Posts Tagged ‘Yazd’


Badgirs and bed-ridden in Yazd

September 25, 2008


Yesterday, after getting all our onward visa business sorted, we finally left Tehran on the night train to Yazd. We arrived at 5am and went straight to the hostel that we had called beforehand in order to reserve some rooms, the Amir Chakmak Hostel, which has a fantastic rooftop view of the Amir Chakmak monument. After sleeping for a few extra hours and going for a whlesome brekkie at the Vali Traditional Hotel (buffet with cheese, eggs, veggies, fresh bread, jams, tea and juice all for $1.5!), 4/5 of us embarked upon the Lonely Planet’s ‘Get lost in Yazd tour’. Di stayed in the hotel because she was feeling unwell after.

Sleepy, dusty,yellow Yazd is a world away from bustling and sprawling Tehran. The houses in the old town are made of stone and mud, and wandering through the capillary alleys that snake between them is like being transported back over 1000 years in history. It reminded me of an intact version of the ancient old town of Siwa, the oasis in the desert of Western Egypt near the Libyan border, which was destroyed in a freak thunderstorm in the 1960s and now frames the new town like the melted backdrop of a Dali painting. And though the old town of Yazd is still very much inhabited, its streets are quiet and deserted, the stillness only infrequently disturbed by a passing motorcycle or a fleeting gaggle of kids on bicycles or running with a football.

Yazd is famous for its badgirs, or windtowers which represent the earliest form of air conditioning. They are cuboid structures that exceed the height of the building by over 5 metres, with slits on the side to channel air in and out of the house via different compartments. One compartment funnels the air from outside downwards, past a basin of water which cools the air before it arrives in the house, thereby colling the house. But when the air inside the house is heated, it rises through a separate channel which expulses it back outside. They are structures that leave me in awe of the brilliance of the pre-industrial, pre-technological human mind, mostly because of its ability to benefit from nature without destroying it. Why can’t modern air con be as eco-friendly?

Another interesting characteristic of Yazd is its history of providing water to a settlement in the middle of the desert. The Yazd Water Museum has an interesting collection of tools and photographs that illustrate the traditional methods used to channel water from the surrounding mountains down into the valley. These consist of underground waterways called qanats, which were dug as a slight incline so as to produce a natural flow downwards. The qanat are made to lead to an underground reservoir, which is built with a domed roof and some badgirs so as to cool the water. Some of the photos in the museum are very impressive and humbling, and show little old men dressed in white caps and shrouds (burial outfits in case the channel collapses and they are buried underground) scrunched in these minuscule channels, with only a hand-held, fat-fueled candle for light.

Scattered throughout the town are magnificent mosques with turquoise-tiled domes and minarets which stand out in striking contrast to the mud-walls and roofs that surround them. The Jameh mosque is particularly exceptional, with its minarets that tower 48m above its majestic entrance. The walls and ceiling of the carpeted prayer area under the dome are equally astounding, covered in mosaics of various shades of blue, white and green, which alternate between abstract geometric and floral designs to calligraphical spreads of the 99 names of Allah.

At one point on the walking tour, you come to a building called the Hosseniya. It is not distinguishable from those around it, an unless you were told it was there, you’d probably walk by without a second thought. But if you enter its nondescript metal gate and climb up through the crumbling arches and stairways, you find yourself on a rooftop from which you can savour views of the whole old town. Various minarets and mosque domes sparkle above the rounded rooftops, interspersed by badgirs and framed by the mountains in the distance.

Unfortunately, when we returned to the hotel, Di was still in a dodgy state, and getting progressively worse. She hadn’t managed to keep any food or drink down all day, and combined with the heat and stress of travel, was risking dehydration. We convinced her that it would be a good idea to call a doctor, who came and after a single looked at her decided to hook her up to an IV drip. This took Di quite some convincing, as she has a veritable phobia of anything needle- or syringe-related. But when faced with the prospect of potentially having to be checked into a hospital if she didn’t improve by noon the next day, she relented and accepted the treatment. The manager of the hotel and his brother were of unparalleled help through the entire ordeal, offering broken but thorough translations between us and the doctor, who didn’t speak any English. Without an instant’s hesitation, they nailed a nail above her bed from which the IV bottle would hang, collected all 3 Persian-English dictionaries in the building in order to assist with the translation, and, after the doctor left, cooked her a huge dish of rice and potatoes (which she unfortunately vomited up not long after).

Di was hooked up to the IV drip for about 3 hours, and suffered from severe bouts of dizziness and nausea throughout. It was worrying seeing her in such an ill and distressed state, and knowing that the whole experience was rendered more stressful by her being in a cheap hostel with communal toilets some 20 metres down the hall from her room (very far for one suffering from diarrhea and vomiting) and in a foreign country where none of us was proficient in the language. Alhamdulillah, by the time the second bottle of glucose was flowing through her, she was feeling better and starting to nodd off. The manager came to remove the IV from her arm, assuring us that he had had adequate training in basic medical tasks during his time as a soldier in the Iran-Iraq war. He was incredibly gentle when removing the tape from her arm, repeating the words ‘sorry, sorry, sorry’ each time a single hair was pulled taught by the tape. Afterwards, he took her blood pressure, offered us some dates, and told us not to hesitate if we needed anything throughout the night, he would be awake to help us.

Today, Di is a million times better that she was yesterday. We have come to the Silk Road Hotel to chill in their beautiful shaded courtyard, drink some mint tea and feed Di some rice, so that she regains her strength. This communal space is much lovelier than the sun-exposed rooftop of our hotel and the bathrooms cleaner. But the hospitality of the staff here does not come near the diligent, caring attitudes of those back in the Amir Chakmak. It is truly thanks to them that she is as well as she is now. They serve as a valuable reminder for every budget traveler that the measure of a hostel should not be judged by its gardens or furnishings, but by the extent to which you are made to feel as at home as possible, despite the unfortunate eventualities and strangeness that results from roaming far from home.