Monday, November 26, 2012

Kashan, the city to get stuck in

Desert climate suited us well. The nights were a bit chilly, but the warm sunny days were making up for everything else. Having such wetter at the end of November was more luck than we were hoping for. We decided to stick to it and continue our journey towards the sandy parts of Iran.

We have made Kashan our next stop. This small city near Qom doesn't really look very impressive. Judging at the first glance, you could come to a conclusion, that apart form the city walls, which are slowly falling apart, the place has rather little to offer. Fortunately, it's far from the truth. Hidden in the middle of the old town, behind ordinary, unimpressive entrances are the “historical houses”, masterpieces of Iranian architecture. Each of them represents a slightly different style and is decorated in its own special way. And though it's really hard to spot them from the outside, some of them are huge, with labyrinths of rooms and staircases, making you run up and down, trying to find all the interesting chambers. Moreover, some of them have quite big (and really pretty) gardens. And though I loved all of them a lot, my personal favorite was the historical bathhouses, not only for its style and decorations, but mostly for its extraordinary roof with a wonderful view over the city.

We liked it all so much, that when we noticed that Khan-e Ehsan Historical Guest House is actually offering an accommodation in such a historical building, we didn't really hesitate long. The place was absolutely amazing and its atmosphere was even better. Back then we didn't even know how much more the place really has to offer and what a lovely time we will have there. But that was also the time when we still thought, we would be occupying this magnificent room only for one day...

The plan for the next day was clear, we wanted to get to the desert. There was a salt lake and sand dunes about 100km form the city, so we decided to drive there early in the morning and continue our journey west afterwards. We still had a week to spend in Iran and we wanted to make the best of it. We got used to Iranian roads, which apart from all the dangers awaiting you there, were in quite good condition. But suddenly we were back to Mongolian standards, so that getting there took us a bit more time than we thought. The place, which according to our map and travel guide was supposed to be a village turned out to be a lonely caravanserai with one single inhabitant. Apart from that it seemed to be just us and the desert. And the desert was amazing! It didn't look impressive at first, just a few hills of sand, but the view changed dramatically as soon as we decided to climb one of them. It was absolutely breathtaking, a huge ocean of sand with no people or buildings in sight. It was stunningly beautiful!

When we got tired of all this sand (and it did took us a while) we drove towards the salt lake. We were told it's the best time to visit it, but we didn't really know what to expect. Water? White surfaces? I can tell you what we did not expect, huge areas filled with white crystals shimmering in the sun, but that's exactly what we got. And it looked wonderful. And the best thing was, it was just as deserted as the desert itself. No one around, so we could finally forget about the rules and dress code and just enjoy the day. We loved it. And just then, we have made up our minds, we wanted to go back home earlier than planned. Back there, in this marvelous scenery, having the time of our lives, we decided we miss home! We knew the weather will be getting worse the moment we start driving west and the fuel will get extremely expensive after crossing the border, so we wanted to take the shortest way home, seeing only the things we really wanted to see, hoping to be back in Europe before winter really kicks off. Unfortunately, it seemed Karossi had a different plan...

We were driving back to the main road, making plans for the next few days. Gerrit was driving ahead. We decided to part our ways for some time, as he wanted to visit Tehran, a city we decided to skip. Everything was perfectly fine, until suddenly our car started slowing down till it stopped completely. We had no idea what was happening. We checked all the possible reasons, but everything seemed fine. Apart from the fact, that the car would not start. No noises, no strange movements, nothing at all. Karossi simply went on strike.

We were stuck in the middle of the desert. Gerrit was too far to be seen and our mobile phone had no network access. We have seen only two cars for the entire day, so we could not really count on a quick rescue action. Our only hope was that Gerrit would notice that we stayed behind, before he hits the road to the capital. But the hope wasn't big since he already told us, he wanted to drive a bit faster to make it before the night comes.

We were standing in the middle of a deserted road, trying to find anything wrong about our car. I had the feeling we have checked everything we could have thought about at least 3 times, but honestly, there was not much else we could do. We knew there was no one around, so looking for help was as pointless as trying to get our mobile to work. But then we heard a truck. It was close to a miracle, as we haven't seen a single car for hours now. We shortly explain (or rather demonstrated) what the problem was and let the driver check all the obvious things for the fourth time. He was driving in an opposite direction, but promised to take us with him on his way back, if we wouldn't find any other solution till then. Waiting an hour or two was definitely a better idea than a lonely night in a desert in a broken car, so we gladly accepted his offer. But suddenlyy we heard a familiar noise, a noise we were no longer hoping to hear that day. Gerrit was coming back! He was waiting for us at the crossroad, thinking we were just taking our time, or maybe even made a small stop to enjoy the sunset. He already wanted to hit the road to Tehran, but changed his mind in the last moment and decided to check what's up. And trust me, we were glad he did. We took the tow line, that had saved our lives a few times already and let Gerrit drag us back to Kashan.

Driving in Iran is an extreme experience. But absolutely nothing compares to towing or being towed through a city center. We were extra careful and had all the possible lights on, blinking like a christmas tree, but that seemed only to encourage others to act like total maniacs. Drivers were trying to drive between our two cars, pedestrians were trying to jump over the line while we were driving, even policeman seemed not to understand the idea of two cars joined with a rope. It was a nightmare and I still can not believe, that we managed to survive this circus without a scratch. But we made it!

There was nothing else we could do, but to check in into our marvelous hotel again an try to get the car fixed as soon as possible. We knew it will not be an easy job, as Volkswagen is practically unknown in this country. Finding a mechanic, who has already seen a car like this would be a challenge, but getting the necessary parts would be nearly impossible. But we had to give it a try anyway. For a few days we were trying different garages, exchanging all the parts we had with us and trying to get the car to work again. Without much success. I believe we would be going crazy quite quickly, if it wasn't for all the wonderful people we were surrounded with. Gerrit decided to put off his visit in Tehran instantly, announcing that he's going nowhere until we get Karossi back to life. Fortunately, we were not alone with this task.

Our hotel turned out to be a meeting point for many young Iranians, who were gathering there regularly, talking, eating and playing games. That is how we met Hafez and his friends. I have no idea what we would have done without them, but I guess we would be getting pretty desperate soon. Hafez and Nader were spending most of their day trying to help us fix the car and most of their evening teaching us how to play backgammon and savour Iranian culture. Unfortunately, at least the first few days the second task was bringing much better results. Karossi seemed to be perfectly well, if it wasn't for the fact, that he just didn't want to start. We were already loosing hope and trying to organize a car transport to Turkey when Hafez and Nader suggested trying another garage. We already had 3 different people checking our car, but since it didn't really cost much in Iran we decided to give it a try. So the whole fun started from the beginning and we were dividing our time between garage and our hotel, where we were playing, talking and cooking together.

The atmosphere in Iran during those days was not really helping us stay optimistic. The whole country was preparing for the coming holidays, two days of mourning for the martyrdom and tragic death of the third Imam. The scale of those celebrations and the preparations itself are hard to imagine, unless you have ever experienced it yourself. Entire cities are decorated, streets are full of black and green flags, every wall is covered with paintings of the Imam or his death, all people are wearing black and putting special stickers and paintings on their cars. Moreover, the water in all city fountains is turned dark red to imitate human blood and people are gathering together to whip their own backs as a sign of remorse. And this all accompanied by a mourning songs coming from all minarets for quite a few hours every single day.

But a day before the apex of the celebrations were supposed to start, Karossi came back to life. It turned out all the problems were caused by a broken catalytic converter that totally stuck our exhaust system. Once discovered, the problem was quickly removed and we were finally able to get back on the road. There was no time for additional sightseeing, we wanted to drive the shortest way to the Turkish border, to cross it before our visas expire and to be back home before Christmas.

1 comment:

  1. Hiya!

    Yes, a miracle happened for Karossi to be fixed and we all know the rest of the story: he decided to go on strike yet again in Turkey. I think he just wanted to give you some time for sightseeing:)

    Finally I know the whole story of what had really happened with you and the car. And Gerrit turned to be not even a hero but a real friend. You are so lucky! I heard a desert at night although probably beautiful, can be extremly cold and not very welcoming so I think you both have your guardian angels with you through all this time.

    Photos are absolutely wonderful. Aga, after having read you describe the preparation for mourning I thought of our All Saints Day and it suddenly became a joke in the scale of seriousness. Same with our national holidays which is a little shame. However I guess we are overly religous (or pretending to be) as a country anyway:)
    Ok, I need to go to work right now but will carry on reading in the evening. Can't wait!
    Enjoy the weather wherever you are right now!