2010
04.07

SYNOPSIS:  The tourists from the Silk Road Hotel went on an excursion.  This blog is about an abandoned mud-brick town with a shaking minaret, the most important Zoroastrian Temple in Iran and how I almost fell off a mosque dome in Yazd.  Being shaken by a minaret and trapped by a scarf – a day of scary moments.

I thought I had made it all the way down inside the pitch-dark minaret at Kharanaq when instead of an opening, I reached a brick wall!  I am not claustrophobic, but when I found myself in a space no wider than my body on a spiraling staircase on which I had to feel every step down, at least I expected to be out by now.  I called for help until Hassan, our tour leader heard me.  You have to go down the other side, he yelled, one staircase is a dead end.  Thanks!  That information would have been helpful on the top, where I started!

About four of our group of fourteen had dared to go up inside this brick minaret in the abandoned mud-brick town of Kharanaq an hour North of Yazd.  We had come with a small tour bus and an additional taxi for the overflow, organized by the Silk Road Hotel, where we were staying.  Only one of us made it all the way to the very top and that was athletic, tall and skinny Nicholas from Hong-Kong.  He struck a great sculptural pose there for all of us to photograph.  I had just stopped out to the outer rim of the minaret contemplating if I would dare to continue in the even tighter upper quarter, when he started to shake the minaret.  It is one thing to watch two minarets shaking from the ground as Nicola and I had done in Esfahan.  It is another to be outside a very, very narrow rim way up there and being shaken!

Pega, a young Iranian woman from Aachen in Germany, stood next to me and both of us were clinging to the back of the tower, trying not to look down into our shaking surroundings.   It only took a few seconds – I had to think of Mohi and Sahi’s story of the earthquake at Bam.  12 seconds can be a very long time.  The bricks were grinding against each other.  I could see, hear, and feel it.  I admit, this was a scary moment especially, since my stomach was already turning looking down from this height.

In Esfahan, we had been given the impression that shaking minarets are a great rarity, but I am beginning to think that there are quite a number of these, many of which exist in quiet obscurity.  Kharanaq is one of the many abandoned mud-brick towns that are of interest only now after Bam has been lost – this one about 1300 years old and abandoned only about 40 years ago when no electricity could be provided to the town.  It is an eerie and picturesque place.  In one of the old houses there was a page from a book, likely a Koran.  I took it as a souvenir.  One old woman was washing laundry in the crystal clear qanat (water channel) which was running along the edge of town down into the valley.  It once had provided the town with water; now it was only irrigating the lush green fields in this desert oasis.  One old man was making his way up the hill on his donkey transporting grass.  These were the only signs of life.

One other stop today was Meybod, where we visited a mud-brick castle, a caravanserai and a pigeon tower from the Sassanian period.  I am beginning to be “mud-bricked out”.  But there is always something new to discover.  At the Narein Castle two old men were actually making mud bricks the very same old way it has been done over centuries.  There is nothing more to it than mixing straw with just the right amount of sand and water.  The whole mud pie goes into a form and then is left sitting on the ground until it is dry enough to be set up on its side for complete “baking” by the sun.  One after another, these two men were creating their days’ quota of bricks used for reconstruction purposes.

I had never been inside a pigeon tower.  Pigeon eggs were believed to cure illnesses, pigeon meat was eaten, and pigeons were used for delivery services as well.  4000 pigeons were once housed and raised in this particular, restored tower.  This was a unique structure with spiral staircases that allowed access to all the pigeon holes and to the top for a great view of town.

But the highlight of the trip was supposed to be Chak Chak (translated “drip, drip”).   Every year in June, thousands of Zoroastrians from all over the world gather here for their most important fire ritual, commemorating the disappearance of a legendary princess into the mountains.  She was escaping from the Arab invaders and ended up here, where she is supposed to have struck the mountain for water.  Drip, drip, it started to come out of the mountains.  The water is believed to be sacred.  To this day, every drop is caught in buckets and saved for the pilgrims.  Visitors are allowed year round, except for the festival in June.  This was a climb!  And it was a bit of a disappointment.  The site was all built up with modern brick dorms for the pilgrims.  It is empty here, except for the caretaker and the one week in June.  The shrine consists of nothing much but two incense burners and the dripping mountain.  But it was interesting to see that it is an active site which allows the remaining Zoroastrians free practice of their religion.

If felt like a real tourist today.  Hassan was one of those awful tour leaders that make me avoid this kind of a programmed trip as much as possible:  With a monotone voice he would rattle through his memorized speech at each site and move on.  But there is no public transport to Chak Chak and going on a tour kept the price of getting there within reason.   At the Silk Road Hotel there are two general types of lodgers: The real tourists who come here for a few days and who are visiting Iran for a couple of weeks, and the back packers.  I am sort of in between the two.

I enjoy the company of these young people and am grateful that they accepted me into their circle.  In so many ways, they remind me of my hitchhiking days.  In the early evening, they went out for a walk to the “Sunset Spot”.  Through the narrow alleys of Yazd we walked up to a mosque which has an accessible roof top.  A dome over the sanctuary has a few stepping stones and a crowd of about 10 people squeezed onto it watching the sun go down and listening to the muezzin calling gently for the evening prayers.  The dome is steep and many of the stepping stones are missing.  These kids almost walk up there like monkeys.  Me…  I looked up and thought I would never make it, but I tried and I could have succeeded, if it had not been for my scarf…!  It got trapped below my foot, pulled my face to the dome and there I was, hanging half way in the air on a slanted dome.  I could not pull up my foot under which the scarf was trapped since my other foot had no place to go!  Three guys to the rescue: One provided a footrest for my other foot, one rescued my camera and one pulled me up – ugh!  What a spectacle.  That was the second scary moment of the day…  But I was up.  We had a fantastic view.

The evening passed with the usual activities, emailing, blogging, and discussing life until the early morning hours.

Good night.

2 comments so far

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  1. Sounds similar to this Lovecraft story: http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/nc.asp

    Scary.

  2. This day brought back memories of trips that we have been on; the pigeon towers in Egypt and the abandoned mud brick town in western China on the Silk Road where the heat was almost unbearable.