svetlana baghawan maverickbirdRoad hassles for us, that day had not ended with crazy traffic congestion and after spending endless hours snailing behind caravans of local holiday makers on Iranian highway, we had suddenly found ourselves completely lost in one of Iran’s most protected areas. It had been the much famous, Natanz Nuclear Facility, which had once been one of Iran’s top most secrets. Under safeguard agreements, Iran had not been under any obligation to reveal it’s existence and it had been kept secret until the ME commentator Alireza Jafarzadeh had exposed one of the sites.

Quite understandably, Iran had not been fond of Mr Jafarzadeh and Natanz Nuclear Facility had been shrouded with controversies for a very long time. Located in the Esfahan province, it had been housed in Natanz city which had not featured on our original route plan, but somehow on that fateful afternoon, we had ended up at it’s periphery and had found ourselves hopelessly lost among it’s scary military loops. The trouble had started when both Ashkan and I had noticed, us passing by a barbed wire restricted area twice and soon intimidatingly cameras, numerous scattering of live tanks and stern patrolling armed soldiers had started dotting the landscape. This had perhaps scared Ashkan even more and we had gotten hopelessly lost within it’s armed circuits. Our battered car on a long lonely road, amidst vast rolling fields, filled with live tanks had obviously sparked doubts and it had been on our third driving loop, that harsh orders and cold automatic weapons had been pointed at us.

Now answering rapid fire questions in a language you don’t understand is not easy and with live automatic weapons pointing towards you, the task becomes even more difficult. At times, ignorance is indeed bliss and on that day, my lack of understanding of Farsi had kept me happily unaware of the severity of the situation. Ashkan however, had been another story and he had stammered, wept and howled incoherently as the interrogators had hurled questions at him. Finally my foreign passport (and that too of a neutral country like India) had come to our rescue and immediately we had been released with sunny smiles, smatterings of Bollywood songs and directions.

It had been nearly late noon, by the time the nightmare had ended and Abyaneh had still eluded us. A shell shocked Ashkan had been impossibly uncommunicative and I had stared out of the window in frustration. Solo traveling, with all it’s associating air of bravado and glamour can be awfully lonely (read frustrating) and at that moment, I had wished to be anywhere else, than there. A seriously bursting bladder too had made things uncomfortable, but again the absurdity of relieving in a stark restricted area among fields full of live tanks, guns and controversies, in one of the most conservative countries in the world, had made me nearly swear out loud. The land had resembled a prairie, vast and lonesome and feeling dejected, I had turned up the volume of Ashkan’s raucous Farsi music to drown in it’s noise. A rosy setting sun had slowly splashed the desert like land in pink hues and Abyaneh had continued to be out of reach. Our day’s plan had gone completely haywire and finally, we had followed a family along mountain roads, so as to just reach some kind of human settlement. Miraculously, in the distance, Abyaneh had risen soon, blushing deep red and photogenic and we had rushed helter skelter to the 1st cafe that we could see.

The ancient village had been truly hidden from sight and it had been a fitting place for the fleeing Zoroastrians to escape their Arab invaders. Though the light was too low for photography, Abyaneh had still looked resplendent in the diminishing glow and the surrounding landscape had been hauntingly beautiful. Stark brown mountains, pomegranate and walnut groves and old mud houses had filled the deep valley, where villagers had lead 7th century lives. Life had indeed stopped there, centuries ago and it had been timeless in the truest sense. Only the gaggle of excited tourists had burst the atmospheric bubble, and we had ambled down twisting mud lanes, to get far away from the crowd. Being built into the face of the mountain, walking around Abyaneh had been lung bursting and we had paused now and then underneath signature latticed windows and fragile wooden balconies. Somehow, they had again reminded me of India and snippets of similar sights had floated in front of me, like day dreams. It had been an incredible village and the resilience of the villagers had been respect worthy.

Despite facing numerous pressure from the government for change, Abyaneh residents had fiercely clung to their ancestral traditional attire and that had been one of the biggest highlights of the village. Loose canvas pants, special shoes called “Giveh” and long garment called “Ghaba”  had completed the men’s costume, while Abyaneh women had resembled something out of a fairy tale. Traditionally, men had worn felt hats, and donning colourful voluminous skirts over long pants, velvet vests and signature floral printed long scarves, women of Abyaneh had been extremely photogenic. Strangely, despite it’s heart touching beauty, Abyaneh had also been extremely desolate, with most of it’s young population having migrated to cities for work. The result had been a nearly ghost village where tourists had milled around old, wrinkled residents in traditional clothing and  the villagers had peddled dried fruits, souvenirs and traditional dishes. However, they had been a bright, welcoming lot, who had regaled us with toothless smiles and it had been hard to detect the steel of their courageous strength from those wrinkled grins.

It had been late evening, by the time we had felt like leaving Abyaneh and I had enjoyed the finale of a dusty pink sunset there. The village had indeed been time warped with evenings heralding end of day’s work and tired men following exhausted donkeys back home. Their bells had tinkled the home coming and the women folk had left gossiping under purple grape clusters to tend to their evening chores. Life had been uncomplicated on face value and the ancient village had no excitement of changes to offer. Only seasons had brought about adaptations from set 7th century routines and the residents had adjusted accordingly. Winters in Abyaneh had been quite severe and springs had made it look the loveliest, when flowering fruit trees had dappled the red settlement with pink and white blossoms. Summers had shaded everything with deep coats of red dust and only brave grape vines had created deep purple blotches. Overall, Abyaneh had seemed like a very pleasant place and I had wondered living a life there. The thought had been as zany as living on the moon and secretly, I had known that it had been my own jet set freedom loving habits which had made me balk.

Adaptability is a great skill (and something I am a bit proud of), but for the 1st time I had learned the value (and mental toughness required) of holding on to something precious. We had left Abyaneh soon and had started the drive to Kashan with prayers on our lips. The hidden village had lit up like a circlet of light along the mountain and it had sparkled impossibly bright against a dark night sky. I had tried imagining, what the villagers, cocooned in their little world, had been doing for the night, the morning after and every single day of their lives. Holding on to a 7th century pace had suddenly seemed like a monumental achievement and in my mind it had been time for Abyaneh to take a bow.

RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE

Some photos have been taken from the internet.

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A beautiful drive

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Through Iran’s hinterland

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Had taken a turn

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For the worse

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When wrong directions

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Had given it a nightmarish twist

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However Iranian highways

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Had untwisted themselves

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And soon Abyaneh

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Had arrived

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Well hidden and

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A black hole of a village

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Time had stopped

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At Abyaneh at

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At 7th century  and

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The villagers ever since

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Have never moved forward

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To the new age