"The sun is muted by dust": On the road in Iran

On the road between Pasargadae and Yazd, Iran. With the Zagros Mountains behind.
Picture: Stephen Scourfield The West Australian
Photo of Stephen Scourfield

"We stand near a cypress tree in Abarkuh, eating sweet watermelon, fresh from the fields, and pass some to a local family. It is surely a scene that the tree has witnessed before, and doubtless again."

I am travelling from Shiraz to Yazd. From the gentle city of roses and nightingales to the mudbrick old town of Yazd. I am on the road in Iran.

We drive through flat agricultural lands, green against the jagged, khaki backdrop of the Zagros Mountains.

The sun is muted by dust, so there is just a golden haze, throwing only tentative shadows.

The crops of wheat and barley are gently lit — soft cushions of green in regiments, scared by the regular lines of tractor tyres. Some land is ploughed; broken, dark brown soil, prepared for planting. 

And there is just enough sun on some of that to give a glinting hint. Silver lines. 

When I look more closely, the big, open fields are threaded with small irrigation pipes — a refined reticulation to plants, with no water wasted.

And this is something at which Iranians are specialists. Persians have been irrigating since at least the first millennium BC. They built main underground qanat channels from underground water supplies in the mountains, which then broke into smaller channels, distributing water to fields, bringing water to crops. 

Persian farmers have long succeeded in dry country agriculture, even in long droughts.

The bitumen road is smooth. The driver stops regularly, to register with police. There are strict regulations for driving public transport. His hours and speed are regulated. There is a GPS on board. 

And then he makes an unscheduled stop, unannounced. He opens a door in the side of the bus, which is the long-slot box in which he sleeps, takes out a big vacuum flask and fills it. “Hot water,” he explains. Most important.

These are fertile plains, and agriculture has touched and shaped this Fars region since 1000BC, when Aryans from Central Asia arrived, looking for new lands for their herds. 

But even then, there was already civilisation here. In human terms, this wasn’t a barren land — with plains turned green by irrigation and crops.

Water is brought down through covered canals from underground springs in the hills, and it was kept in another form, too. Ice.

Beside the road between Pasargadae, with the tomb of Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian empire, and the mud-walled old town of Yazd, a big almost-dome building rises.

It is made of adobe — clay, water, organic matter. And beside it is a trench with walls either side. 

Water was left in the trench overnight, where it froze as the desert temperatures dipped, and then collected. 

The walls protected it from being melted by the morning sun.

It was taken into the ice house, covered with straw, and then more layers of ice and straw. 

We stand near a cypress tree in Abarkuh, eating sweet watermelon, fresh from the fields, and pass some to a local family. It is surely a scene that the tree has witnessed before, and doubtless again, as it has been dated at between 4000 and 4500 years old.

Twenty-five metres tall, it looks particularly fit and healthy.

And, indeed, the cypress tree is important to Zoroastrians as it remains green all year long.

And here we are in Yazd, right in the middle of the Silk Road, mentioned by Marco Polo, an important place of pilgrimage for Zoroastrians following the path of good thoughts, good words and good deeds. 

A city of wind towers that provide energy-less air-conditioning to buildings, and the wonderfully authentic Moshir Al Mamalek Garden Hotel, with its traditional Iranian layout, water channels, gardens and rooms in clusters. 

A place to rest after time on the road in Iran.

Fact File


Stephen Scourfield was in Iran as a guest of Travel Directors.


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