Tabriz – Khoy

Northwest Iran

October 2019

I entered Iran through Armenia over land. Salam Iran! (salam is hello in Farsi) I passed the border in the early morning while the sun was shedding its light on the transition of the landscapes, settlements, colours and the different alphabet on the signboards. I was in a new country now. My first destination was Tabriz.
Tabriz is the capital city of West Azerbaijan province and the biggest city in the northwest. Despite that the official language is Farsi in Iran, in this north region since the population consists of Iranians of Azeri etnicity, the language is Azerbaijani Turkish. As my mother tongue is Turkish I had the advantages of this similarity in communication.
Entering a new country requires some new settings. At first it can a little disorienting to be in a country that uses a different dress code, a different official calendar (hijri/shamsi calendar here), a different alphabet, a complicated currency. Although the currency is Rial, Toman is commonly used. (one toman equals ten rials) Life is cheaper compared to European countries, especially because of the recent devaluation when rial went down to one sixth of its previous rate! The transportation is ridiculously cheap since it is an oil rich country. (For instance shared taxis carry you in neighbourhoods for 0.2 dollars. When travelling with my friends car, we paid 4.5 dollars for the oil for 500km road!)
Ok now coming to some attractions of Tabriz;

Jameh mosque (above) is most noteworthy for its two tall minarets. Prayer halls are impressive with many domes, coloumns with earth coloured bricks which I will come across many times in different parts of the country.

Citadel (above, on top) is the remnants of the city wall of Tabriz that dates back to 14th century. Clock tower (above) -also known as Municipality Palace- is used as the city hall. It has a peaceful back garden to relax and rest in the city when needed.

Blue mosque (above) derives its name from its blue tile works. It has some fine Islamic calligraphy examples inside. Unfortunately it still bears the scars caused by a massive earthquake in 1779. Nevertheless there is something special about this mosque, it holds a beautiful, peaceful energy.

Above we see beautiful perspectives from outdoor spaces of Blue Mosque. The capture on the right is quite like how I travel, spiritually from one treshold to another, in a soft kind of surrender. I’m leaving all the rest to the universe and the gifts are coming accordingly. I’m in gratitude for this magic!
To me the best attraction in Tabriz is the old Bazaar (below) which is the biggest in the country and one of the most important commercial centers along the silk road. This UNESCO World Heritage site dates back to 16th century.

Tabriz Bazaar has many sections; jeweleries, carpets, rugs, cloths, woolsorters, shoemakers, coppersmiths, pots and pans, spices, vegetables, dried fruits… One of the biggest section is for carpets and rugs as Tabriz is a worldwide famous carpet making center in Iran and in the world.

Mohammadi rose (above) with its unique taste, distinctive flavour and enchanting smell is very famous in Iran. You see it everywhere. I love it! All Iranian houses have a bottle of rose water in their kitchen and it is used as a main ingredient in many sweets, foods and in the drink called sherbet. Dried flowers are added to the tea or even to the yoghurt. Rose has been cultivated in Iran since ancient times for its numerous qualities in medicine, nutrition and cosmetics.

When wandering around in Tabriz, if suddenly an old man runs up to you and invite you to his shop for a tea, don’t get surprised. He is Amoo (uncle) Ali (above). He has been working in his little shop in the downtown for 55 years where he repairs sewing machines. How cute! This was one of my first contacts with legendary Iranian hospitality. In Iran accepting invitations usually lead to great moments.
Amoo Ali’s main interest is to learn about the world. Just like me! This enthusiasm of him pulled in almost 8000 tourists so far into his shop. I talked about my journeys. He talked on the significance of poetry in Iran which was exactly one of the most appealing things I wanted to discover about Iran. Erfan, his dear friend and companion helped us in the translation with his amazing English. At the end with a sincere smile Amoo Ali said; “Today is a beautiful day because I have a guest. My shop became beautiful. I hope you have a happy life.” What an innocent simplicity! Pure and lovely!

I enjoyed walking and getting lost in the alleys of Grand Bazaar and observe daily life of Iran which was quite new to me. When resting at some corners, interestingly for many times, some young people approached me as they recognized that I was a traveller. The conversation usually began with the question of what I thought about Iran. Shortly after that they poured out their heart, telling me about their quests, despairs and their longing for finding peace within and out. This was quite surprising me as I encountered these talks many times. I did my best to listen to them in an authentic way and come up with some orientations which may invite peace within.

These people above are Shakiba and Amir, my lovely hosts in Tabriz. They did whatever they could to help me, to comfort me. They became my little sister and brother to whom I cherish.
Their house is in the suburbs of Tabriz where is a relatively more conservative area. In my first transition days in Iran, it was quite challenging for me not just to get used to wearing hijab (mandatory head cover) but also to get used to the discomforting glances of the people in the neighbourhood. The children weren’t commonly smiling back to me when I smile to them. Why? Lack of trust? Fear? By these observations, I found my energy becoming more stiff. Then empathy arised showing me how social conditions and the environment effect the human nature and attitudes.

Starting off from Tabriz I did a trekking to Mount Avrin which is the highest in West Azerbaijan province. This also gave me the chance to see the landscape of this region in broader perspectives in the vicinity of the mountains.
So first we head to west to the city Khoy which hosts the tomb of Shams Tabrizi (below) who was a 12th century mystic. He is know as the spiritual mentor of Mewlana Jalal ad-Din Rumi. There are many stories about how he died, some say he disappeared, some say he get killed, some say he died in Khoy. Nevertheless his tomb stands in Khoy in the memory of this great mystic and teacher. I was there to pay my deepest respect.

Then from Khoy we headed to west again, to the mountain village Hesar through deep and rocky valleys. The road trip on the meandering narrow dust roads was breathtaking. Eventually we were at Hesar, a Kurdish Village which was almost 50km close to Turkish border.

The residents of the village have their own traditional way of living which is a great example of a skillful adaptation to the harsh conditions of climate and landscape. In winter snow rises up to 2m making this area more isolated from the main settlements. This gives way to a self sufficient life in harmony with nature. Locals take use of any natural materials therefore you see adobe houses everywhere as well as straw and dried dung piles in every garden. Their main source of income is sheep and goat farming and carpet weaving.

The people are extremely warm-hearted and welcoming. I see innocence in every face. The women at first look with a shy but curious glance. But then when they see you smile, they smile back right away with the prettiest and friendly look. Oh and the sweetness of those children! Everyone learn to be a sheppard in young age. I am always touched by these kind of utterly different lives in the mountains, isolated from the modernised world.
After we arrived, we first gave our information to the soldiers since we were so close to the border. Then we located ourselves in a village house that is open to mountaineers. The sun set down, the darkness brought a spectacular view in the sky with thousands of stars. We were in October but it was already so so cold. We prepared some food on the barbeque. After eating, some of us sang some Azeri songs and we went into a deep conversation about the mountains. Our eyes filled with tears by the talks of Sadık abi. He expressed in a poetic way, how mountains listen to you in silence when you speak, how they do not judge, how they keep secret. This showed me once again, one way or another every human being has his/her own personal griefs. And mother nature is a great healer.
Next morning we began our walk at the dawn. We had quite a distance to cover, an altitude difference of 1400m from 2.300 to 3.700m. The first half was relatively ok. We gave a break at a small lake and drank from pure and vitalizing springs.

The view of the mountains lining up one after another in the horizon was breathtaking. The clouds were casting their shadow on the multicoloured landscape. There wasn’t even one tree but they said in spring the landscape becomes like a heaven of great diversity of flowers. The springs surprisingly popping up from many points were carrying life to mother nature. Many crows and coveys of partridges were up in the air.
The second half of the walk was quite tuff. The slopes became steep and slippery. Maybe because of the changing altitude I felt dizzy at some point but didn’t stop, kept on moving in a slow pace. The reward at the end, on top of Avrin was a spectacular 360 degree view.

Right after I step into a new ground or a country, I do a little ceremony to ask for permission to be allowed to the new lands. The summit of Avrin was the perfect place to carry this out. I did my ceremony here, asking Iran and all the energies it holds to open their arms and welcome me and share their beauty. I prayed for protection, for growth, for joy, wisdom and love. I called out for inspiring encounters with mature souls and enlightened energies.

In the whole trek, my loved souls who passed away from this life were also with me. I remembered my grandmother many times. Interestingly a forgotten memory showed up. It was just a few months before she passed away, one day she said to me in a wise manner: “Your partner in life should be a shepherd!” I remember how we laughed at this.
Mind is a complicated structure which links unimaginable things with eachother. This memory on one side, I remembered once I read somewhere that; some prophets, saints, enlightened beings in different spiritual traditions are shepherds who live in more existential discoveries rather than relative mundane reality. This link in between my memory and this reading opened an insight in me that companionship means the ‘Divine Love’ in my life. It was as if in those years my grandmother gave voice to the unknown. And it is exactly what my heart is deeply calling out for.
Then I found a forgotten red shawl in between the stones on the summit. Just two days ago I was in Tabriz Bazaar looking for a red shawl to buy for myself! The miracle of energies! With amazement I told this to my trekking friends saying; “With a heart as pure as possible, I want so simple and little things from life and life is offering me what I need.” Then a friend replied; “Why don’t you ask for big things?” The most extensive thing I can ask for is certain.

It is; ‘Divine Love’.

The Author