Relaxing in Esfahan.

Since entering Iran five days ago we have had three and a half days of hard driving (311, 329, 387 and 133km) much of it in the rain. Night time temperatures have dropped to at or below freezing.

Although 300km may not sound like a "hard days drive", it is for us. Only OJ is a conventional campervan and capable of high speeds, all the other vans are converted commercial (or military) vehicles with low gearing and engines optimized for long life not power. All of us are well(?) loaded. With five vehicles any stop for fuel or water often takes 45 minutes. Until the last 100kms into Esfahan the roads in Iran have been mediocre. Although there have been several police checks en-route most of them have only taken a few minutes, all of them have been friendly.

Having a list of all our passport and vehicle details to give to the police has proved useful on several occasions. Most times the police have been happy with our laminated, official looking ID cards (made from colour copies of the photo page of our passports). For future trips it would be useful for the whole group to have some sort of standard pseudo-identity-card of this sort, which would reduce the need to hand over our passports.

K-Nine and Womble's experience of Esfahan in 2002 had prepared us for heavy traffic and great difficulty in finding somewhere to park. A fenced mid-town parking lot, recalled by Clive and Ann, had during the last 18 months, been transformed into a high rise building site. However with help from a passerby, who was co-opted by the police as an interpreter at a check point, and some notes from Jean Claude Griffoin we found a real commercial camp site south of the town, which is where we are now.

The average Iranian driver's attitude to the "highway code" was summed up for us by a joke told to us by a student we met in town.

A policeman stops a motorist who has just run a red light.

Policeman: Didn't you see the red light?
Motorist: Of course I did, I just didn't see you!

Our camp site is behind the Isfahan Tourist Inn (Phone: 0311-6691005) on Hezar Jarib St., about 2km south of Azadi Sq. on the main road from Esfahan to Shiraz (32.593618ºN 51.667331ºE). Leave Azadi Sq. following the signs to Shiraz, pass the Esfahan University on your right, immediately after the second pedestrian bridge the Tourist Inn is on your right. The camping area, with hot water, showers and electricity is behind the Inn (Hotel). Charges are $5.00USA per person per night. Taxis to and from the town centre are easy to get and cost between $3.00 and $4.00. The camp site is recommended.

Inside the Emam Mosque.Before reaching the Tourist Inn camp site we considered "wild" camping in a free, just-off-road, car park south of the river on Kh. Bustan-e-Mellat at 32.639627ºN 51.643272ºE. There is a small but well stocked supermarket nearby.

For those wanting to navigate to the heart of Esfahan by GPS the south end of the Si-O-Se Pol Bridge is at 32.642497ºN 51.667222ºE.

Since we arrived in Esfahan the weather has improved greatly and for the first time in Iran it is hot. Something that the head-scarf wearing ladies are beginning to regret!

The first entrant in the wet chador contest.The main attractions of Esfahan are located in and around Naghsh-e-Jahan Sq. and on, in and under the bridges crossing the Zayande Rood river.

The highlight of the Naghsh-e-Jahan Sq. is probably the Emam Mosque finished in 1629 and a masterpiece of blue tiled mosaic. Rather surprisingly during our visit a group of Iranian youths were singing and shouting in the mosque in a way that suggested they were drunk! Since Iran is "dry" this is very improbable, however none of the many mosque staff remonstrated with them.

Also rather unexpectedly, whilst siting in the square I was approached by a group of six chador wearing young women (probably students) who wanted to discuss with me western attitudes to Islam and particularly my opinions on the legal restrictions on what women should wear. Later I saw another woman dressed head to toe in a traditional black chador wade into the fountain in the centre of the square. This Iranian "wet t-shirt" exhibition caused almost no response from the many men sitting round the fountain.

Many of the bridges across the Zayande Rood river are 350 years old and incorporate tea-houses within the structure of the bridge. The most well known bridge is the central 160 metre long Si-O-Se Pol bridge which has a number of tea houses beneath the arches at water level.

Ann enjoys a qalyan and John a cup of tea in the tea house within Chubi bridge.However the best tea house in Esfahan (or so we were told) is in a pier of the Chubi bridge built in 1665 as an aqueduct to bring irrigation water to the palace grounds.

Some tea-houses (notably the one overlooking Naghsh-e-Jahan Sq.) segregate their guests into "men only" and family sections. In the "men-only" section you can discuss many topics with the locals, including the Zoroastrian attitude to the sexual proclivity of Freddie Mercury (Perhaps John turned his cup sideways inadvertently.).

Both men and woman smoke qalyan (water pipes) with enthusiasm in the tea houses.

The two level Khaju bridge/dam.Perhaps the most attractive bridge is the two level Khaju bridge/dam built in 1650 to regulate the flow of the river.

Stephen Stewart.

Home - This page last changed on 2004-04-26.