Monday, December 31, 2007

Mashhad, the holy city

For most, Mashhad's holiness comes from Imam Reza's (8th Shiite Imam) shrine. It is forbidden to take cameras inside the shrine. Below is a stolen picture I took from under my veil. It is also forbidden for women to go to shrine without a full veil.

An official picture of the shrine will look like this:

I had a funny feeling, I felt I was intruding on the honesty and the faith of people who were praying. Somehow I felt like a thief and a liar. What was I doing there other than satisfying my anthropological curiosity? When I was young, I used to even pray, I used to enjoy the smell of the shrine, I loved all the little rituals. But not anymore. Faith has grown out of me, or the other way around. I left immediately, with only one picture, and went to where my spirituality was better satisfied, the shrine of a poet, Ferdowsi (see next post).

Like all pilgrimage places, Mashhad is also a significant shopping center. Our "modern" friends (who spend most of their lives watching satellite TV and are fans of "desperate housewives"--because they identify with them) took us to a couple of new shopping centers, the "Green Diamond" and "Proma". Architecturally impressive, some good stuff as well. But it is hard to beat Tehran when it comes to shopping. The best of best can only be found in Tehran. More pricey though!

Last time I was in Mashhad was 25 years ago. At that time my parent were pondering to move to Mashhad. There was a nice villa we used to rent in a wooded suburban neighborhood called Ahmadabad. The garden was big, the house was white, the pool was full of gigantic gold fish. I couldn't find Ahmadabad, or the garden we never bought (because our house got robbed and we had to rush back to deal with the break in and etc. The winds of revolution caught up with my parents then ... and we never could go back to Mashhad.

Ahmadabad, its tall trees, it's gardens and villas are no more. All of that is now replaced with apartments. The mighty real estate market has wiped Mashhad off of one of the nicest neighborhoods one could wish to live in. I tried to find a picture of Ahmadabaad on internet; there are none. Perhaps I can ask my sister to find a picture of our childhood and scan it for me. Perhaps if she reads this, she will! But all the old places I knew are transforming into something "new". I don't know why I cannot enjoy this newness anywhere other than in Tehran. I want all the old places to remain old, like before.

Mashhad looked ugly to me. It was not deserving of it's "holy-city" stature. There was nothing remotely spiritual about it. There is a disease of billboard infesting urban surfaces of Iran. Huge, advertisement boards circling squares, promoting electronics, beauty products, sweets, car tires, prayer conferences, government slogans. Anyone who can pay the bill will get a spot. The most distasteful were those who were advertising cookies with a picture of the holy shrine on the corner of the ad! The construction projects around the shrine were heartbreaking as well. Ugly hotels, higher than the dome of the shrine. Where are the architects and the urban planners? How can money blind the taste? I asked my brother. "Mashhad's beyond hope", he responded. "It's on our agenda, however", added his wife, an urbanist herself.

Well here's an example of some decent money spent on some decent looking business: a hotel restaurent callded Baagh-e Salaar (Salar Garden), in Shandiz (yes it snowed upon our arrival in Mashhad!) :

If you ever go to Mashhad, be sure to go to Shandiz,

and to try Shishlik (marinated lambchops on a 2.5 feet stick, BBQed on fire). In Tehran, I had great shishlik in a restaurant called "Shandiz", somehwere in Jordan area!

1 comment:

Renegade Eye said...

Really fun, interesting post.

I enjoyed the photos.