Our Ukrainian-based, multi-lingual, and ever-popular tour leader, Anna Andrusyk, recently returned to Shiraz with our September Treasures of Persia and the Caucasus group. This is her brief account of re-visiting this remarkable Iranian city, after two years’ absence.
This magnificent and wonderful, sandy-yellowish country with amazing ancient history and fantastic sightseeing, has greeted me in the same hearty way as it did two years ago. Once again, clad in my brightly-coloured scarf, mysterious and ancient Persia – modern-day Iran – has magnanimously embraced me, with flocks of little kids taking pictures with my group and complete strangers smiling and greeting us to their land. Welcome! We are so happy to see you! How are you? Where are you from? May I take a picture with you? Thank you! What can be more hospitable than these simple phrases? Wonderful and open-hearted local people are just happy to see tourists interested in ancient Persian history. Their eyes are so shiny and smiles are so sincere! Persia, you are so gorgeous! Your eyes are full of wisdom from thousands of years of history; your facial features are the same as the profiles of the bas-reliefs of Persepolis; your friendly glance makes my heart beat three times quicker.
Vakil Bazar! Smells of spices, kaleidoscope of colours, swirls of fabrics, crowds of people. I am already lost in a whirlpool of sensations. Hints of mint, saffron, citrus, tea tree, barberry and who knows what else… Silk, velvet, cashmere, cotton, embroidery and shimmering cloths that sparkle – the palette starts from fifty shades of black up to poisonous neon colours. How different this is to our world of shopping malls with flat electric lights, bland piped music, glass displays of merchandise, and bored shop assistants. Vakil Bazaar is just bursting with life itself. People are bargaining, playing chess and backgammon, drinking tea and eating saffron candy, plump fresh dates, nuts and delicious tiny pastries; grown up kids are playing hide and seek and little ones are looking at you from the very top of their fathers’ shoulders. Everywhere are boxes, carrier bags, bundles, carts – and there is always someone dragging or pulling something somewhere. There are even motorbikes trying to get through the crowd: watch your back and be careful!
Sweet silence in the Pink Mosque is briefly disturbed by the entrance of a small group of young, bubbly tourists with selfie-sticks. They pose sitting on the heavy patterned carpets, beside the twisted columns and in front of the enchanting stained glass windows. Morning rays filter through the windows and pierce the dusty air. Shards of sunlight cast colourful patterns of the stained glass onto the carpeted floor. There is a believer bowing in the corner raising his hands in prayer. Does Allah hear him? Or is the prayer lost in the chatter and bustle of the tourists?
The Eram Gardens – a haven of coolness under its canopy of big cypress trees. Inside the high walls of the gardens the temperature is several degrees lower than on the dusty streets outside. The air is filled with the sounds of murmuring fountains and the piping of unknown birds. The pink, blue and yellow tiles of the beautiful three-storey pavilion reflect in the sparkling pool at its base, and the poems of Sa’adi and Hafez are etched into stone columns. We stroll along shady paths, take some more pictures with friendly locals, and find the best spots to photograph the great greenery and colourful flowers of the garden, with the thirsty sandy-grey mountains behind it. ‘Eram’ is the Persian word for ‘heaven’ – a fitting description for this tranquil place.
Now I say goodbye to you, Shiraz, but for a short while. I know we will see each other again, and you will welcome me once more with your street art, wonderful oases and play of colours and light in Nasir ol Molk Mosque. See you soon, the city of gardens, poetry and wine. Someday, perhaps, we will have a drink to celebrate seeing each other.