Perfect Strangers Series: Khorramabad, Iran
Ali: Khorramabad, Iran (Part 1)
I was riding on a touristy horse cart with Shirin, a girl that I knew from my Iranian facebook friend, Matt Sheikhi . The horseshoes sounded distinct as we were circling Nashq e Jahan, a world famous square park that covers almost 9-hectare area. In my eyes, Nashq e Jahan, a Farsi word that means image of the world, is the most impressive square in the entire Iran.
The 560 meter times 160 meter square is surrounded by a two-story arcade. A rectangular park stretches in the middle of the square. In the center of the square is a soothing pond with fountains. On each side of the square, there are four exquisite buildings, Sheikh Lofallah Mosque in the east, Ali Qapu pavilion in the west, Qeysarriyeh (bazaar) in the north and Royal Mosque in the south.
It was a pleasing feeling to see the whole area. Although one circle was too short for me to imbibe the beauty of Nashq e Jahan, we got off the cart and walked toward the enticing Royal Mosque.
Staring with amazement, I was speechless in front of the entrance of the Royal Mosque. My gaze paid close attention to the upper part of the wall that was delicately painted with floral motifs in dark blue and turquoise colors. The lower part of the wall was made of marble with bright natural color. It was so gorgeous. Thereupon the entrance gate is an admirable yvan and the gate is sealed by a thick wooden door. The door handles are typical of Safavid architecture, they looked new replacing the old ones.
From Isfahan to Khorramabad
Just like me, people outside the entrance were taking photos. It was a public holiday, the mosque was closed
Outside there were stairs where visitors just sat down. I saw a group of young women sitting there. I took a glance at them and smiled. Then they asked me where I was from. One of them guessed I was from Korea. They didn’t speak English at all. It was good Shirin was there. She interpreted it for me. Upon short introduction, they mentioned their names one by one which I didn’t catch right away. They were from Khorramabad and were in Esfahan on vacation.
“Where is Khorramabad?” I was asking them as I only knew touristy cities of Iran. “It is in Lorestan, in the west of Iran,” their guide answered. “Lorestan is beautiful, you should visit us,” one of the girls said. “I would love to,” I replied.
“Why don’t we take photos?” I asked them. The girls looked happy with the idea. Shirin, who didn’t like to be photographed, shot photos for us. “I could send these photos to you,” I offered, and asked if one of them had an email address.
They talked among themselves, it turned out none of them had one. “You can send it to my brother, he speaks English,” one of the girls said. I asked her to write down the email address of her brother in my notebook. After a little chat, we said goodbye and left.
It was in 2014, my first visit in Iran. When I got back home, I kept my promise, I sent the photos to the email address that the girl gave me. In my email, I told what happened and the reason I sent those photos.
Then, I got a reply, it was from Ali, the brother of one of the girls who gave me his email address in Esfahan. He thanked me for the photos. He said that the two girls in the photo were her sisters, and he identified Mahza and Elham. Overtime, I have become friends with Ali by corresponding in email. He is a very nice person. He has considered me as his sister, well, big sister.
Three years after my first in Iran, I told Ali that I missed his country and would like to come back. He invited me to come to visit his family in Khorramabad. I thought it was inciting to explore a place that was unpopular for international tourists. Ali said I could stay with his family. From the way he wrote I could tell that his invitation was genuine.
Ali helped me to contact the hotels in Kashan, but all hotels were fully booked. Spring time was a favorite holiday time in Iran. I ended up staying in a homestay, though I really wanted to experience once again staying in a historic house. Both Shiraz and Kashan were the cities I visited for the second time. Maryam, my friend, invited me to visit her and her family in Shiraz. And for Kashan I fell in love with the architecture of its historic houses, and wanted to see them again.
I already set my date to visit Khorramabad. I was happy that I finally would be able to meet Ali, my distant brother. However, for one thing or the other I needed to reshuffle the arrangement of the cities I wanted to visit. Initially, Khorramabad was the first city to visit, then I changed it to the last city I was going to visit. This was because the whole logistic arrangement would be a bit complicated if I visited Khorramabad first.
The change shocked Ali because on the new dates he would not be Khorramabad. He would have an engagement in another city in Iran. But he said I still could come to his house. He already told his family about my visit and they were expecting me. “No problem at all, sister. If there is an issue I am always available on the phone,” he emphasized. He referred to a communication issue as none in his family members speaks English. I could sense his sincerity, no doubt that Ali wanted me to go ahead with my plan to Khorramabad.
I planned to travel to Khorramabad after staying in Kashan. Khorramabad is well connected with Tehran for airplanes and buses, but not with Kashan. Kashan is a city in Esfahan Province. I needed to ask travel groups in Iran, and of course, Ali about transportation to Khorramabad from Kashan.
Ali told me I should take a bus from Qom. “The bus serving Tehran-Khorramabad passes Qom. There are many of them. You can catch the bus in Qom” Ali told me. I had never been in Qom. All I knew is Qom is one of the holy cities in Iran.
When I was in Kashan, I had been in contact with Yanti, the Indonesian local staff from Indonesian Embassy Tehran. As I would head for Qom, I asked her if she knew Indonesian living in the city. Then she gave the phone numbers of Indonesian students who studied in Qom. I sent a text message to one of them and asked about transportation from Qom to Khorramabad. Unfortunately, she didn’t know much about other cities as she was a student and just stayed in Qom.
I was so excited to travel to Khorramabad. It is a completely new city for me. So, I woke up early in the morning and the host of my homestay in Kashan took me to the bus terminal. I even missed my breakfast because I thought the earlier the better.
It was actually not a bus terminal, it was just a roadside where minibuses and taxis waited for passengers. My host in Kashan showed me the minibus to Qom. As soon as I got out of the car, the minibus attendant took my luggage and put it on the roof of the minibus. The minibus was not bad. It was a bit run out but clean. I didn’t have any issue with that.
In one row, the two seats and one seat were separated by an aisle, I chose the one seat. Under the seat by the aisle, there was a small white bucket hanging. It was for trash, a good idea for the environment.
Passengers started to board on the minibus, but it didn’t get fully occupied. So the driver with black turban on his head waited. Like in my country the driver waited until his minibus got full. Behind me, on the back seat sitting two women, a daughter and a mother, they offered me biscuits. My stomach started to growl so I decided to get off to buy something to eat. It was a quite busy area of Kashan. But I could not find a bakery shop nearby. Just next to the minibus, over the pedestrian lane, there was a shop that sold meat and pita bread as well.
I entered the shop. As I didn’t speak Farsi and the man who attended the shop didn’t speak English, he called another young man–I guess this young man was his son. With my two index fingers, I made a square sign on the big pita bread. “Small,” I said to the young man who attended me. He nodded. When he gave a big cut, I shook my head, again I gave a square sign. When he gave me the right size, I said, “yes!” He smiled as an expression of relief. His father was watching us. I gave the money to him, then his father said something. The young man didn’t take my money. “No,” he said. I didn’t move. Then he said again, “Free.” Oh my Lord! He just gave me a piece of bread! I said thank you while my eyes were on his father. How come I wanted to buy a piece of bread, then the vendor just gave it me for free. I returned to my seat in the minibus and enjoyed my bread.
It was nearly one hour but the minibus didn’t move. Only two seats were empty, the passengers started to complain because they had waited for a long time. There was a small drama, all passengers got off. Being a foreigner who didn’t understand any word of Farsi, I was in an ugly situation. I also got off. There were some shouts, but later on all passengers got on the minibus, and the driver started the engine. It was a win-win solution.
The bus attendant collected the money from passengers. The ticket was cheap, but I forgot how much. Now I understand why the driver wanted his minibus to be fully packed. He didn’t pick up passengers all the way.
In the middle of the way, a man got on, it looked like he asked for a donation. He gave like tickets for each passenger as he was saying prayer, I gave him some money for donation. That was the only break. One or two passengers got off on the way.
In less than one hour, we arrived in a small bus terminal. Everyone got off. I was perplexed. I didn’t know where I was exactly. It was a small terminal only for minibuses, I didn’t see any big bus. Surely these buses were not going to Khorramabad. I looked around, nobody spoke English. A man tried to bring my luggage to a taxi but I said no.
I pulled my luggage back and moved aside. Then I called that student in Qom. I told her that I was somewhere in a small bus terminal. I wanted to take a bus to Khorramabad, but I didn’t know where the bus was. I asked her to talk with a man that had wanted to take my luggage. The man stood nearby me. I gave my phone to the man and let him talk. He talked a few minutes. When it was done he gave back my phone. The student said that I needed to take a taxi to a bus terminal where the bus from Tehran to Khorramabad passed by.
“Taxi!’ the man exclaimed. A yellow taxi approached me and the man spoke to the driver, I got on it. I still felt I was nowhere. I didn’t know the direction. Then I called my other Indonesian friend in Kerman, Nasriati, who had accompanied me in that city. I told her that I was in the taxi heading to a bus terminal to catch a bus to Khorramabad. But I didn’t know anything where it was and I also wanted to know how much the taxi fare was.
I asked the taxi driver to speak on the phone with Nasriati. Then she told me the taxi was going to the intercity bus terminal near Qom. The driver would bring me inside the terminal so I could get the bus to Khorramabad. The bus from Tehran to Khorramabad passed by the terminal. The taxi fare was 100,000 Rial. I thank her for being my remote interpreter. Now, I knew where I was heading.
The Only Passenger
The taxi driver did bring me inside the bus terminal. As soon as I got out of the taxi, a tall young guy approached me. “Khorramabad?” I asked him for the bus.
“Wait! Your country?”
“Andonezia,” I answered. It was not a busy terminal and it was situated outside Qom.
Later on, a big, modern, white Scania bus came in.
“Khorramabad!” said that guy pointing at the coming bus. I paid him the ticket. He helped me put my luggage in the bus trunk.
I got onto the bus. I was delighted. It was a VIP bus, air-conditioned, clean, and spacious. The bus interior had an orange tone color. It waited for a while for passengers.
Inside the bus, I turned my head back and counted there were only 4 passengers including me. It was a professional bus company, the driver wore a neat uniform. Despite having only few passengers the operation kept going. I was so relieved that I finally sat on my bus to Khorramabad. I breathed out.
My mobile beeped, a message from the Indonesian student in Qom she wanted to check whether I was OK. She was glad I was in the bus to Khorramabad. Then Ali called me. He was also happy that I made it. The distance between Qom and Khorramabad could be covered in more than 4 hours. Ali said he would call me again when I approached the city.
In front of each seat there was small digital television screen, but I didn’t have any interest to turn it on. The view from my bus window was more interesting. It was a vast landscape. Sometimes we just passed uninhabited land. I could not sleep because I was just excited with what I saw all the way. The bus attendant gave me a small bottle water and a small plastic bag with snacks. I ate it right away. The bus ran fast on the smooth intercity roads. When the sunlight fell in my window, I just moved to the other side. It was my most comfortable bus ride in Iran.
The bus stopped in a rest area. The driver approached my seat and asked me in Farsi. I didn’t understand his question at all. I guessed he asked my nationality, so I just replied “Andonezia.” Then he said in English that the bus would stop for a rest and I could eat and drink in the restaurant there.
The building in the rest area has sections of shops and restaurants. I walked around to see what was offered. Although I was hungry, I didn’t want to eat something heavy. I just bought bread and an ice cream, I also bought pistachio, my favorite snacks in Iran. While waiting for the bus to embark, I sent a text message to Ali saying I was in the rest area. He said it was still far away from Khorramabad. He would call me by 4 pm.
The bus continued riding with a new driver. I was kind of curious to know where the first driver was. Now there were only five people in the bus, the driver, three passengers including me, and the bus attendant. The road was smooth and we were entering Lorestan Province. From my bus window, I was still enjoying the view all the way: the villages, the hills, the green, sometimes I passed herds of hundred of lambs with just one shepherd. It was all fascinating.
I had a feeling Khorramabad was no longer away. The bus stopped in a circle of the road, the second driver got out. On the side there were some shops. I also got off. I just wanted to see around. Then the bus trunk was opened, I saw the first driver was there, he just woke up from his sleep. I took some photos of the shop, everything was written in Farsi. I was good, so I didn’t buy anything. The bus only stopped for 20 minutes.
Now the first driver took the stir, before he started the engine, I approached him and gave him three key holders as souvenir from Indonesia, for him and his other friends that ran the bus. I just felt it was the most special bus trip in all of my travels. He smiled and said thank you. The other passengers got out, now I was the only single passenger. Wow! Never before I experienced this kind of bus trip.
Before 4 pm, my mobile rang. Ali already organised my pick up. He said her two sisters that I met in Esfahan, Elham and Mahza, would pick me on the road side in Khorramabad. He would ask the driver to drop me off on that spot. I gave the phone to the driver and he spoke with Ali. When everything was set, he returned my phone. He nodded, a gesture that he understood everything.
A little later, from a distance, I saw two girls by a white car. The bus pulled over and stopped. I waved my hand to the driver and got off. The bus attendant took my luggage out of the bus trunk. Here I was standing on the street of Khorramabad. And in front of me were Ali’s sisters, Mahza and Elham, the two girls that I incidentally met in Esfahan three years ago! (To be continued)