One doesn’t need an alarm clock to wake up when travelling by train in Iran. Just before sunrise, the train attendant walks along the train, “Namaaz, namaaz, namaaz!” and the train stops at a special prayer station, and everyone (well, some didn’t) gets down to pray.
It was still a bit dark outside when the train left the prayer stop, so I went back to sleep. But I was glad I woke up a bit later to see the dawn break as the train passed through beautifully barren landscapes!
The train arrived in Shiraz earlier than expected! And Shiraz railway station is really quite far from the city! I took a taxi for about 15 toman (150000 Rial or about 4 USD) into town. The taxi driver tried to ‘taroof‘ me, but thanks to my little research before my trip, I wasn’t in an awkward situation.
I had contacted Hooman and Nazanin’s family through couchsurfing. As I entered their home, little did I know that my Iranian experience was just going to turn into something life-changing! After getting introduced to Hooman and Nazanin, we sat down for a delicious lunch of Shirazi Pulao with soya instead of meat just for me! And of course, with delicious tahdig! And to top it off – different varieties of yogurt! Just after lunch, little Baran came home and the whole atmosphere changed! I was warned earlier that I should get ready for non-stop talking, but nothing prepared me for what just entered home! It was like a cuteness explosion! I had to be like a kid again to play with her and essentially obey all her commands. Just a few minutes with Baran and I felt completely at home! Later, when young Shayan returned home from school, I had finally met everyone in the family. I was absolutely impressed by how smart Shayan was, for his age, and started to feel incredibly lucky to be hosted by such a warm family!
I didn’t have any solid plans of what to do around Shiraz, except perhaps visit Persepolis the next day. So, we had a chat about many things ranging from the history of Persepolis to Bollywood movies to religion and spirituality. Late in afternoon, Nazanin took me out to do a bit to sightseeing in Shiraz. Our first stop was the Tomb of Hafez. Shiraz, famous for its poets, and Nazanin being a poet herself, I felt really luck to get such a nice guided tour! It was a serene and peaceful place. Usually I have difficulties with understanding poetry, but here, I felt something different. Nazanin’s descriptions combined with almost every passerby quoting Hafez in conversations, helped me literally to feel the poetry in the air in Shiraz!
From the tomb of Hafez, walking through the Quran gate to the the tomb of Khaju Kermani, as the sun went down behind the mountains, we continued our poetic tour! Standing at the tomb, watching all the vehicles enter Shiraz through the gap in the mountains near the Quran gate, it felt as though the only right way to enter Shiraz was through here, catching a whiff of poetry along the way.
We visited Hooman’s clinic, which specialised in physiotherapy for patients with some damage to the brain. It was very inspiring to see Hooman’s work and his dedication to help people even if that means using his ingenuity to create specialised exercise equipment himself! After a sandwich-dinner at a cozy western-style cafe, it was fun time at home with the whole family, showing photos to each other, watching bollywood videos, exchanging stories about each other’s place and culture and in general, having a great time!
Of course, no visit to Shiraz would be complete without a visit to Persepolis. The taxi driver who drove me to Persepolis and back was yet another example of a lovely Iranian man. He spoke a lot, although only in Persian, but he used his body to try and express himself as much as possible! It was a fun time for me to decipher what he saying using bits a pieces of Hindi/Urdu words that I knew. After a while, I started to get into the flow, we ended up having long conversations! It was a lovely sunny day, not a cloud in sight, and a pleasant 16 degrees! In Persepolis, I came across international tourists for the first time since I entered Iran. I could hear Italian, German and Chinese being spoken!
Persepolis requires a bit of imagination to picture it in the grandeur as it stood more than 2000 years ago. But thanks to the ‘poetry in the air’ of Shiraz that I was mentioning, my brain was on a roll with imagination, and I had a surprisingly good time walking through the ruins of Persepolis. I sat down at the cafe for a while, to cool down and write some postcards. Back to my taxi, and our fun conversation started! Some of the sentences I remember were –
- “een taraf, oon taraf, gandon” (Hindi: is taraf, oos taraf, gehun) meaning “This side, that side, wheat”
- “Jangal, hameeshe sabz” (Hindi: Jangal, hamesha hara) meaning “Jungle, evergreen..”
- “Zaman-e-shah khub bhood” (Hindi: Shah ka zamana khoob tha) meaning “The time of the Shah was great”
The last one was a sentiment that I heard multiple times in Iran from various people. We had a pleasant drive back home and he entire journey of about 120 km costed just about 65 toman ($20), which I thought was very reasonable!
We went out to have lunch at an Italian restaurant, where the waiter tried to speak Hindi with me that he had learnt when he was working in Dubai. I spent the rest of my time at home having a fun time with the kids and watching the movie ‘Swades‘. I had such a nice time with everyone in the family, that I didn’t want to leave! My wish almost came true when we got kind of lost on our way to the airport, and we arrived just 10 minutes before the take-off time! But the plane happened to be delayed a lot, so I could still make it.
As I settled down into my seat in the Airbus A300 (which by the way, is in service only in Iran and a handful of other places), a picture of Al Pacino greeted my on the inflight magazine cover. I had just been talking to Nazanin and Hooman about him, and to my poetic mind at that moment, it felt like Al Pacino was telling me that I enjoyed my time in Shiraz so much that I am very sure I will be back again!