Continued from Intrepid in Iran: Day 1 - Getting there
* Tall, stocky, blue eyes and impressive whiskers. That was Shaiky Bhai, our taxi driver, who spoke less than a dozen words in English, but who could expertly maneuver a vehicle with one male passenger in front, and 4 tightly wedged female passengers in the back. He convinced us to abandon our original plan of checking into our hotel and then going to the bazaars. “It’s Eid,” he told us in Farsi, “not a single shop will be open. It’s better if I take you to Persepolis instead.” Seeing the empty roads and shuttered shops en route to the city, we agreed to his plan.
* Ask me anything you want to know about Shiraz, Shaiky Bhai offered. I was keen to know if the famous Shiraz wine had any connection with the city. But when Heeba mentioned the word ‘sharaab’ (alcohol), even the unshakeable Shaiky Bhai sounded scandalized. Note to self (I jotted in my diary): 1. Avoid mention of alcohol while in Iran. 2. Consult online sources.
* We stopped at a restaurant before hitting Persepolis, and decided to sample some of the fine Iranian fare we’d heard so much about. Every single eye in the packed restaurant was on us as we entered. Did my headscarf slip? Is my costume ok? I did a rapid scan. All seemed fine. Then it struck us, that perhaps it was that invisible sign above our heads – TOURISTS AHOY! With our headscarves and tunics, I thought we’d done a good job of blending in, but the swivelling heads in the restaurant told us otherwise.
* We took off our shoes, positioned ourselves around the sofa bed, and waited to place our orders. Heeba had recommended the authentic Iranian stew. The waiter ruefully informed us – no stew, but do try the rice and kebabs. No problem, we thought, we still have 3 more days to try the stews. We piled our plates with juicy red tomatoes and pickled vegetables and waited. The rice and kebab dish turned out to be just that! Plain rice and grilled kebabs. The rice was flavoured with tiny stands of saffron and oodles of butter. It certainly was delicious (as all butter-laden fare usually is) but made one incredibly sluggish as well. The thought of catching a quick snooze on the sofa-bed was tempting, but we had a date with history.
* 512 B.C. 512 B.C! I couldn’t help marveling that I was standing amid ruins that were really that old. Even in its crumbling state, it seemed magnificent. Now known as Takht-e-Jamshid, Persepolis was originally built by Darius the Great and his heirs over a period of 150 years.
The walls still held exquisitely perfect etchings of humans, of beasts, of enchanting tableaus involving kings and visitors from exotic lands. Even the graffiti scribbled by vainglorious visitors had a certain aura, the oldest one dating back to the early 1800s.
Gaurav, Sonya and me climbed to the top of the mound where one of the emperors had been interred in a tomb. The view of the palace complex from the top was spectacular. If only we could watch the sun set over the ruins, we thought. But visiting hours were ‘8 – 17’ only, as the board at the entrance informed us.
* By the time we headed back to our vehicle, I was hot, tired and sorely uncomfortable. I had re-adjusted my headscarf at least 500 times, and I was one step away from itching my head like a primate. Compounding the discomfort was the dual layer of clothing I had donned. I couldn’t wait to reach the hotel and excavate myself from all of it.
Coming next: Mind your language