Up early and we all board the bus anticipating a day of much sitting and staring through the windows. We anticipated well. The group are in a lovely rhythm of knowing which seat is theirs but there is a decent amount of seat hopping in order to have discussions, share guide books, unfold maps, share peanuts and decide which music should be played. It’s a lovely atmosphere and I shuffle between catching up on writing this, listening to audiobooks on Persia and watching the peaks of the mountains and the desert scrub flash by.
The road traces the course of a spindly mountain chain that is proving impossible to find the name of. Normally these details wouldn’t worry me but when you spent the best part of a day in the presence of a
geological feature it feels right to know its name at least.
Hours pass and we arrive in Kerman. The hotel is owned by two brothers who look like the inspiration behind the animated Mario Brothers. we drive into the centre and are greeted with the hustle and bustle of life in a covered bazaar – Bazaar Bazorg. It’s rather pleasant to witness a place pulsing with life after a day of staring at a landscape where life has barely taken a foothold.
The covered market opens up into a huge square with a colonnaded portico on two sides. After some pressing hat purchasing we are led to a small staircase under a niche. Looking up is such a treat. The sides of the ornate niche are decorated with a paintings of animals and people. It is a relatively recent painting but has the dusty faded air of being older. The animals look like they have been plucked from the marginalia of a medieval manuscript – grimacing guilty looking rabbits, naughty monkeys and a host of animals you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley. There is, to my delight, a sultry caravan of camels seemingly minding their own business as they continually trek along the bottom edge of the niche.
The building is a 17th century bath house (hamam) and houses an ethnographic museum dedicated to the art of bathing. Diving into the depths of the baths, the flooring and decorative elements in a beautiful translucent green stone with veins of red coursing through it, are the first things to catch my eye.
The second are rather eerie manikins that occupy the rooms branching off the central court. All in poses that represent the social function of the baths but all are silent and emit nothing of the atmosphere of the establishment. Luckily the place is brimming with visitors so there is an echoey hum that rings through the complex and brings it to life.
Across the main square there is a ‘caravanserai’ – an overnight rest stop intended for travellers and their pack animals on the trade route. Arranged around a central courtyard the buildings were divided into small units that would provide the travellers needs.
Continuing through the bazaar, the tea-drinkers amongst us are sated by a visit to another historic hamam that has been converted into a tea room. The Iranians are gently curious people and I engage in conversation with someone from Hamedan which was formerly Ecbatana, the capital of the Medes and where a palace once stood that was supposedly painted in many colours and partly covered with plates of silver and gold. The locals ask where you are from and what you think of Iran. They seem very preoccupied with what visitors think of their country. Many fear that foreigners think Iran has a bad reputation and the people are ill-thought of. This breaks my heart and I do all I can to reassure them that this is not the case. Privately I feel guilty because I think back to the 80s news reports and my thought that Iran looked like the most dangerous place on Earth. It didn’t have a great reputation to a teenage me but I’m here because things change and certainly my opinion has.