Following the mixed bag of experiences in Shiraz, I turn my attentions towards Yazd, a desert town that is slap bang in the middle of the country. So much so that you can’t actually see it on the google map because it’s covered by the ‘I’ of IRAN. Rest assured it’s there though, and it’s another tourist magnet and part of the gringo triangle with Isfahan and Shiraz. I was hoping for some camels.
I’ve been enjoying the bus rides around the country. Not least because hitchhiking can be a serious chore, and there’s nothing better than throwing yourself on to a cheap but comfortable bus, knowing exactly when and where you’re going to arrive. And not only do you get a very comfy seat that reclines almost horizontally, loads of leg room and space to yourself, but they kindly provide you with a tuck box. This usually consists of a load of biscuits in varying degrees of dryness (hell on earth if you’ve got wood-mouth), a horrible sugary drink with bits in it, and a portion of fruit if you’re lucky. But if Allah is really smiling on you, you might get a fluffy cake. And they’re fucking delicious.
OK, OK so I feel there’s a modicum of cheating going on. It’s been weighing on my mind for some time, but technically I’m still obeying the rules, as I will continue my hitch towards India when I eventually leave Tehran. All I’m doing now is saving time and a lot of hassle to see as much as I can on my limited visa. The major downside to hitchhiking is time. You can never really know where you’re going to end up and when. Instant adventure in a cup if you’re free, total nightmare if you’ve got a schedule to adhere to. Unfortunately in Iran it’s the latter. This is my excuse anyway. And there’s an anxious tension still there too. I don’t care what you say – you can be a rookie or a hitching black-belt, but you’ll always feel a flutter of nerves before you set out, especially since leaving Europe behind, or being off the road for a while. “What the hell am I doing?” often crosses my mind. Sinking into a coach seat and closing your eyes takes that all away.
Ironically enough, just as I’m going through a jaded phase, it is in Yazd that I meet a fellow hitcher. Sam is an Aussie (unfortunately – but they’re alright on their own) and we’re practically cut from the same cloth – right down to our previous occupation – both residential child care workers supporting badly behaved kids. If he wasn’t a foot taller than me and hairier than Sasquatch it would be like looking into a mirror.
And so at his suggestion I decide to join him on a hitch out of the city to a Zoroastrian religious site, and I rediscover my zest and zeal for a free ride. So much so that even when my expensive and extremely hard to find clip-on sunglasses fly off my face while riding in the back of a pick-up, I hardly bat an eye in the hope that I still look like a hitchhiking literary badass. Jack Kerouac is my bitch yo.
The day turns into a real gem. Sam and I get on like a house on fire while hitching and hiking out into the middle of nowhere to the famous pilgrimage site of Chak-Chak. With little or no traffic on the road, we’re trekking a fair bit, but it is here out of earshot and away from the prying eyes of the establishment that we can vent some serious spleen about religious authoritarianism. The air turned blue I can tell you, but at the end of it there was a solidarity, and the bond of two men who at that moment would murder for a beer and a blow job.
Not with each other of course…with…y’know…a women…and stuff. You know what I mean.
Anyway I digress. Chak-Chak is an ancient Zoroastrian pilgrimage site. For those not in the know (formerly like myself) Zoroastrianism is a pre-Islam/Christian religion thought to be one of the oldest monotheistic in the world, still with around 2 million followers mostly located in Iran and India. Yet another blatantly obvious reason why all of this crap is made up by man, is the simple fact that Christianity and Islam “borrowed” bits they took a fancy to from Zoroastrianism. One mans fictional deity cherry-picking from another mans fictional deity. To me it absolutely beggars belief when you have a literal, physical paper trail like a car owners MOT log leading all the way back to when some nut first created this superstitious nonsense. Each to their own I suppose. I’ve been doing well not to get dragged into the debate with a blog post, but I feel that time is at an end. So along with a rant about couch-surfing I’ve got a rant about religion coming up too. I’m not doing myself any favours.
Tradition has it that pilgrims, at the first sight of the fire temple,(where the flame has been burning constantly for thousands of years apparently) must stop and continue their journey on foot. This is no mean feat since you can see the thing from a good distance away, and with barely a sinner visiting at the same time as us, Sam and I make our own 7 Km pilgrimage back to the main road. To be honest if I was approaching this place in a car I’d just keep my eyes closed until the front door.
One tour group (three tall European looking dudes and a short girl) clearly haven’t had any spirit of goodwill rub off on them at the holy shrine, as they speed past the two of us hobbling up the road in the same direction. A lift to the main highway was the least they could do, but I can imagine one naysayer aboard complaining that we didn’t pay a bean. And quite rightly so. I’d feel ripped off too if I’d paid 200 bucks to do what we just did for nothing. Blisters or no blisters.
Not content with my pilgrimage, I also paid a visit to the “towers of silence”, another one of these Zoro-thingy sights. I heard about this location from my bible; Atlas Obscura. Apparently it was a place they used to take the dead to be “decontaminated” before their final resting place. According to their traditions, once someone dies, your body can be entered by demons, and the only way to be purified was to be left to the elements at the top of the towers. Only when the bone was bleached and fleshed removed by carrion could they be buried. Bodies were being discovered here until very recently, but the tradition is now illegal – for obvious reasons. Stacking your dead loved one outside and waiting for their flesh to be eaten isn’t my idea of respect. Still – this is my kinda tourism.
In the end I didn’t get to see much of Yazd itself, save for wandering around at night. But it certainly looked like a charming little town, with an old-world street maze feel to it that people would love to get lost in. Following yet another astounding kebab and rice dinner, (i have been crapping like a king – but unsure if the position at pooping or the sustenance is responsible) Sam and I go our separate ways on differing night buses. I hope we meet again somewhere around the world to once again compare our hitch stories, tips, tricks, trials and tribulations, not because I enjoyed his company, but because the sneaky Aussie bastard owes me half the cab fare.
My own horseless coach whisks me back to Isfahan, for the return circuit to the capital. In the next few days I find out if Iran is going to allow me to stay a little longer, and then I can begin the nightmare Turkmenistan/Uzbekistan visa process which takes so long, you might find my bones in the desert clinging to a 3.5 x 4.5 cm passport photograph. At least I’ll have lost some weight.