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Back to Kerman and onto Bam

At 5am at Kerman's small terminal, surrounded by many pictures of Imam Hossein, people prayed to morning TV, the habitual fancified diatribe of Khomeini, Iranian national icons, the fluttering national flag, scenes of devotion, war, bandana clad martyrdom and doves of peace, with not a hint of irony detectable. Quite apart from its international perception, Shia Islam was just the same sanctimonious, idolatrous fairytale that characterised Catholicism, difficult to believe that grown adults trully believed in such nonsense. The jubilant interspersed TV commentators were sycophants, and it was all at the behest of the state, what a way to live. I just had to hope that I didnt get arrested again and the cops read this in my notebook! I toyed with the idea of going back into Kerman centre this morning, I could have tried the post office for the third time and maybe caught one of the teashops which were reputedly tourist attractions in their own right. It was too much hassle though so I just settled for an early departure to Bam, it would give me the best part of the day there. Bam had long been renowned as one of the jewels of Iran and second only to Esfehan in its majesty. That was a matter of taste however and pictures of its fantastic citadel and deserted ancient mud brick city had long been a top priority for me. That was until 2003 when the city was devastated by a massive earthquake. With my guidebook preceding the disaster I was going into uncharted territory then, I couldnt even be sure what services still existed but I wanted to see what was left all the same. Not much, is the answer. The bus terminal which had been under construction at the time of the guidebooks writing 6 years before was still a pile of bricks, and it was difficult to follow the map when it transpired the rest of the city was little different. I was most fortunate then that the young boy Mohammed with excellent English just happened to be passing by in his dads car and took me to our mutual destination, the Akbar Hostel. There was no-one there except a Kenyan guy who seemed to be visiting rather than staying, and the guest book showed how scant their business had become, comprised entirely of 6 Japanese over the last month. I guessed that in Japan the earthquake didnt get any coverage, or they simply took siesmic disturbance to be an everyday occurence! After sharing Mohammed's contempt for the current regime, and commiserating with such points as nowhere in the Koran for example did it say that women couldnt drive cars, yet that had been Iranian law until 2 years before, it was time to head for what was left of the city's sights, and again I was in for a shock. Upon searching out a couple of major shrines and the Jameh Mosque, I found them all to be works in progress like they had had to be rebuilt from scratch. There were men busy with sledgehammers all over the city. In what had once been Bam's main shopping street, very few buildings had survived and the hollow shells of ones which had failed to collapse revealed bent metal frames and crumbled walls at unlikely angles. What had replaced them were impromptu rows of shipping containers, each one now comprising a business. The traffic lights didnt work and the street lighting was less than adequate too, it was like being back in Georgia! After striking it lucky with a rudimentary chelo kebab restaurant I decided it was time to go in search of the citadel, the Arg-e Bam. I had thought it might be quite obvious perched upon a hilltop as it is, but Bam's other redeeming feature is the very thick date palmery which encircles and threads its way through the place. Eucalypts also created a nice new shady atmosphere, if only the pavements hadnt been one long building site. Bam's ancient walls were soon apparent though, an exterior curtain of mud the shape and size of a football stadium, still impressive despite one corner and the entranceway being shrouded in thick scaffolding. It was only upon entering however that I realised this was the ancient city walls and the citadel still lay beyond at the heart of them. A single, straight cordoned path ushered me through what had once been until recently the very well preserved mud-walled city streets, now sadly piles of rubble in the main. There were still half complete domes and arches but it was pitiful compared to what it had been before. And then there was the citadel. Crumbled in part but still with one whole crenellated curtain wall intact, it was in slightly better nick than I had expected and still undeniably fantastic. It surprised me to realise that despite its now neglected status it was quite possibly to me still the finest vision in all of Iran.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Iran

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