2010
04.11

SYNOPSIS:  In pursuit of the unusual, I visited the Zoroastrian Towers of Silence, one of only two circular caravanserais and the oldest mosque I have ever come across, claiming to be 1400 years old.  In pursuit of the exceptions to the rule.

I hired a taxi today and wouldn’t you know it, the taxi driver’s name was Ali.  Ali the 1st from Aleppo is still my favorite, followed by Ali the 2nd from Kerman and now Ali the 3rd from Yazd.  I thought carpet dealers were named Ali.  That name must have spread into the taxi trade.  350 kilometers and 8 hours later, I am pooped but I saw a few amazing things.

I started last night with a ride to the outskirts of town to the two Zoroastrian Towers of Silence.  I had seen one of those still in operation in the Zoroastrian compound of Karachi in Pakistan.  The two here in Yazd have been closed since the 1960’s when the town encroached onto them, and the government no longer allowed their use as deposits for the dead.  Zoroastrians have very strict rules concerning the disposal of a dead body.  Traditionally these involve the deposit of the body on top of a tower until it has been picked clean by vultures and other birds of prey.   There are two towers; a larger one on a taller hill, and a smaller one on a lower hill nearby.  According to our local sources one is for males, and the other for females.  These days, a modern Zoroastrian cemetery is at the bottom of both hills lined with traditional looking tomb stones.  Again, strict rules govern the burials, including lining the grave with concrete to prevent contamination of the soil.

Today, Ali took me way out of town, first South, and then South-East.  Two things stand out for me:  First, we visited one of only two circular caravanserais in Iran.  There is one, near Esfahan which has crumbled into nothing much.  This one, Zein-o-din, South of Yazd, has been fully renovated into a desert retreat hotel with amazing facilities.  Showers, Bathrooms, a full kitchen, restaurant, individual and dorm rooms are available.   Everything is beautifully decorated with carpets and antiques ranging from metal works to articles used and created by Nomads.  The roof-top views are wonderful.  I can only imagine a night out here with the starry sky descending all the way down to the horizon.  There is no civilization nearby except for the highway passing by in the distance.

Along the way to Bafgh, we passed the town of Fahraj.  There I visited the real highlight of the day – the oldest mosque I have ever come across, made of mud-bricks.  And we were lucky enough to arrive just when a scheduled school group of girls from Yazd left.  That meant that the minaret tower had been unlocked and we were able to climb it all the way to the top for some wonderful views of the fully functioning mud-brick town and the surrounding desert.  According to the sign posted there, the mosque is 1400 years old.  How can that be?!  This would put it in the 600’s, barely a couple of decades after Mohammed’s death in 631.  This would make it part of the reign of the very first Islamic dynasty, the Umayyads in Damascus.  How impressive is that!  It has a simple courtyard with no iwan (niche).  The sanctuary is made up of three barrel vaults resting on massive pillars.  The minaret is comparatively slender but not very tall.   The entire structure is made of sun-dried mud bricks.  It goes without saying that this is way before the onset of any tile decoration.  I like this austerity a lot.   It may not be the most impressive sight around here, but I still don’t see why the Lonely Planet omitted it completely!

Aside from all of this I saw a few more mud-brick villages, including a really impressive mud-brick castle.  But I am sure you are as mud-bricked out as I am.  A few more shrines were on the way in Saryazd and Bafgh, a few more water reservoirs, and a village palm oasis which was entirely fed by ancient qanats.  My favorite among all the mud bricks however, was a camel which poked its head through an opening curious to find out what we were doing outside its stable.  It was a young camel, almost playful.  But I have respect for these animals.  I never know when they will bite or spit so I kept a safe distance.

I am still not fully recovered from my sun stroke.  Thankfully, I could sleep in the taxi between the various sites.  But I have to go to bed early if I want to make progress.  I should leave tomorrow to head North to a Na’in, a small town with another very old mosque.  I hope I am ready.  It is hard to leave Yazd.  After Aleppo in Syria, it has become my second favorite.

Good night.