We found an internet place and checked emails then got a taxi to the bus station - a gravelly patch on the edge of town. When we got there a Tehran-bound bus was waiting and people were hollering at us trying to get us to take a ride. We hadn't had confirmation from Mehdi about visiting him in Tehran so we didn't get the bus because we wanted to call him first. We explained to all the over-excited people that we needed to make a phone call before we went anywhere. We also enquired about busses to Hamadan where we said we would visit Bahram and Mariam. One particularly annoying taxi driver wanted to drive us all the way to Hamadan and was extra-persistant.
We couldn't get through to Mehdi on the payphone. The Tehran bus was still there. One of its passengers let us use his mobile to call Mehdi. It rang but there was no answer. People were gathered around us eagerly awaiting our business. We decided to retire to the bus station cafe for some Fanta. They left us in peace. The bus drove away. Then, a bit later the guy with the mobile phone came back. He had got the bus to stop because Mehdi had returned the missed call! But we still couldn't hear him! The connection was too bad!
Without being able to speak to Mehdi we decided it was better to go to Hamadan instead of Tehran.
To get the Hamadan bus we first had to get a taxi into the nearby city of Rasht. When we finally found a taxi it was the same driver who had been a real pest when we arrived at the bus station! All the way into Rasht he kept on insisting to drive us all the way to Hamadan in his taxi. The distance was about 1000 km! He even offered to take us for cheaper than the bus! It didn't make any sense and the guy just made us all feel uncomfortable. So I asked him why he wanted to take us to Hamadan so much. He replied "So that I can have sex with the girls". There was uneasy silence after that.
The taxi drove through all the traffic and droped us at the big bus station. We walked across the bus station car park. We found the place to get tickets for Hamadan and left our bags behind the counter. We had a few hours to wait and so we went to look for some lunch. There were a couple of places just outside the bus station. We went into one that claimed to be a pizza place and asked for pizza. They didnt have any. There were people eating something that looked good. It looked like chicken with sauce; one red and one yellow, served with rice. I asked for one of each for me and Ruth. Hannah just had salad. The food wasn’t as good as it looked. The red sauce was a bit like ketchup but not as nice. Ruths yellow thing was egg. Hannah’s salad was the best thing but it was just tomato and cucumber; Hannahs favourite.
After our disappointing lunch we wandered up the busy road, over a bridge over a smelly open sewer-type-river. There was nothing to see. A tomato-vendor stopped us to speak to us for a bit. He was quite interesting but a bit weird. We went and got the bus.
On the bus I was sitting next to someone who was critical of the government. He gave me a bum-bag which I didn’t want, but later on in our trip it turned out to be useful. He bought us some speciality olives when the bus stopped. They were coated in walnut and garlic paste that had a really strong flavour. It was a bit too much and I had a horrible taste in my mouth for ages after eating them.
The bus drove out of the Caspian coastal plane and southwards up a valley, through some dark tunnels, past some hydro-electric dams and wind-turbines – indicating to me that the Iranian government is acting on sustainable energy and energy security and its arguements for the right to domestic nuclear power might be more than rhetoric.
The bus drove up onto the plateau. I could see the southern side of the Alborz Mountains now, arid because of the orographic rain shadow. The warm moist air of the Caspian basin visible, hemmed in to the north, condensing above the watershed where it meets the dry continental air of the sun-baked Iranian plateau.
We drove across the semi-agricultural plain for a few hours before the foothills of the Zagros began to rise around the road. Red rocky canyons emerged around the road as the sun was going down, exposing large simple geological structures that I had marveled at in textbooks for years. The folded landscape reflecting the folded geology; a beautiful, mystical landscape that has been the stage upon which so much history has been acted-out. And we were heading to Hamadan. One of the great mysterious cities of the ancient world. Capital of the Medes.
We passed some big industrial plants and as night fell we arrived at Hamadan. We got a taxi into town and found a good cheap hotel with ease, right in the centre of town. After checking in and taking a short stroll we settled down for bed.
The following morning we went to check for emails. We had to explore the town a bit to find an internet place.
The town was re-built in the 1920’s on a radial plan with roads radiating out from the centre like spokes of a wheel. The plan is based on the ruined ancient Persian (Sassainian) capital at Firuz Abad, built by king Ardashir in the 3rd Century A.D. On the way we saw coloured chicks for sale.
After the internet we called Bahram on a payphone to let him know that we were in Hamadan. He was in town and was in a rush to get back to work but told us to go immediately to Ecbatan Square, where he was at the mosque, and he would meet us there and take us to their apartment. When we got to the apartment Mariam was there with Ali but Bahram had to go back to work. We relaxed at the apartment and made plans for the rest of the day.
Mariam took us first to the museum at Ecbatana Hill.
Ecbatana (Hegmatana) is the old Seljuk name of Hamadan and means meeting place of Sufis. Much earlier than that the city was the capital of the Median Empire. The Medes migrated to Iran from the north at the end of the Bronze Age. At this time they may have already been followers of the prophet Zoroaster (see earlier entry The Four Rivers; more about the religion of Zoroaster later). The Medes religion was based on the teachings of Zoroaster and the animist pantheist nature-based faith that preceded him. This historical religion is known as Mazdaism, after the name of God; Ahura Mazda meaning Wise Lord. Mazdaism/Zoroastrianism is possibly the oldest recorded monotheistic religion because, although at this time Biblical characters such as Abraham may have lived and had faith in a single creator-god their faith was not yet developed into what we could call a religion.
Median society and religion developed to include a hereditary priestly caste known as Magi. These important priests were also astrologers and soothsayers. Media was later subject to the Achamenid Persians in 550 BCE and ruled by King Cyrus and King Darius. After Alexander invaded it was ruled by Seleucids and Parthians. At that time, around the time of Christ, three of these Magi journeyed to Bethlehem to visit the baby Jesus. Were they the first ever Christians?
At the Ecbatana Museum we saw some interesting coins and stuff.
Remains of the ancient Median Capital city of Ecbatana.
There was an old church there too (Armenian) which is now a museum. Some Christians worship there but regular Iranians, i.e. not born Christians and therefore Muslims on paper are forbidden by law from attending the services.
An angel/fairy carving in the church.
Then we picked up Ali and went to look round some shops so that Ruth and Hannah could get some more suitable clothes. Ruth in particular felt that her top was too short and showed too much of her figure and she felt self conscious. I think she was right. Mariam helped her find something.
After that we visited the tomb of Esther and Mordecai. They are Old Testament Biblical characters. Esther was an orphan, raised by her cousin Mordecai. The Persian king Xerxes married Esther and Mordecai saved the king from a plot and became the prime minister. In the process of all this the pair of them also somehow managed to save the Persian Jews from being massacred by a nasty character called Haman. Esther got herself a book of the Bible/Torah named after her.
The tomb from the street.