bridge too far (or is that too low) for the Quokkavan. They could not fit under the height guide for the parking area despite it stating the clearance was 2.2m and Quokkavan is 2.1m. C-YA was able to enter but Arman went off with Pete and Mark to search for an open parking area which they eventually did.
We walked to the entrance of the shrine which is the burial place of Fatemah, sister of Imam Reza, one of the most important Muslim Imams. She died and was interred there in the 9th century.It has 2 huge gold domes, exquisitely tiled minarets and amazing pure gold and silver covered entrances over the doors to the shrine. We needed an approved guide to take us through the complex and we were fortunate to have a muslim cleric, Imam Hosseini, to escort and explain the complex to us. It has a number of plazas with fountains, all covered in colourful tiles. There were thousands of people there and all the women were completely covered in their chadors.
We were then invited to a guest room for refreshments and hospitality. It was fascinating to hear the Imam’s explanation of Islam as a religion and its relation to other religions. It was a fascinating visit and a privileged and memorable one.
We then rejoined the motorway towards Esfahan. Once again we refuelled. It cost us $12 for 58 litres of diesel. The fuel is so cheap here! We also had a quick lunch at one of their motorway restaurants. The food in them is great and cheap. Soup, salad, kebabs for only a few dollars.
On the road to Esfahan the scenery is desert like with little vegetation but quite rugged hills and landscape. We passed by the not-so-secret underground nuclear facility beside the motorway to Esfahan. Above ground there is little to see apart from a few low buildings. Most is underground.
On arrival in Esfahan, population about 1.8million, we checked into out hotel, the Isfahan Parsian Kowsar, where our rooms overlooked the river. About $60 per night for a 4.5 star hotel. We quickly got changed as were were booked into Esfahan’s best restaurant for dinner. Restaurant Shahrzad. It has opulent Qajar-style wall paintings, stained glass windows and battalions of black-suited waiters. When we first arrived there were more waiters than diners. We had some of the house specialities like chelo fesenjun (chicken in a walnut and pomegranate sauce) and fish from the Persian Gulf, as well as the ubiquitous kebabs. Jeff is actually beginning to be “kebabed-out”. Lately the only meal without a kebab has been breakfast. He thinks it may be time for a change, no matter how delicious they are!
Our walk to and from the restaurant took us over the Pol-e- Si-o-Seh bridge, literally a bridge of 33 arches across the river. Built around 1600 it served as both a bridge and a dam, forming a pool of water that could be used for boat or swimming races. At night it was a beautiful sight and full of people strolling along it or sitting beside it enjoying the warm, balmy weather.
Tomorrow we explore Esfahan in more detail.
C-YA Andrew and Jeff
Andrew Bochenekwww.khanonaussie.com
Mongolia Charity Rally 2015

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