Archive for May, 2010

a litany of kind deeds

May 30, 2010

 

We’re back! After leaving Iran a few days ago, we’re now relaxing in the fine surrounds and hospitality of A Different English Village and have a bit of catching up to do. Although the blog wasn’t actually blocked in Iran, most of the computers we had access to appeared to be contemporaries of Alexander the Great. In any event, we’ve now had a little more time to digest our whirlwind tour so we’ll try and bring things up to speed in the next little while.

Iran blew us away with its history and diversity – although Islamic by name, the visible influences reflect the fact that it lies at the crossroads of the world; there is strong resistance to Arab culture and much of modern Iran feels European, albeit stuck in a pre-revolutionary time warp. But what humbled and surprised us most of all was the extraordinary hospitality we received. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised – a lot is actually written about this in travel literature – but it’s hard to overstate the friendliness and keen interest that people had in us, invariably wanting to know what we thought of Iran and excitedly reminding us of Iran’s last minute victory over Australia in the 1998 World Cup qualifier. We couldn’t help but notice in many people a palpable sense of relief that foreign tourists are still interested in visiting and the litany of kind deeds that we amassed flowed steadily from the moment we stepped off the plane to the day we left. The young dentist who sat next to us on the flight, returning home after a year of post-graduate study in the Phillippines, kept a crowd of his family members waiting while he made sure we could change our money, gave us his number to call if we needed help and apologised for not being able to drive us to our hotel. Mohammed saw us trying to flag a cab in Esfahan as he dropped his wife off to do the grocery shopping and insisted that he drive us to the bus terminal, whisking us to the right counter to buy our tickets and waving goodbye as the bus pulled out. Three times we were invited to be people’s guests for a meal, twice in their homes. And I don’t think either of us will forget the photocopy man in Orumiyeh – operating his business with a sole machine in a windy laneway and suffering an obvious visual impairment, he steadfastly refused to accept payment despite our endless attempts to outlast him in the obligatory exchanges of ta’arof.

It certainly didn’t take long to get a feeling for the “other” Iran, beyond the inflammatory behaviour of the regime and the extreme image presented in much of the foreign media, and the other Iran is by no means homogenous – for different reasons, an Afghan refugee family shares the same disdain for the regime as a young stockbroker. The other Iran wants rising inflation brought under control; it also wears hot pink, sequinned Converse All Stars. The other Iran is destined to live in interesting times.

oh india!

May 4, 2010

We’re out of here tomorrow, just four days short of the five month mark. Most other travellers look at us agog when we tell them how long we’ve been here; most Indians seem rather pleased, although we inevitably disappoint by not having visited any of the zillion other places they tell us are “must-sees.” So the list for next time is already a mile long.

I just tried to write something vaguely sensical to sum up our experience and thoughts about this wild, diverse, extreme and raw place but I failed miserably. Suffice to say that India is a place like no other and it has left us amazed and bewildered several times over on a daily basis. For the extended version, I guess you’ll have to sit us down over a few beers and strap yourself in.

So where do you head when you’ve had a gutful of heat and dust? Why, the Middle East, of course! We cheated the overland dream way back when we chose to fly from Kathmandu to Delhi and although I hear that the Swat Valley is lovely at this time of year, we decided to give Pakistan a miss, least for the fact that we may have slowly perished in Delhi awaiting that visa. So, tomorrow we fly again and pick up the trail with the latest and, by far, craziest addition to our visa collection – that of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It’s encouraging to see that leaders there have been creating an appropriate amount of international furor in anticipation of our arrival. Fun times!

We’re not yet sure on the details of censorship but it’s possible that blogging will dry up for a while, although you can bet your Shiraz that tropical beer notes will most be certainly absent. Oh, the irony…

sat sri akal

May 3, 2010

Punjab: India’s breadbowl. Or, at this time of year, dustbowl.

Sikhs: Invariably pretty cool and fiercely proud. Impressive beards and turbans abound. Reputedly brave and fearsome warriors, inspired by Baba Deep Singh Ji who fought a battle, headless, with a 15kg sword at the age of 75.

The Golden Temple: Sikhism’s holiest shrine, although built as a place of worship for all. Site of beauty and of bloodshed. Crazy busy, yet still peaceful. Home to India’s most tuneful singing of prayers. Despite serving upwards of 40,000 pilgrims a day, volunteers handing out plates, bowls and spoons at the free kitchen still press their hands together to welcome us. And a warmer welcome was never had.