We left Tehran on the first day of the long public holiday to celebrate Ashura. Somewhere along the way- Qan, the most religious town in Iran- we came to an almighty traffic jam. It was caused by one of the "free food" stalls, and motorists stopping to get their food. Iranians just abandoned their cars and hurried off to the stalls for their meat and rice. As our bus ground slowly to what was effectively a giant parking lot, some of the men on the food stalls brough us some of it. Unfortunately very little was eaten by our group, and most ended in the waste bins. However it was a nice gesture.

One odd thing I noticed is that one of the "food men" took our picture with an expensive looking Cannon - whether or not he was a secret policeman, I will never know.

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The Ashura Processions

Ashura (English: Day of Remembrance). For Shi'a Muslims, Ashura commemorates the death of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad, at the Battle of Karbala on 10 Muharram in the year 680AD. The massacre of Husayn with a small group of his companions and family members had a great impact on the religious conscience of Muslims, particularly Shi'a Muslims, who commemorate Husayn's death with sorrow and passion.

Popular elegies were written by poets to commemorate the Battle of Karbala during the Umayyad and Abbasid era, and the earliest public mourning rituals occurred in 963 AD during the Buyid dynasty. The Commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali has become a national holiday in Iran. Suffering and cutting the body with knives or chains was banned by the Shi'a Marja' Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran.

For the duration of the remembrance, it is customary for mosques and some people to provide free meals on certain nights of the month to all people. People donate food and Middle Eastern sweets to the mosque. These meals are viewed as being special and holy, as they have been consecrated in the name of Husayn, and thus partaking of them is considered an act of communion with God, Hussain, and humanity.

Participants congregate in public processions for ceremonial chest-beating as a display of their devotion to Husayn, in remembrance of his suffering and to preach that oppression will not last in the face of truth and justice. We saw both this and ceremonial flailing here in Kashan and in Esfahan

The whole thing was quire scary. I got stuck by myself in the bazaar, and was surrounded by hundreds of men, dressed in black, thumping their chests and shouting various mantra. In the event there was no problem, there was no animosity toward me, but at the time I had no idea.

The fountains in the town are dyed red to represent blood, most people are dressed in black. Only men take part in the processions. They rhythmically beat their chests with their palms, and shout religious incantations together. There are bands, drums, flags, loudspeakers blasting out sermons, smoke from burning braziers. Red for blood and black for mourning are the dominant colours. It is intense, moving and a little frightening.

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Negin Traditional Hotel

This was something different to most of the hotels we stayed in, and was worth staying at to get the atmosphere of the town and the country. You get to the hotel down a long, narrow winding alley, close to the city centre. The front door (with interestingly different door knockers for men and for women) does not warn you that you are stepping into a hotel. The hotel then opens out into a number of large, open courtyards, with the rooms off these courtyards.

Our room was very small and indeed poky. But I would accept that for the atmosphere of this "traditional" hotel. The main courtyard is a delightful place to sit and relax

The dining room is vast and cavernous. We had both dinner and breakfast there. The dinner was better than the breakfast (the breakfast being mainly small packets wrapped in plastic, and bread past its prime)

We walked out after dark to get to town and walking after dark did not seem to be a problem for tourists. Though you do have to note your outward route, in order to get back safely (best take their business card with you in case you need to ask the way)

Having said all that , I would recommend this hotel as a refreshing insight into the "real" Iran, that you do not get in the bigger, blander hotels

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The next morning we set off for Esfahan. It was still the Ashura Holiday, and we would see more processions in Esfahan, though not as intense and close up as in Kashan

On to next town - Esfahan

Back to Overall Itinerary for Silk Road Trip 2016