Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Baggy Trousers

I may be out of Azerbaijan but I still don't understand what people are saying. I have now moved south out of Azerbaijan and am in Sanandaj, the regional capital of Kordestan region. The Kurds are among the oldest, remaining inhabitants of the region, but are split by international boundaries that cut through the heart of their lands (Kurds are spread between Iran, Turkey, Iraq and Syria). As such they are possibly the largest ethnic group without a homeland, despite having been promised one at the Treaty of Sèvres after World War I. But more on Kurdish politics later, probably when I get to Turkey. The Kurds themselves are generally easy to recognise as they still often wear their distinctive traditional dress: large, baggy trousers that reach well above their navels for the men; and dark, floral-patterned, billowing dresses for the women. Both sexes wear wide sashes around their waists and wrap tassled scarves round their heads. This is also the one place in Iran where you are likely to see people with light-brown or even ginger hair, traits that, though rare, are found amongst the Kurdish population. Many Kurds still practise transhumance and their large tents can be seen on hilltop pasturelands as you drive through western Iran.

The trip south from Azerbaijan to Kordestan is interesting as one can see remnants of the many cultures that have resided in, and influenced, the region. Armenian churches in the far north, ancient Urartian or Assyrian ruins, and later Mongol forts to name but a few. All this in an undulating landscape of golden wheat and rich, brown, freshly ploughed soil. The top draw, though, has to be the Sassanian ruins at Takht-e Soleiman (Solomon's Throne). The countryside around it is dotted with old, extinct volcanoes and the fortification surrounds a crater with its own lake and spring. Beside it are the remains of the main Zoroastrian temple of the Sassanid empire, though not much remains today. No, the most amazing thing about the ruins of Takht-e Soleiman is a hollow crater some 4km away from the main ruins. From the road it looks like an ordinary mountain. So you start hiking up. And then, all of a sudden, you run out of mountain as a huge, gaping chasm opens up right beneath your feet and plunges straight down some 100m. Welcome to Zendan-e Soleiman, or Solomon's Prison, where the legendary king is said to have imprisoned evil monsters. I don't know about that but it's certainly an impressive sight and I had to exercise utmost control over my sphincter muscles as I leaned over the edge to take a couple of pictures.

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