On the street for 8, and while the minibus took time to fill up I was eventually off to Bisotun, another village, another UNESCO wonder. Perhaps pertaining to the war against Iraq in which Kermanshah was hammered, a lone tank and some SAMs stood as gate guardians outside low key installations, and even the power station and petrochemical works were fortified. Bisotun sat close to the splendid golden sandstone mountains we had followed along the way and walking back along their face there was no-one to sell me a ticket, I did not complain. This site though small is remarkable for its carved reliefs in the rockface and first to greet me was a semi-recessed statue of Hercules, lying supine and obviously much restored. Nearby was an arch-shaped recess framing a relief of engraved writing carved out of the surface. Further on and a scramble up lots of dodgy steps the famous relief of Darius came into view, perched 70 metres high up on the cliff face and complemented by several inscriptions either side and above. A metal staircase had been put in place to allow eye level viewing but sadly it looked incomplete and frustratingly the entrance was fenced off. I did consider some acrobatics over the barbed wire to gain access but elected finally that it wasnt worth getting arrested for. I just had to gawp at them from below but the main relief was clearly in superb condition, remarkably unweathered. Further on and another crazy scramble took me to an enormous and perfectly smooth and square quarry face where building blocks had obviously been hewn from, some of them still lay scattered around. Back in Bisotun I found the very old bridge there still spanning the river and in occasional use. Any rampart to contain livestock or whatever had been lost so the odd farmer took care in crossing its narrow expanse. The rest of the structure was still in excellent nick, the arches were perfect and made a beautiful scene with the turquoise blue river and mountain backdrop.
It was a bit of a rigmaroll getting back to Kermanshah and then out again to Taq-e Bostan, but after feigning the hard luck stony broke routine with the taxi drivers I managed it and wasnt disappointed. Again, less extensive than expected but compensated for by its quality and setting, Taq-e Bostan is another series of carved rock reliefs but this time much more accessible. There are only 3 distinct sections, 2 of them enclosed within recessed arches and the third on a flat wall, all at eye level. You could reach out and touch them and unfortunately 3 bawbags, the only other punters around, did. They thought it was fun to clamber upon the back of King Khosro II's war horse even though it was 1400 years old. The first main frieze was split in 2 horizontally, with the king looking exactly like a medieval jouster complete with lance and shield, the upper section showing his royal investiture. This guy was kicking around at the same time as the prophet Mohammed and was a renowned hunter. The impressive and extensive side panels showed him hunting deer and wild boar, with many mounted elephant and men in boats. Well impressive. The arch was further ornamented on the exterior by guardian angels, one partially missing but what was left was still in superb condition. The second neighbouring archway was less sophisticated but showed another royal dynasty, that of Shapur II and his grandson Shapur III, symbollically passing over the ring of kingship, a bit like the Lord of the Rings! Carved in the 4th Century BC, it had fared remarkably well. The final carving, this time unrecessed, was also in astoundingly good nick considering it was out in the weather and showed King Ardashir II flanked by 2 human deities, receiving the ring of kingship from them. It also serves as a testament to his defeat of Roman Empereor Julian in 363AD whose form is shown symbollically crushed beneath their feet. Slapped on the side of a big golden mountainside, it was everything a mad Scottish backpacker could wish for.
Crap map syndrome had me going round in circles again before I found the Takieh Mo'aven ol-Molk, an exquisitely tiled prayer house of a type synonymous with Iran, used for ceremonies dedicated to the martyrdom of Imam Ali, the Shi-ite big cheese. Inside I found an anthropology museum where I again came across items I had seen in Sanandaj, but this time with better captioning. A wooden Shaql for example was a short board with a handle cut out of it and a seal carved into the face. Only with one of these did you have the landowners permission to pick crops. There were also examples of the Giveh and Kelash, traditional hand woven woolen shoes. Finally a Sorna, a local style of open ended (fluted!) flute. There was also a separate costume museum of different regional apparel, and surprisingly good it was too. The most notable point though was that some of the visiting Iranian tourists were every bit as richly adorned. After all that I still couldnt rest because I needed to buy a bus ticket, change money, burn photos to CD, jump on the net and occasionally stop for breath. This much I managed though and it had been a highly productive and satisfying day even if Kermanshah didnt take my fancy.