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Saturday, 26 June 2010

Achemenid Inscriptions near Hamadan

Continued from previous post…

Once we settled our things in the hotel, we went in search of sustenance in the form of steamed rice and kebab, and then drove westwards from Hamadan, passed Abbas-abad, a favourite picnic and camping spot affording panoramic views of the city, until we reached the Ganj-nameh Leisure complex.
This includes outdoor restaurants, giving off whiffs of kebab mixed with fruit-flavour tobacco from water-pipes, and a cable car, which, unfortunately, closed at 10 pm. A short uphill walk leads up to the Ganj-nameh itself, which consists of two large panels carved on the rock face and containing inscriptions in three languages (Babylonian, Elamite and Old Persian) in cuneiform script. Dating back to the Achaemenid times, the two lots of inscriptions record the victories of Darius and his son Xerxes (d. 465 BC) and their gratitude to Ahura Mazda, the God of Zoroastrianism, for the blessings he bestowed on the royal dynasty. According to the modern inscription on site, these ancient texts were deciphered by Sir Henry Rawlinson in the early 19th c. and assumed fundamental importance for our knowledge of these three ancient languages.
The contemplation of these inscriptions arouses conflicting thoughts and feelings: humans throughout history share the desire to leave something behind before the waters of oblivion close over them; an awareness of the thousands of people that have looked at these over the centuries and a strong sense of one’s own insignificance.
Just behind the rock bearing the inscriptions, a waterfall sheds its water forming a river downhill. Families were camped on the banks of the river, enjoying their picnics and the cool mountain air. Close to the spirits of their ancestors, modern Iranians refresh their spirit near nature, and preferably near running water.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Trip to Hamadan

Taking advantage of the few days between the end of the children’s exams and the beginning of summer school for my daughter, we went on a mini-break westwards to Hamadan and Kermanshah.
We left on Monday 14 June at 7 am.

According to the inscription, the Ali Sadr Cave is the world’s largest underwater cave and dates back to the Second Geological Period (Jurassic, 136 – 190 million years ago). Parts of it remain unexplored and may stretch for hundreds of kilometres; the locals think that a cave near Zanjan, hundreds of kilometres to the north of Hamadan, is actually the same cave.
We arrived at the cave complex at 2.30 pm and had lunch at a traditional restaurant, sitting on a wooden platform covered in carpets. A brief walk during the hottest part of the day led to the entrance lobby to the cave. As soon as we stepped inside the specially formed corridor, the temperature dropped markedly, and during our visit it dropped as low as 16C, while outside the temperature was in the high thirties.
Visitors can proceed on foot until a certain depth, after which they need to board a boat tugged by a pedalo boat operated by two employees of the cave organisation. The passage is so tight in places that the sides of the boat scrape against the rocks. The water is Ph neutral, colourless and odourless, and has a natural taste. Because the water is crystal-clear, the underwater rocks and stalagmites are visible even to a depth of 14 meters.
Stalactite formations are stunning: white bunches hanging down from the roof as giant cauliflower; reddish and glistening patches spread along the sides in the shape of octopus tentacles and body parts of aliens (“They make me sick!”, daughter exclaimed); near the end of the tour, in a wide space named Talar-e Niayesh (Prayer Hall), an overhead stalactite forms the name of Allah in Arabic.
As we stepped out into the daylight again, the weather was slightly cooler. We drove for another hour and a half to Hamadan to look for a place to stay, but when we went to check-in, we realised that since Hossein hadn’t brought his ID booklet (shenas-nameh) to prove that we are related, we needed ID documents for all of us, which we didn’t have. The hotel receptionist directed us to a branch of the local police responsible for public places. The young officer on duty asked us a few questions and eventually issued a document allowing the hotel to give us a room.
More to follow in the next post.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010


“Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave,” the Commander of the Faithful Imam Ali said. So I thought I’d put this advice to practice and have started to learn some Arabic, a wish I have had for a very long time. I have found a class that started a year ago and meets once a week, but has only progressed to the beginning of the second book. If (and this is a very big IF) I can work through until the end of the first book by the end of August, I might be able to join them from the beginning of the school year at the end of September.

I should get enough time in the summer: the last session of the class I teach is on 25 June, my daughter will attend summer school between 19 June and 11 August in preparation of next year’s university admission exams, and my son will also be at summer school between 3 July and 5 August. By the looks of it, plenty of fun to be had this summer.