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More Discoveries in Esfahan: Frescoes and Sunset

Our time in Esfahan got better each day. Not that the previous trips to Tehran and Shiraz weren’t great, they were just different. Each city has a special theme: palaces and museums in Tehran; gardens, poetry, Islamic shrine and Persian ancient cities in Shiraz; and mosaics and frescoes in Esfahan. And the frescoes in Esfahan are so well preserved like they were recently painted in the 21st century.

Just a stone throw away from Naqsh-e-Jahan Square is a pavilion called Chehel Sotoun, a palace situated amongst beautiful landscape of gardens and a long pool. The pavilion was built by Shah Abbas II specifically for receiving and greeting noble visitors, dignitaries and foreign ambassadors.

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Chehel Sotoun means “Forty Columns”, 20 wooden columns supporting the entrance of the pavilion plus reflection of the 20 columns in the waters of the pool, therefore 40 columns.

As we walked across the gardens approaching the pavilion, I thought the facade looked rather fragile. The columns were not made of solid marble but delicate, slender-looking wood. It didn’t seem adequately strong to support a roof which looked as if it was going to collapse any moment. However, never judge a book by its cover though it didn’t look impressive on the outside, Chehel Sotoun was incredible on the inside.

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We walked inside the Reception Hall of Chehel Sotoun which contains frescoes, and oh my, the frescoes were impressive – illustrations of historical scenes such as reception assemblies with rulers of Turkistan and Humayun from India, and battles against the Uzbek and Indian armies. The frescoes went through some restoration which I can’t remember when, though not in recent decades, and yet the paintings looked remarkably fresh and well preserved.

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I love the frescoes because it was a refreshing change from the other places of interest which we had visited thus far in Iran. We saw many palaces and mosques with Persian-Islamic architecture comprising colourful mosaics and glittering cut glass and mirror work but I didn’t expect to see frescoes which reminded me a lot of those in Europe.

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Just before our guide, Maryam, left us for the day, she brought us to the Bridge of 33 Arches which is situated right in the centre of Esfahan. The Bridge of 33 Arches, also known as the Khaju Bridge, is the longest bridge of over 970 feet long on the Zayandeh River. Built during the late 16th century during Shah Abbas I, the bridge was considered to be one of the famous examples of Safavid bridge design. It’s called 33 Arches (or Sio-se-pol in Farsi) because the bridge consists of two rows of 33 arches on either side of the structure.

When Maryam brought us to the bridge, it was a cloudy afternoon. The weather forecasted rain that day. And yet, Iranians happily flocked to the bridge to enjoy the flowing waters of Zayandeh River. For many years, due to shortage of water and river drought, the local authorities cautiously released water from the dam to control the storage and distribution of water. In normal circumstances, there should be water underneath the bridge but for many years, it had been dry. At one point, the concrete was completely dry and youngsters came out to play football on it! However, we were very lucky that day. In view of the rainy weather forecast, the local authorities decided to release the water, thus we saw the river flowing underneath the bridge. As such, many Iranians, mostly youths, came out to sit close by the water and to enjoy the day.

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Imagine youngsters playing football on this concrete when there was no water flowing under the bridge!

By evening, the rain stopped. We decided to return to the bridge again (only 15 minutes’ walk from our hotel) to take a stroll on the bridge and hope to catch a beautiful sunset. I remember it was a Thursday evening and Iranians were geared up for the weekend (their weekend is Friday and Saturday). School children, university students, office workers and the elderly came out to walk along the bridge and the river bank. There were lots of laughter, giggles and photo-taking on the bridge. Young Iranians, once again, approached us, wanting to “practise their English” with us. We spoke briefly to a Literature student from Shiraz who was visiting her boyfriend in Esfahan – she was a little disappointed that we preferred Esfahan to Shiraz while her boyfriend whooped with delight and said to her in fairly good English “you see, I told you, Esfahan is more beautiful than your city”. Cute :-)

When the sun began to set and the sky turned dark, the bridge was lit. It was beautiful. More flashes of camera lights could be seen. Iranians love to take photos especially with their phones, and they love to pose on the bridge, knowing fully well that the lights on the bridge give a special glow to their pictures :-)

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As we stood there to admire the sunset and the glowing lights, we could not help but marvel at the light and casual atmosphere on the bridge. This country is often misunderstood, and understandably so from global politics perspective, but we were frequently surprised by the freedom to live, love and laugh as evidently shown at the Bridge of 33 Arches…

Zayandeh River, Esfahan.

Zayandeh River, Esfahan.

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*****

If you have missed previous posts on Iran, click Palaces & Museums: Part 1 , Palaces & Museums: Part 2 , But…Why Iran? ,Vivid Colours of FlowersColours & PoetryShah-e-Cheragh ShrineAncient City of Persepolis and Tombs of NecropolisArrived in EsfahanAli Qapu Palace and Grand Bazaar

Note: My trip to Iran was done with Homafaran Agency via Iran Traveling Center

 

Ranthambhore National Park

Travel Theme: The Green Grass of Ranthambhore

(This post is linked to Where’s My Backpack Travel Theme: Grasses)

Back in early October 2010, friends in Delhi suggested that I made a weekend trip to Ranthambhore National Park to spot wild tigers. The national park lies in the Sawai Madhopur district of Rajasthan, easily accessible by train from Delhi, a 3-hour journey.

I reckon the photos below fit the theme Grasses – the monsoon had ended a month before, so there were green grasses and fields in the national park. It might have been pleasant on the eye (anything green is good for the eyes!) but not so easy to spot the tigers though.

Monsoon is happening now in India. I can imagine how beautiful the national park will be now – has anyone been to Ranthambhore recently? :-)

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Ranthambhore National Park

Ranthambhore National Park

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Spot the monitor lizard!

Related Post:

Reward of Seeing A Wild Tiger

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Close Up

This week, get up close and personal with your subject, and capture those tiny, fascinating details that might go unnoticed…

The marble floral motifs on Taj Mahal mausoleum up close and the gateway to the Taj site in the background…AG-21A bee hard at work at Fin Gardens in Esfahan

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Hungry for Malaysian cakes? :-) This picture was taken at a Ramadan food bazaar in Kuala Lumpur

Malaysian cakes – Ramadan Bazaar

Rolled up Persian Carpets in Jama Masjid, Esfahan

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 Related Posts:

A Mughal Weekend

Vivid Colours of Flowers in Iran

Arrived in Esfahan

Ali Qapu Palace and the Grand Bazaar

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Scenes from Naqsh-e-Jahan Square: Ali Qapu Palace and The Grand Bazaar

Last week I shared with you a glimpse of Scenes from Naqsh-e-Jahan Square in Esfahan, mainly the southern and eastern part of the square – Imam Mosque and Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque – both feature beautiful and jaw-dropping Persian-Islamic architecture and mosaics.

Moving on to the western side of Naqsh-e-Jahan Square is the Ali Qapu Palace. The palace was used by the first Shah Abbas of Persia in the 17th century to greet and entertain noble visitors and foreign ambassadors. It has 7 floors and is accessible by a spiral staircase. We climbed the stairs all the way up to the 7th floor which was the upper gallery for Safavid rulers to watch polo matches and horse racing in the square.

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Ali Qapu Palace

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Restoration works on the palace roof and frescoes were in process on the upper gallery. Some frescoes were still intact such as the ones depicting Persian women during the Safavid era.

We moved down to the 6th floor which is the Music Hall or Banquet Hall; back in the day when various ensembles performed music and sang songs. Deep circular niches are found in the walls for acoustic reasons, and the hall was suitably decorated with motifs of vessels and cups :-)

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*****

The last site to explore at Naqsh-e-Jahan Square was the Grand Bazaar which is at the northern entrance of the square. The Grand Bazaar of Esfahan is one of the largest and oldest bazaars in the Middle East. Our guide, Maryam, walked with us in the bazaar and while it was great having her around to help translate price tags from Persian to English, we wanted to have more time to ourselves especially during this last part of our journey in Iran.

Fortunately, Maryam finished her “official duties” with us pretty fast, thus we went back to Naqsh-e-Jahan Square for the second time the next morning to explore the square and the bazaar at our own pace. We window-shopped, ate ice-cream while watching the fountains and school children enjoying the horse carriage rides around the square. We also spoke to a few Iranian college students who approached us and asked if they could “practise their English” with us.

Old man snoozing outside his shop

Old man snoozing outside his shop

Is it a bicycle or a motorbike? Perhaps a hybrid :-)

Is it a bicycle or a motorbike? Perhaps a hybrid :-)

Later, as we walked inside the bazaar, a George Clooney lookalike approached us and invited us to his grandfather’s shop which sells Persian handicraft. He was so charming a salesman that I couldn’t help myself but bought a US$45 table runner which was absolutely perfect for my console table at home! I won’t go into details about the fine artistry of their handicraft but suffice to say that I had the intention of buying something for my home but never thought that a smooth-talking, 6-footer George Clooney lookalike would be the one selling the item to me :-)

Inside the Grand Bazaar, Esfahan

Inside the Grand Bazaar, Esfahan

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After paying for my purchase, then comes an interesting and hilarious conversation with Persian George Clooney’s co-worker.

You like what you buy?

Yes, it’s very nice. I like it. Thank you very much.  

Do you know the actor Javier Bardem?

Erm, ya…why do you ask?

Do you think I look like Javier Bardem?

Well, he did, sort of. Not the rugged handsome look but more of a comical look.

Then he pointed to his friend,  And do you think he looks like George Clooney??

Instantly, my sister and I looked at each other and laughed so loud because we both had the same thought throughout our time in that shop but we didn’t say to each other what were in our minds.

Then very smoothly, they tried to coax us to buy more of their products. By that time, I whispered to my sister in our Malay language that we had better get out of there, otherwise, I would be spending more money!

We told them that we had to leave, interspersed with lots of “would you be interested in other handicraft?” and “oh, no, I’m not interested, thank you” in between, and then we said our final “good bye” and “thank you” to Javier Bardem and George Clooney. As soon as we left and turned round the corner, we had a really good laugh about the whole experience, and I said to my sister, “I cannot believe that I met George Clooney in Esfahan and I bought a table runner from him!” :-)

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If you have missed previous posts on Iran, click Palaces & Museums: Part 1 , Palaces & Museums: Part 2 , But…Why Iran? ,Vivid Colours of FlowersColours & PoetryShah-e-Cheragh ShrineAncient City of Persepolis and Tombs of NecropolisArrived in Esfahan

Note: My trip to Iran was done with Homafaran Agency via Iran Traveling Center

Can you see a speck of white and red?

Weekly Photo Challenge: Half of Caves

This week, share an image that has two clear halves, literally or figuratively..

The state of Maharashtra is very proud of their rich heritage in the form of cave temples – Ajanta and Ellora. Ellora Caves are known for their sculptures of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism whereas the Ajanta Caves are noted for their Buddhist-influenced fresco paintings. Both cave sites were cut out from a deep rock gorge. Tonnes of rock were dug out from a mountain side, leaving behind temple structures.

The Ajanta Caves were excavated from 200 BC to 650 AD. When Buddhism went into decline, Ajanta Caves were abandoned until it was sighted and discovered by a British hunting party in 1819.

The Ellora site has 34 caves: Caves No. 1 to 12 are the Buddhist caves excavated between 600 AD to 700 ; Caves No. 13 to 29 are Hindu caves excavated between 700 AD to 800 AD; and the last group of caves No. 30 to 34 excavated between 800 AD to 1000 AD are the Jain caves.

Here are images befitting the theme ‘Half”…enjoy! :-)

At Ajanta Caves:

A circular of columns and carvings seemed to be split by a Buddha sculpture in the centre.

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At Ellora Caves:

Cave No. 29: This cave was excavated so that sunlight comes into it, giving light in the centre of 26 carved pillars.

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Cave No. 16 Kailash Temple: The tiny speck of a person in white and red, splits the image into half.

Can you see a speck of white and red?

Can you see a speck of white and red?

Cave No. 15 Nandi Cave

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For related posts on Ajanta & Ellora Caves:

Ajanta Caves

Ellora Caves

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Arrived in Esfahan and Scenes from Naqsh-e-Jahan Square

The melancholic Persian songs played on the car radio lulled us to sleep. I don’t know what the songs were about as Mustafa, our driver from Shiraz, spoke very little English, but it must have been about love, lost love, heartache, or…perhaps a lost goat.

Although the car had air-conditioning, we could see the weather outside was hot. It was spring in Iran but there were times when temperatures shot up to mid 30 degrees Celsius and got uncomfortably hot. We drove past dry and rugged landscape – though some areas were dotted with cypress trees – but the land was arid and barren.

Mustafa was a careful driver and he took care of us during our 5-hour journey from Shiraz to Esfahan. He made sure we were comfortably cool with the air-conditioning, and he helped us find someone in a restaurant to translate the menu to us :-) Actually we didn’t need translation, we’d thought we could glimpse at what others are eating, and if it looked good, we would order whatever they were having!

But Mustafa went all out to help us. Lo and behold, he managed to find a tour guide who was dining with a group of Italian seniors. This guide recommended us to try fesenjan, a local dish of grilled chicken with walnut and pomegranate sauce. It was so yummy that I literally drowned my chicken with the sauce, and the plate was clean by the time I finished! Sorry, no photo again but if you’re ever in Iran or dine at an Iranian restaurant in your city, do try fesenjan.

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We arrived in Esfahan about 5pm and it was a refreshing change from the bone-dry landscape that we saw for so many hours that day. Well, it looks like any other cities but we fell in love with Esfahan because of its beautiful boulevards brimming with maple trees, bridges with majestic arches (I will write about them in future posts) and grand Persian-Islamic architecture.

Interestingly, we also noted that their road dividers are actually pathways made for pedestrians to stroll or to rest while watching…the traffic go by. Once again, their pathways are lined with trees. With numerous trees, gardens and flowers in Iran, I must applaud them for conserving nature and realising the importance of our environment, something which my Malaysian government and city councils have to seriously learn!

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Road dividers but also walking paths for pedestrians

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Bicycles for rent??

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Esfahan is Iran’s third largest city after Tehran and Mashhad, and it has one of the largest city squares in the world. Naqsh-e-Jahan Square (translated to Image of the World Square) is situated in the centre of Esfahan city, and has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The square features the finest example of Persian-Islamic architecture – a dream come true for me to see such exceptional artistry,

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Imam Mosque at Naqsh-e-Jahan Square (south)

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The northern side of Naqsh-e-Jahan Square – the Grand Bazaar

Naqsh-e-Jahan Square has other names too – the Imam Square or formerly known as the Shah Square. The buildings surrounding the square are from the Safavid era: Esfahan Grand Bazaar (north), Shah Mosque (south), Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque (east) and Ali Qapu Palace (west).

The first site we went to was the Shah Mosque. The Shah Mosque was renamed to Imam Mosque after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, it was commissioned for construction in 1611 by the first Shah Abbas of Persia.

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Scaffolding was erected when President Rouhani visited the mosque the day before

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Workers were there to remove the scaffolding. Morning tea break.

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While the Imam Mosque (or Shah Mosque) was spectacular in terms of size, I particularly like the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque.

Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is smaller in scale and does not have minarets, unlike the Imam Mosque. This is because the mosque was constructed to be a private mosque of the royal court, specially for the ladies of Shah Abbas’ harem.

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On the eastern side of the square: Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque

In those days, women were not to be seen and had to be shielded, hence an underground tunnel was built from the Ali Qapu Palace (west) to Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque located on the east of Naqsh-e-Jahan Square. Upon reaching the entrance of the mosque, apparently the women had to walk through many passages to finally reach the main building. And this was where we were inside the main mosque:

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More on Scenes from Naqsh-e-Jahan Square: look out for next week’s post on Ali Qapu Palace and the Grand Bazaar.

If you have missed previous posts on Iran, click Palaces & Museums: Part 1 , Palaces & Museums: Part 2 , But…Why Iran? ,Vivid Colours of FlowersColours & PoetryShah-e-Cheragh ShrineAncient City of Persepolis and Tombs of Necropolis

Note: My trip to Iran was done with Homafaran Agency via Iran Traveling Center

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Travel Theme: Land Meets Water

(This post is linked to Where’s My Backpack Travel Theme: Land Meets Water)

I have been to some of the most beautiful beaches and have seen some of the most picturesque lakes in Asia…in the end, there will be a few that stood out in my mind and remain the best memories ever in my travels so far :-)

Gili Trawangan Beach – a 15-minute speed boat ride from Lombok main island, Indonesia.

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Pangong Lake in Ladakh, India.

Pangong Lake

Pangong Lake

Pangong - one of the largest saltwater lakes in Asia

Pangong – one of the largest saltwater lakes in Asia

Beach at Galle Face Green in Colombo, Sri Lanka

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Related Posts:

In Pictures: The Beaches of Gili Trawangan, Lombok

Jullay!

Dreamy on Galle Face Green in Colombo