On the way out to visit the Jameh Mosque I passed through the bazaar where I came across a religious ceremony of sorts. Men bearing a black banner were accompanied by the habitual hymnal commentary piped through big amplifiers on a trolley. After maybe 200 men the women followed, the men slapping their chests in the ritual manner like the Ashura festival, surprisingly mainly older guys. I could only guess that it was a mourning ceremony, in Iran they were always mourning somebody or other I'd heard.
Upon entering the massive Jameh Mosque, I was ushered across the courtyard into the Ostad, a porch constructed in 1310 AD by Mongol Sultan Oljeitu, he of Soltaniyeh fame. There was a very fine intricately carved wooden Mihrab or similar, I overheard a guide of an unusual tour group of Africans say that a segment was not original, it had been acquired by the Ruskies and was now in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Actually, the Mihrab to Sunnis is the arch shaped corniche in the wall which indicates the direction to Mecca, whereas in Shia Islam it is the arch shaped hole in the floor in front of it. This is where the mullah prostrates himself, the act of lowering himself therein being an illustration of humility. Reputedly the largest mosque in Iran, it was not the finest, but then that was probably indicative of its pedigree. The tilework on the double tier of archways looked suitably aged. 2 of the 4 immense porticos had unusually large stalactitic features and a third was a more deeply recessed arch, more akin to a cathedral. The inner vaults though massive were thoroughly understated, left in bare brick and remarkable only in their scale. Unusually, the inside of the 2 large domes were equally plain.
After buying new pair of breeks in the bazaar and a new diary too (which told a story), I had a siesta of sorts just strolling by the river and catching a couple of inaccessible churches in the Armenian quarter as best I could. It was named Jolfa after the town from which they had fled in 1915 due to the Turkish "genocide". Though perhaps they did still speak Armenian it was indistinguishable to me from the rest of the city save for the crosses above domes and doorways. After settling for the train to Tehran that night, I was able to conveniently buy my ticket from the office right in the city centre. The girl there spoke English and was in awe of Scotland, another poor soul who had made the effort to learn the language but afforded little chance to use it. I had intended doing this sector in stages as I wanted to visit the towns of Kashan and Qom on the way, but time was against me. The Chehel Sotun Palace beckoned, its name meaning 40 pillars though only 20 existed. Competing theories suggested this could be explained by their reflection in the courtyard pool, or that 40 was traditionally a numerical euphemism for many. As in Ali Baba and the 40 thieves I postulated. The exterior is all but hidden under what must be a candidate for the worlds largest porch, adorned with a painted ceiling over a beautiful green marble pool. The inside was trully exceptional though, decorated like a kaleidoscope with 6 major wall murals depicting court scenes and battles. They showed Persian victories over the King of Uzbekistan in 1510, looking like the Mongols with many archers on horseback, also the Karnal War between a Shah and the King of India, fought near Delhi in 1740. Many elephant and cannons are depicted. The main scene showed a battle between Shah Ismail I and the Ottomans in 1514. Also a meeting of Shah Tahmashb and Homayoor, the King of India in 1544. A few artifacts were displayed around the large chamber too, most notably an excellent silver conical crown once belonging to the Sheikh of Ardabil. Though the 2 anti-chambers had not fared well over the years, the muralled hallways connecting them were equally superb. What a work of art.
As I exited, mother nature blinded me with an equally superb display. With the entrance portico opposite gleaming gold in the twilight complemented by rusty autumnal trees, flocks of thousands of tiny birds darted about in unison like shoals of frightened fish. At first they were so small I had presumed them to be insects, there must have been tens of thousands of them. With the last of the daylight I just had to take one more look at Khomeini Square and I searched out the one teahouse which had elevated views the full length of it. Over tea and qalyan I watched the domes and minarets dissolve into the night, magical. Back at the hostel I had the indulgence of my first laundry in weeks to take care of, when I bumped into a German guy again, the only other white face I had seen at the visa office. With similar plans to my own he had been declined a Pakistani visa and so was headed back to Turkey to try there. As a small compensation I took the opportunity of offloading my now surplus Turkey guidebook on him, he was most grateful and I was glad to be rid of the weight at long last, I hadnt wanted to just ditch it. Perversely the breeks I had just bought more than offset the weight benefit however, ho hum. Though looking forward to my first Iranian train ride, the station lay a long way from the city and I was dubious about how to get there. Though I understood the station to be way out East, I had to trust a local bus driver to take me 5Ks South and then put me on another bus idling at the side of an anonymous highway. Maybe my pronunciation had let me down, could "istgah-e ghatar" be confused with something else I doubted? Perplexed, this one continued southbound onto an 8 lane highway and it was only after perhaps another 10Ks that I finally spied a sign for "Rail Way" in English. The Esfehani's had built themselves a humungous concrete palace for a new rail station with barely a soul in it, if only they had built it for convenience. And though the info at the hostel had cited the Tehran train as departing at half 9, my ticket said half 11 which was fine by me, it would mean a much more humane arrival time. Such were the joys of travel (sic). The down side was that I had expected a seat but it was a sleeper train with cramped 6 berth compartments heated like saunas, not conducive to rest. The carriages were former Spanish stock, it must have been quite a trip to get them here.