Esfahan is the third largest city of Iran and one of the most beautiful cities in the world. In ancient times, there used to be a popular belief, that if you have seen Esfahan, then you have experienced half of the world. Resplendent with beautiful monuments, gardens, boulevards and bridges, it is indeed a jewel in the Persian crown. The true connoisseurs of all branches of beauty, Iranians love bridges, tunnels, gardens and camping and Esfahan’s architectural jewels had comprised of them all. The city, however, in spite of it’s formidable beauty had let me down in a big way and apart from Tehran, it had been an Iranian city, where I had been fleeced badly. Esfahan is perhaps the most visited city in Iran and it’s residents make full use of the heavy volume of eager eyed, culturally awed travelers who arrive there in hordes. Hiking of prices, scams and aggressive hustling are bit of a problem there and I can blame it on Esfahan’s tourist circuit popularity.
Thus the spectacularly beautiful ancient city has its share of little amusing foibles too and all roads in Esfahan (for foreigners) lead to carpet shops. The suave Esfahanis are more commercially progressive than the rest of their Iranian counterparts and they unload you out of your money in style. Friendly and full of panache, you kind of find it easy to fork out more than necessary when your smiling Esfahani guide takes you to a shop, attraction or restaurant and sooner than later, you will be on your way home, loaded with shopping you really didn’t need. Needless to say, by the time you realize that you have paid triple the price for all your Esfahani pleasures, the magnificent Persian city leaves you numb with beautiful memories of a stunning destination of smiling people. But, keeping in mind that Iran is one of the most pocket friendly destinations in the world, Esfahan doesn’t leave a bad aftertaste, unless honesty and fairness are high on your travel priority list.
My previous 2 Esfahan experiences had not been very monetarily pleasant and I had been unfortunate enough to fall into a couple of touristy traps there. The 1st had been my “nice” Esfahani guide, Ms Mozhgan Mohameddi, who later had turned out to be “not so nice” after all and not only had she lead me to a carpet and souvenir shop of her”relative”, but had also charged me double the regular guiding fee. My 1st timer excitement and language barrier too had not worked in my favour and she had managed to make me pay me around 25 Usd at Naqsh-e-Jahan restaurant for lunch, which on my next solo visit had turned out to be for only 9 Usd. Inflation had worked in funny ways in Esfahan and strangely, it had indeed seemed like another beautiful, touristy city, a real half of the world.
Travel Tip – Esfahan is absolutely DIY kind of a place and help of guide is required only if you want to know about the monuments’ historical significance in details. 25 Usd is the regular guiding fee and the price starts from 20. Lunch is included and even if you gorge (like me and Ashkan), you cannot spend more than 9 Usd and you will end up wasting a lot of food. Beware of scammers and hustlers, (like my guide) and it is recommended that you hand out cash for bill payments, attraction fees etc in Iranian currency (after double confirming it in tumans) directly to the vendors. Please note that these prices quoted are from 2011-2013 and at the moment Iran, is a tad bit more expensive.
My third Esfahan visit, thanks to my very honest and non English speaking driver friend Ashkan had been the best. Post breakfast, we had gone for a walk to the awesome Naqsh-e-Jahan square which had been 2 minutes away from the Setarah hotel and the area had been Esfahan’s most popular tourist beat. An Unesco World Heritage Site, Naqsh-e-Jahan is famous for impressive mosques, palaces and bazaars and even though I had been there twice before, it’s sheer size and grandeur had taken my breath away. We had started with the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque and exquisite and intimate, it had been my favourite place to feel blue. The private mosque of the Safavid dynasty rulers, Lotfollah literally makes you feel happily blue and Esfahan’s tile work are famously aqua toned.
More exquisite, intimate and detailed than the towering Shah mosque, I had loved watching light filtering through it’s blue tiles and trellises. The breathtaking central golden peacock dome had never failed to mesmerize me and I had lost many hours counting time on its splendid sun dial. Lotfollah’s beauty had been easy, unassuming and mortal in temperament. Unlike the massive Shah mosque, it’s relaxed fluidity had been like poetry and the beauty made me feel warm and homey, rather than awe struck. The congregational Shah mosque, however had been completely different story and it’s grandeur had been designed to stun it’s viewers. But, in spite of it’s intimidating beauty, Shah Mosque had been one of the most magnificent monuments I have ever seen and it had derived it’s power from it’s sheer size and powerful acoustic effect. Apart from being connoisseurs of beauty, ancient Persians had been clever architects and sound engineers too, and the interiors of Shah Mosque had the most resounding acoustic qualities.
It had added depths to it’s cavernous interiors and everything, including the Zagros Mountains had seemed small in comparison. One of the my most beautiful Esfahani sights had been that of the Shah Mosque at sunrise, with the Zagros Mountains misting in the background and the blue and gold decorated monument had truly resembled the glittering dawn sky. Shah Mosque had been spectacular throughout the day and I had always felt drowned inside it’s infinite blue interiors. Richly covered with exquisite signature Esfahani “blue” tiles, the monument had been a powerful mix of flowers, calligraphy, quotes from the Koran and tall shadows. The highlight of the stunning Naqsh-e-Jahan Square, the massive congregational Mosque had been an architectural gem and in olden times, the booming surround sound effect of the main dome had helped the imam call the far flung masses for their spiritual obeisance.
I can write at least a dozen posts on Esfahan’s grandeur and it is exactly for the same reason that the “half of the world” city had been very exhausting. Ashkan and I had stayed back in Esfahan, for 2 days and we had dedicated 1 whole day to the gorgeous Naqsh-e-Jahan Square. Shopping and people watching had been great fun at the square and we had spent hours browsing through the cavernous bazaars. Fountain, flowers, jingling horse carts and hordes of merrymakers had filled the “meydan” with laughter, energetic rush and it had felt good to be in midst of so much infectious happy vibes. We had concluded our 1st Esfahan day with a good lunch of Dizi and doog and it had been at the beautiful Naqsh-e-Jahan restaurant, that I had realized my double whammy of getting badly scammed on my 1st Esfahan visit. However, all’s well, that ends well and Dizi had been the best possible way to conclude an Esfahani day.
A wholesome and quite an artistic meal, Dizi had been a healthy vegetable and meat stew, served along with olives (marinated in pomegranate paste), freshly sliced onion, herbs, grape fruit slices and grainy sesame bread. The presentation of the meal had been dramatic and the mirror and stained glass interiors of the restaurant had added to it’s experiential climax. The stew had been brought in ceremoniously by waiters dressed as genies, and then it had been pounded into pulp with mortar. I had stared at the entire preparation with bated excitement and had diligently followed Ashkan’s Dizi eating etiquette. Pooled on my plate, the mash had looked unappetizing until a dash of fragrant grape fruit juice had changed all that for good. Suddenly, Dizi had burst on my tongue with an explosion of flavours and I had scooped out entire the mash using the bread as spoon. Although a little weird sounding, the end result had been simply divine and it had been a dish befitting a city of unparalleled beauty and fame, a city confidently crowned as “half of the world”.
Travel Tip – Do try the amazing Dizi at the Naqsh-e-Jahan restaurant. Carpets, calico, silver filigree work, enamel coated pottery etc are Esfahani specialties and you can shop till you drop. The shops at Naqsh-e-Jahan Square, like all tourist places. are overpriced and you can take local help, using your discretion, to guide you to another fair priced bazaar.
RESPONSIBLE TOURISM-BECAUSE I CARE
Some photos have been taken from the internet.