Friday, April 24, 2009

Journey to Shiraz

Our vacation in Iran and Syria began today. Air Arabia allows us to fly to Shiraz and return from Aleppo, saving us the trouble of back-tracking to Tehran and Damascus. On the negative side, the airline’s schedule is brutal. Our flight was to take off from Bombay at 4.55am, meaning zero sleep the previous night. Then there was a five hour wait at Sharjah before the connector to Shiraz.

It’s understandable if one is tired at the end of a journey, but we were exhausted before it even began. Just as we were due to board, an announcer said there was weather trouble in the UAE, and our flight would only leave at 7am. I longed for the grimy recliners that used to occupy the Sahar airport departures lobby, but they’ve been removed in the recent upgrade.

We finally got on the plane and sped across the sea, but were placed on a holding pattern for about half an hour, circling the dunes till we felt dizzy. I heard the word ‘khamsin’ being mentioned by the Arabic announcer, and, if I remember my Tintin, that means sandstorm. There was no sandstorm visible in Sharjah itself, but Dubai’s towers appeared cloaked in brown. Maybe the khamsin had moved to the neighbouring Emirate by the time we landed.

Sharjah airport can’t be described as a dump, because it is clean, but there’s absolutely nothing to do there. No wi-fi, no duty free to speak off, unless you want to buy stuffed toy camels, and just one place to grab a bite, a Costa Coffee outlet offering 22 Dirham sandwiches. We ate one each because Air Arabia offers nothing free to eat or drink apart from 100ml of water. (Update: on our return journey we discovered a wing of the airport we had missed, which has a large but expensive duty free section and a food court)

The journey to Shiraz was bumpy, but enlivened by some incredible landscapes, places where the earth seemed to have given way completely: one particular cliff’s edge evoked a real end of the world sort of feeling. At Shiraz airport, there was no place open that would change our dollars but a woman selling perfume agreed to exchange 100 dollars at a fair rate. The transaction was assisted by an Iranian we’d met on our flight, who is a student in Pune, but he didn’t necessarily make things less confusing. The Iranian currency is the Rial, and it has been devalued greatly in past decades. That means we are back again in a land where calculations have to be made in tens or hundreds of thousands. To make matters worse, Iranians don’t believe in the Rial, they are hung up on a currency called the Toman which existed in the distant past. They quote all prices in Tomans, though not a single Toman is to be found anywhere. So I’d start counting what the perfumer had given me, and as I said, “50,000… 1,00,000…” the friendly student from Pune butted in with, “No, no, not 50,000, it is 5,000” “But see here on the note, it says 50,000”. “No, no, there’s a mistake in our currency, there is an extra zero, it should actually be 5,000”.

Luckily, dollars are accepted for large transactions, allowing an escape from the Rial-Toman dialectic.

Though dog tired, we took a walk around the city centre before dusk. Jabeen was feeling the injustice of being forced to wear a scarf. It’s something she’s been upset about considerably in advance of the fact. It’s obviously a big deal in Iran how many centimeters of hair are actually visible under the cover, a sign of how traditional or liberal a woman is. With women confined to coats and scarves, the space for exhibitionism has been taken over by Iranian males. They like their shirts tight and their pants tighter, and strut about in a manner that brings the word ‘gigolo’ frequently to mind.


Shampa said...


Wish you a wonderful time and a safe trip. I hope you will be updating your blog from Iran and Syria.

Girish Shahane said...

Thanks, Shampa, will update as frequently as possible.