The past few days I’ve been enjoying life with a group of nomads who move around the deserts of central Iran. They regularly herd large numbers of sheep and goats; I was able to join them as they moved one such herd from the flat lands up into the mountains. It is a life in motion for the herders and their animals; both are moved around continuously in search of food and water. Donkeys accompany the herds carrying shelter and additional food and water for the herdsman.
The nights are still cold this time of year and we huddled under blankets in a semi-open tent. A windstorm came up fast with some rain and everyone who was still in camp ran over to zip up the tents and tie down plastic for shelter for the remaining animals still in camp.
When I mentioned my interest in wine one of the nomads took me to a family friend’s home in the middle of nowhere – near a small village. The home was impressive – as the owner was a farmer with large land holdings in the area. For centuries Shiraz was known for producing the finest wine in the Middle East. Today it is illegal to make and drink wine in Iran however I was told quite a few people still do – at least in and around Shiraz.
Two men (among many in the area apparently) grow their own grapes and make their own wine – both in significantly different styles. One was a big wine – paired with goat cheese was the perfect accompaniment and the other was just easy drinking by itself. Another man made Schnapps and we put this in orange juice and enjoyed this late into the evening.
I’m drinking copious quantities of beer now – the Johnny cash song, “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” sports the lyrics “the beer for breakfast wasn’t bad so I had one more for dessert” is ringing true!
I am now sitting in a tiny hotel room above the never ending buzz of traffic in central Tehran. I continue to drink beer. But this isn’t normal beer – it is Delster non Alcoholic Peach beer from Iran Behnoush Co. I am not getting drunk but nevertheless I am enjoying it’s peach flavor.
If you are an introvert and find initiating conversation difficult but don’t actually mind talking with people, Iran is the perfect country for you to visit as people enjoy approaching travelers and making conversation (usually with the starter line, “where are you from?”.
As I walked along the streets of Tehran earlier this afternoon the noise and crowds were everywhere. But in these crowds I was often approached by individuals – always male and often in their early 70’s. They identified me as a foreigner (not hard to do with the large camera I am toting around) and they always want to determine where I am from. When I tell them California – memories come flooding back from their time in the USA pre-1979. They fondly mention all the cities that they visited – often in the southern part of the country – Texas, Mississippi, Florida etc. Several told me they went to flight school in the United States.
One younger man approached me who after finding out where I was from – and immediately let me know that Iranians are not terrorists.
Another man walked up and offered to buy me a beer – which he then did so.
Several other people came up to me and merely wanted to share some highlights of Tehran and the surrounding areas – in order to give me ideas of nice places to visit in the area.
I weaved my way through the crowds and stumbled into what looked like a normal bazaar with an unassuming mall like entrance off of Panzdah-e-Khordad Street. It turns out this is the “Grand Bazaar” – the many great grandparents of bazaars. I walked for probably a kilometer or two down the main artery of the bazaar and between the crowds and the sheer distance I turned around before even reaching one end. Side branches of this bazaar extended in all directions – all covered.
There is a village that used to be separate from Tehran but the urban sprawl of this vast metropolis has extended its never ending encroach right to the edge of the Alborz Mountains that tower above.
This village is Darband: one follows a road next to a river – this road soon turns to a rock path soon delivering one a quiet and much needed respite from the urban chaos of streets of Tehran.
If there has been enough snow in the mountains the spring runoff turns this canyon into a fast moving river. Cleverly some of the local restaurants have built hookah platforms directly in the river – and one can easily whittle away several hours lounging – smoking and eating various meat skewers while throwing back a variety of freshly squeezed juices.
A warm breeze blows through the canyon – still it is cooler then the stifling heat in central Tehran. Each restaurant creates an inviting environment with a dazzling array of colorful flowers planted on site.
Continuing on higher, one reaches a steep rocky trail and eventually reaches a set of waterfalls and views of smoggy Tehran far in the distance. But you have left all the people behind, the air is significantly cleaner and don’t feel like you are next to a major metropolis of some 9 million people.