Acne boy gave me tea and then sent me in the wrong direction for the minibus to Nosterabad, another tiny village laden with rooftop haystacks set in a beautiful valley surrounded by more snowy peaks. I'd come here to visit another UNESCO site and one of the highlights of Western Iran, the Takht-e Soleiman (Throne of Solomon). What remains of the city walls still form a ring around a raised circular platform with most strikingly, a small turquoise blue lake within it. Several small streams emanate from it, one of which flows towards and right through the centre of the main gate, it must be fed by a spring since no water flows in. A section of the wall and one of the 38 towers has been rather over-restored to show what it would have originally looked like. The ruins there originate from several eras, the Achamenids, Parthians, Sassanians and Arabs all rejuvinating the ancient city with the Mongols being the last tenants. It was notable for its fire temples but very little of aesthetic value survives, the odd corniche in plaster hangs on but I found no trace of inscription or decoration. The site is remarkable for its setting alone however and I was lucky that some unwelcome cloud encroached only after I had seen most of it in brilliant colours of blue and brown with superb backdrops. Back to the village and the cloud belayed me from climbing the neighbouring conical mountain known as Zendan-e Soleiman (Solomon's Prison). The only facility in town was the tiny tearoom where the kindly old boy looked after me. With no bus forthcoming he sorted me out with a "servees" taxi, very cheap in this country, only 5000 Rials (about 30p) per seat for a 42K journey. As ever the boy didnt want to take my money but they always did in the end. There was no way I was staying with Zitman in Takab again so it was grab the bags and head straight back to Bijar, there was no minibus apparent so I settled for a share taxi again. 2 rival boys fought over us and ready to go with one, the other boy moved his car to block us in. After a brief shouting match and much gesticulation we were free to go but it showed that in the dog eat dog world of the free market even Islam couldnt instill any honour amongst thieves. It just meant that not for the first time the last thing you wanted to do was give them your money, but the desire to get moving won the day. We were then joined at the last minute by 3 old women and I was surprised to find myself in the back seat next to one of them. Why they didnt stick us 2 blokes in the front I dont know, I doubted it was to save squashing the tourist. And you learned quickly to aim for the back because 3 crammed in the front was ridiculous. Outside Bijar I was dropped into the realm of more sharks who were happy to send me in the wrong direction if it would make them a buck. A more humane bus driver helped me flag down another cab populated by 2 hysterical buffoons, and soon I was at the small bus terminal getting ripped off over a dodgy kebab. The rip offs were becoming more apparent. The lone minibus left for Sanandaj with me on it and the young honey behind me couldnt resist talking to the exotic foreigner even though we could barely hear over the road noise, again most forward. Sanandaj materialised just as it became dark and proved to be incredibly busy with pedestrians as thick on the ground as the gridlock. After baulking at one hotel, grumpy and overpriced, a 2nd was recommended and I found it to be a palace by comparison and only a dollar more than the ghastly gas chamber I had endured the night before. A friendly old boy named Habib sat in the restaurant helped me out. He had been sent to study in Geneva in his youth and had immaculate French and very good English, I found him teaching himself English grammar from a workbook. Inevitably the conversation turned to politics and in contrast to Dariush, Habib was very happy with the way things were going for the Kurds in Iran. Sanandaj is Iran's most ethnically Kurdish city and the place I had originally aimed to arrive in from my aborted crossing from Iraqi Kurdistan. Satellite TV had brought more liberation and recognition of Kurdish culture and Habib said he was free to speak his mind. Indeed he explained that many government ministers were now Kurdish, most unexpected.
Perversely in my palace for the night, I received room 101 again, though this time in Arabic numerals. I had my first taste of Iranian TV, with English subtitles on a news channel the most riveting distraction to be found, it was either heavily slanted news, prayers or basketball. In an interesting insight the news only ever referred to Israel as the Tel Aviv regime. I also became aware that after 5 days in Iran I hadnt seen a single soul praying and I couldnt even recall hearing a muezzin. This was the Islamic Republic, right?