Lost in the military zone in Iran

I love highways and road trips.There is no better way to experience a place,feel its breeze in your hair,smell the countryside,share tea with friendly strangers and see it change shape,size,texture and colour than on a roadtrip. I spent one more day in Esfahan and paid cursory visits to the other tourist attractions.They were the beautiful 20 columned Chehel Sotun,Vank Cathedral,Khajou Bridge,Jame Mosque and the Ali Qapu Palace in my favourite Naqsh-e-Jahan square.The beautiful gardens and lovely wall frescoes of Chehel Sotun were charming,while the ancient Vank Cathedral took my breath away.Ali Qapu Palace belonged to the powerful Safavid dynasty and was magnificent with its fantastic architectural style and interesting music room with sitar like grooves in the stucco ceilings for surround sound system.But a lot of its areas during all my visits sadly were inaccessible due to restoration work.It is the first Persian skyscraper shooting up to impressive six floors as early as the 17th century and the veranda on the third floor has a fountain and stunning views of the square.The palace is filled with exquisite murals and paintings but unfortunately it had also been ravaged by vandals throughout centuries leaving very less intact.The Zeyendeh river over which the famed Khajou Bridge stood, lay dry and the sad sight of the parched river bed actually hastened my departure from Esfahan.
However the ancient city was still irresistibly beautiful and I asked Ashkan to simply drive around so that I could take in the beauty of half the world to the fullest.The city flowed at its relaxed pace and as the afternoon drew closer,Esfahan like a grand dame shut herself up for siesta.
Our last Esfahani lunch was at the ghastly Zagros restaurant. Ashkan really wanted me to have the best,hence painstakingly weaved through the traffic to take me there.Perched on a hill top it provided excellent city views and unfortunately the pros end there.Service was snooty,perhaps due to the patronage of the Esfahani creme de la creme and superior(ahem) English speaking skills of the staff.Decor was pretty neat,ambiance drowning in expensive French perfume and the food below average.By then I knew a good melt in your mouth kebab from a poor rubbery oily one.No description of Iran can be complete without mentioning its beauties,its pride,its flowers.Roses grew out of thin air and luxuriously survived even at truck pit stops amidst fuel fumes,dust and pollution.This restaurant too had its share of cypresses and flowers as well as a goofy call bell and very McDonald type order number display board,which if in case breaks down,you end up just sitting there for hours with everybody ignoring you.A very good place to come fully stuffed,grab a window table for its fantastic view,pray that its call bell doesn’t work and spend hours with your book,day dreams etc without any botheration. A very value for money idea for an unnecessarily overpriced place.
We drove on towards Kashan passing through huge stretches of rocky mountainous country called Khu in Farsi,smooth highway and endless caravans of vacationing families.The traffic were having a great time and so were the cops who sneaked upon the unsuspecting speedsters from every nook and cranny.Organized,safe and smooth it was a far cry from the chaotic circus called Indian highways.The fun ended soon perhaps as a punishment for sniggering at the hapless drivers caught by the highway patrol.We lost our way thrice before reaching Abyaneh village,our midway stop and extended the 45 minutes drive in the blazing sun to cool 2 hours.Driving through the scary military zone with intimidatingly hidden cameras,tanks and patrolling armed soldiers was extremely nerve wracking and we ended up passing through there thrice.Finally got stopped for harsh questioning and it was only after seeing my foreign passport that the soldiers broke into sunny flirtatious smiles.Relieving and heart breaking,it was sad to see guns in the hands of baby faced young boys. Ashkan gallantly took pride in not breaking down under military questioning and mumbled something about missile launcher.I struggled to stop myself from growling at him,just turned up the volume of his squeaky Farsi music and prayed that he reached Abyaneh soon.

S Baghawan

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