Wednesday, June 5, 2013

AN EXCITING TEN-DAY WALKABOUT THROUGH THE MANY CENTURIES OF ANCIENT AND MODERN IRAN…


Photos and story by Mansor Puteh



Iran is not really an out of the way place; for it sits in the crossroads of civilizations of diverse backgrounds whose history that stretches for more than five thousand years, with its history that is intertwined with global political happenings in the major different eras and epoch through all this time.

It is just that our history books had not bothered to include the interesting historical episodes that happened in this country and also in this part of the world so for so long this region known generally as Central Asia had relatively been left until fairly recent times, when modern-day travelers now known simply as ‘tourists’ can trek to search for the mysteries of ancient Iran.

Malaysia’s only direct connection to Iran however, can be seen in the adoption of the ancient Farsi fable known simply as ‘Laila Majnun’ whose manuscript having been written in the Arabic text and became available to early Melayu film producers who got the temerity to produce a feature film on the two lovelorn couple to become the first Melayu film to be produced in 1933. It starred M. Suki, who was touted as the first Melayu film hero. It was said to have been made mostly in India. Unfortunately, no copy of this film exists today.

And no wonder too there are many Farsi words in the Melayu vocabulary that we have not taken for granted; words such as ‘nenas’, ‘awas’, ‘soal-jawab’ and so on all have Farsi origin, although some of them may also have Arabic origins. 

The end of the Silk Road which cuts through the country, for travelers and merchants from Europe to trade in all sorts of wonderful produce from the Far East, especially China, caused by the advent of sea travel with the construction of the steam ships, has left Iran virtually with a treasure trove of historical experienced many of which are written on concrete walls and other fallen cities.

This is the country where Alexander the Great sometimes referred to by Muslims as Iskandar Zulkarmain or the ‘Two-horns Iskandar’, Genghis Khan and many other ancient warriors had trekked through vast desert lands to venture into the then unknown territory to leave imprints of their adventures and personal discretion for modern-day travelers to Iran to marvel at and wonder why they had bothered to come from so far and to leave so much that has of yet not been fully understood.

So what the modern-day travelers who have a penchant for ancient history of the world vis-à-vis Iran, may be able to browse through the brochures, catalogues and information gleaned from the internet to piece together the events that had happened at any of the particular place he visits, and if he has a keen eye and even smell for history, he can learn much and benefit a lot more than the ordinary tourists who only like to shoot photos of the ancient historical sites and trample on the lands which Alexander the Great and also Genghis Khan had once also trampled upon.

‘Persa’ or Persepolis known by the Greeks stands stoic with its pillars standing tall to tell even the passing and casual visitors to this ancient site of how splendid it was when it was a city full of life, color and even intrigues.

No wonder, Alexander the Great found it expedient to burn it down.

But the wide Meydan Imam in central Isfahan City has recovered much of its splendor when the authorities dutifully reclaimed the old buildings which surround the square so much so that it becomes the central focus of the entire city, which in the month of June was covered by green foliage with the trees standing at the sides of the roads.

Yet, this city sits in the middle of a harsh desert, which is not too partial for vegetation. Underground water system and the many dykes or channels created by the early architects of this city just knew how to make full use of the water that they can collect from the nearby hills to ensure the city becomes green in summer.

Mashhad, is like Las Vegas in Nevada in America, as I knew it. The only difference is that Mashhad is not a vice or sin city. It does not night life or casino. The Darvishi Royal Hotel in the center of the city must be a six-star hotel with a large chandelier falling from the high floor in the lobby.

Yet, immediately beside it is a narrow building whose with cannot even allow a small car to be parked in front of it, that the authorities was smart enough to decide not to demolish to make way for the construction of the hotel, and it is squeezed by a ‘madrassah’.

And at the end of the wide boulevard in front of the six-star hotel where we stayed, is an old Masjid where the mausoleum if Imam Reza is and it is also where thousands of local visitors would flock to it everyday. Food is also provided for them.

We had earlier visited the mausoleum of Hafez, the famous and popular Persian poet of old, who is still revered by many Iranians till today.

No wonder, there are hundreds of visitors to his tomb who had come from morning till night to pay homage to him, by even having to pay for the five hundred toman (or 5,000 riyal) entrance ticket.  

And on another front, a visit to the site of Padideh City tells how the Iranians are truly embarking on a new development program to ensure that their ancient history can blend nicely and comfortably with the history that it desires to create today. And we are not talking about their nuclear program aimed at generating economic advancement for the country, but the economic development that can be seen in the huge commercial complex called the Padideh City outside of Mashhad

But nothing can be more appropriate or uncanny than making a visit to the palaces of the former Shah of Iran, Shah Reza Phalavi which sits on the foothills of the mountains, in a compound that is connected to the city by a wide boulevard where tall trees stand beside it from where the former Shah and his wife and children would descend every now and then to venture to the city to be with his subjects.

The palaces are preserved and shown to the public, local or international for them to marvel at where a tall bronze statue of the former Shah was left but with the part of the body cut, leaving only the legs from the thigh down.

I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to travel around Iran over ten days in June when it was near summer traveling in the bus and taking flights to all the major cities in the country all of which have a different and peculiar history of its own, that is more interesting when they were centers of political activities through the different eras of the country, most of which were in the pre-Islamic era.   

The temperature was like that of Malaysia, except that the level of humidity was low so we do not sweat despite walking long distances and physically exerting so much trying to make sense of what lay before us.

And early in February, I was again able to visit this country to sample winter, and visit their most popular winter resort on top of the Alborz mountain range which literally surrounds the City of Tehran, causing the temperature to be regulated and not too cold despite the weather hovering at freezing point sometimes.

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