Mashhad lies at the altitude of 1250 m. It is far more conservative than the other cities we visited. Most women wear the chador, the trams have separate compartments for men and women. We are far away from the fashionable Esfahan ladies who dye their hair blonde, wear their shawl as much back as possible and if really up to date show the Zopf. Nevertheless the people are friendly and helpful and want to know where we come from and what we think about Iran.
Mashhad (means place of martyrdom) is the holiest city of Iran. It attracts 20 million pilgrims every year who come to worship the Shiite’s eighth Imam, Imam Reza, who suffered martyrdom in 818 and was buried here. The actual Holy Shrine was built by Shah Abbas in 1612 (Safavid period). Under his reign Shiism was established as the state’s religion. The shrine lies within a complex of sacred buildings and courtyards called the Harem. It is still growing. It’s a magical place. Photography with the smartphone is allowed. Tourists are welcome to visit, but women have to wear the chador which can be borrowed. That was an interesting, but strange experience. You feel imprisoned and the threat to be forced to wear such a garment is nothing I could sustain.
In the afternoon we went for shopping in the bazaar. That was a lot of fun and with Gaby and Gisèle we tried to bargain for this and that. In the evening we had a lovely meal at the hotel pool.
Philippe stayed in town because he found a shop that helped him find a power cable for his laptop. He forgot his in Yazd. He became friends with the owner of the shop Soheil and his cousin, although they did not speak English. Behind the counter on Soheil's laptop, Philippe showed them with Google's help what he needed and they understood eachother. Google Translate did the rest. Soheil called his friend Ehsan, a law student who speaks fluently English and he came to the shop to help. Together, they found the piece of hardware and made it to be delivered at the shop. Meanwhile, Ehsan drove with Philippe through town to find the medication Philippe was looking for. Back to the shop, Philippe played them the videos of hits popular in Switzerland. Helene Fischer and Shakira were their preferred singers. Philippe invited them for dinner and spent a great evening with them. This incredible helping readiness and open mindedness was a huge contrast to the Mullahs' orthodox Islam described above. How can the situation evolve for the young Iranians to experience more freedom?