Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Kerman: Home of Bazaars, Hammans, Teahouses and 0 postcards

FAQ# 3:  Isn't there an embargo?  Are you going to go to jail?

Answer:  Yes, there have been sanctions going back to 1979, but unlike the stupidity that is the US policy prohibiting Americans from visiting Cuba, these sanctions do not preclude travel to Iran.  There are travel warnings galore, but no actual prohibition exists, so practically speaking, you are not risking any jail time. For the tourist, the most obvious effect of the sanctions is the money problem.  As in the "What do you mean my ATM card won't work?!  How am I going to get money?" problem.

The only solution I found was to do something I normally try to avoid doing, carry dollars and lots of them. Normally, I will wait until I get to wherever I am going and take out small amounts of the local currency, minimizing my risk in the event that I unexpectedly become separated from my wallet, but due to the fact that western banks are prohibited from doing business in Iran, this was not an option. For all the concern that people expressed about my visiting Iran, one of my biggest worries was how I was going to manage for 12 in London with a purseful of cash just waiting to be snatched.
Thankfully, I survived the layover (and the over-inflated UK prices) with enough cash intact to carry me through for three weeks in Iran but I should point out that this is a statement that you can only make after the fact.  While there, you have no way of knowing exactly how much you are going to need.  Sure, another effect of the sanctions is that everything is insanely cheap.  A full meal at the nicest restaurant in town will cost around $4.  Those ice cream cones that everyone seems to be carrying around are about 20 cents.  A faux beer: about 75 cents.  But for someone like me, a new homeowner fascinated by middle eastern decor, it was an effort not to purchase everything I saw at the bazaars.  It was only the realization that once the money was gone, there would not be access to any more that kept me in check.

I figured that once I left Shiraz and went into the smaller cities, the temptation would be less.  I was wrong.  Every city in Iran, no matter how large or small, has a central bazaar and Kerman was no different.

We arrived in Kerman after a very comfortable eight hour bus ride.  My few waking moments indicated that it was a very scenic ride, but the wide cushy seats won out in the end, as I snored my way through the countryside.

The following day, we began our visit with a stroll through the center of town and of course, the grand bazaar, which happens to be one of the oldest in the country.

We were on our way to the Hamam-e Ganj Ali Khan, a former bath house which has now been converted into a museum.

Wax dummies tell the stories of the many uses and purposes of the hammams, from secular to religious, from social gathering place to medicinal spa.

One curious thing was what I could not, for the life of me, find in any of the markets.  I could not find a single postcard.  I imagine this is due to the somewhat limited amount of tourism, but if you are selling souvenirs- which a lot of places were- I don't get why you would not add postcards to your inventory. In my frustration, I often declared to Yasna that I was going to move to Iran and start my own postcard empire.

Days after visiting this hammam, I was at a lovely garden with a small gift shop.  There for the first time, I saw postcards, only there were not of the garden.  They were of this hammam and its dummies, a whole boxed set's worth!  This raised a couple of questions for me.  1. While the hammam was nicely restored and the dummies adequately creepy, there are so many nicer sights in Iran, why focus all your postcards on the hammam? and 2.  You have plowed ahead and created this set of hammam postcards, why not sell them at the damn hammam?

Nearby was the Moshtari-ye Moshtaq Ali Shah, the mausoleum for a famed Sufi mystic and musician, responsible for adding a fourth string to the sitar.

There are other Sufis buried in the courtyard.  Their families still pay for the regular upkeep of their tombs.

The Hama-e-Vakil Chaykhaneh, part teahouse, part restaurant, all live music venue.
With the sightseeing portion of the day completed, I spent the remainder wandering around the city.  Due to Kerman's proximity to both Pakistan and Afghanistan, it is considered to be a drug smuggling hub on the way to Turkey.  A Tehran woman I later met told me that she would never allow her daughter to roam around this city, but in my admittedly very limited experience, I found it to be a simple and quiet place.  I did not see any drug use, nor any obvious drug users, just hard working, kind people- people who are actually feeling the strain of the sanctions, not just whining about the lack of atm's, like myself.

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