“Today Neyshabur is a small provincial town containing only a few historical monuments, but it was once one of the most glorious centres of all Persia” (Iran – Persia: Ancient and Modern, 208).
Almost two hours outside of Mashhad is the city of Neyshabur. The city itself is less than memorable, small and not very developed. Sadra and I originally had the intention of staying there overnight, however there were only two hotels. Neither of which had private restrooms in your room. I also had the impression that the last guest to stay at either was in 1982. However if you’re willing to make the drive there and back, Neyshabur’s sites do not disappoint. Some of my favorite sites in the whole trip can be found hidden outside the bleak streets of the city.
Many pilgrims that travel to Mashhad also make the journey to Neyshabur. En route to Neyshabur is Ghadamgah or ‘Place of the Footstep’ a small site out of nowhere made famous as it is said Imam Reza stopped there to rest on his way to Mashhad. While Imam Reza was there water appeared from nowhere from under his feet. Today pilgrims come to this spring to drink the water whose origins can only be explained by divine intervention for believers. Also at this site there can be found two footprints by Imam Reza into black stone, which is housed in a little shrine. When entering such shrines women are asked to wear what is called a chador. The best way to describe a chador to western minds is imagine an over sized cloth which is placed over your head and then wrapped around your body. Chador is preferred by more conservative women here in Iran, but is not necessary for everyday dress. Traditionally chadors are black, however, there is no rule or regulation that says what color it can be.
Me outside the little shrine. Although I’ve worn the chador a few times, I have yet to master the art of wearing and holding things at the same time. As you see my hands hold the edge of the chador to bring it around my body. What many women do when they need to use their hands is place the edges of the chador in their mouth, which is a skill I have yet to develop. Also when borrowing chadors from shrines it’s kind of a one size fits all and each time I’ve tripped over the extra material. In short it’s not as easy as it looks.
After visiting the little shrine, we drove to another, much larger, spring. Again these little springs are unusual in such a dry area of the country so it draws a lot of attention and becomes a nice local attraction and favorite picnic spot for locals.
This boy like all the other children in the area was enjoying himself running up and down the spring, with one exception. He was hoarding his goje sabz in a bag in his hand. I don’t know what goje sabz is in English, but it’s hard like an apple and sour like a lime.
Outside of Neyshabur we went to visit the tomb of Farid od-Din Attar, one of Iran’s most important Sufi poets. Attar is known for his masnavi or long, imaginative, mystical poems that are written in a simple style. One of his most famous works is Mantiq al-Tair or The Conference of the Birds, a story about a flock of birds search of the Simurgh, who represents God.
Next to his tomb is a second mausoleum dedicated to the modern painter Kemal ol-Molk. According to my travel book (because sadly most of these sites do not have much information in English), the same architect who designed Omar Khayyam’s tomb has reinterpreted the traditional eivan, by placing four back to back with arches above the tomb. You see eivan’s in all traditional Persian architecture, especially in the entrance of mosques.
Outside the small park where their tombs lie await men with horses and camels trying to attract tourists to go for a ride. Sadra and I thought it would be fun to ride a camel to the next site Omar Khayyam’s tomb, which wasn’t too far away. As soon as the poor camel bent down and grunted at us so we could climb up on the seat I thought to myself “maybe this isn’t a good idea.” Don’t get me wrong, it was a lot of fun, but riding a camel is a strange experience, far different than riding a horse. There’s a lot more bumping up and down and you’re way higher up from the ground. Now our driver who had taken us all the way to Neyshabur from Mashhad led the way with his car as we rode the camel. The camel’s owner sat in the trunk of the car holding the reins to the camel with his extremely short dog running along. At one point the owner went to sit in the back seat of the taxi with the dog while the driver held the reins and continued to drive. Then from nowhere these kids on bikes showed up and started yelling at the camel to go faster and were hitting the back of his legs. Sadra yelled at the kids “No! Stop! We don’t want to go faster!” But of course the driver sped up and so did the camel until finally Sadra yelled “Stop! Enough!” Poor guy’s bladder could not take another bump. Thankfully for the world this strange experience was caught on video. Unfortunately I can’t upload it to this blog. But in case you needed a little proof here is a photo of the camel we rode.
We didn’t make it all the way to Omar Khayyam’s tomb by camel so we proceeded the rest of the way by car. His tomb is found in the gardens of Emamzadeh Mahruq. Khayyam is known as an astronomer, mathematician and of course a poet (Every Iranian is a poet in one way or another). Khayyam is a controversial figure because of the content of his poetry and writings. To critics, he was considered too materialistic and incapable of following a Sufi spiritual path. Attar even explains a vision where Khayyam stands shamed and confused and refused entry into heaven because he lacks the spiritual qualities to stand before God. Khayyam’s poetry is characterized by pessimism and skepticism, with a profound doubt in the notion of life after death. Please note I am no expert on Khayyam and this information came from my tour book Iran – Persia: Ancient and Modern pages 210-211. And as a small plug for this book it focuses more on the history and culture of Iran rather than individual things to do at each city, which is a nice change in a travel book.
Khayyam’s mausoleum is a modern structure that resembles the shape of an inverted wine glass. “Wine, which gives Man temporary respite from his doubts, and the cup, a fragile and ephemeral creation of Man, are two further themes which appear constantly in Khayyam’s poems” (211). The mausoleum itself was built in 1934.
Outside Khayyam’s tomb the emamzadeh muhammad Mahruq, a 17th century Safavid building commemorating one of the Prophet’s descendants who died as a Martyr. Another beautiful building, which I took several photos of. However the following is by far my favorite.
Continuing on from Khayyam’s tomb, our taxi driver took us to a different mosque called Masjed-e Choobi or “Wooden Mosque.” To date this is one of my favorite mosques for it’s pure simplicity. Throughout our trip we saw beautiful mosques with painted detail in every corner. There are tiles and mirrors, gold and silver. Too much detail to count. This mosque just used different color woods. Visiting the mosque reminded me of one of my favorite shows to watch while I was sick from school, Little House on the Prairie. Thus I like to refer to this mosque as the Little Mosque in the Prairie.
For those of you who don’t know who Michael Landon is look no further than here http://www.imdb.com/media/rm3365509120/tt0071007
Along the way there are other small little mosques and shrines. We stopped at one where a religious scholar had been buried where the mirror work was incredible. Along all the walls mirrors cut into geometric shapes. I imagine it resembles a hall of diamonds, only a fraction of the cost.
Now on to the little town of Tus.
Tus is known as the site of Ferdosi’s tomb. The Greeks have Homer and the Iliad. The Persians have Ferdosi and the Shahnameh.
Also in Tus stands boq-eh-ye Haruniye, which according to local tradition is the tomb of Caliph Harun al-Rashid who died in 809. However the architecture resembles a later date closer to the 14th century. It was an incredible structure, but unfortunately stupid people have signed their names and have drawn pictures. It’s a shame people don’t have respect for historical monuments.