Taq'e Bostan

Kermanshah 2019

Kermanshah is a major city located about 320 miles (515km) south west of Tehran by road. It had been in my mind a long time to visit this city, and nearby Bisotun. The journey should take about six hours.

On Monday I telephoned the Parsian Hotel (website in Farsi) and made a reservation for three nights, and confirmed that definitely (حتما /hat’man/) I will be coming. I made a note of the address and packed a few things. These days, with a mobile phone, a camera, and a laptop that includes various battery chargers. If in 1992 ABC stood for ‘always be closing’ (Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross), then today it stands for ‘always be charging’.

I bought a Xiaomi 10,000 mA power bank in the evening from a mobile shop in Velenjak and charged it fully overnight. I haven’t used one of these before. My usual method of dealing with power consumption on my mobile phone is to put it into airplane mode unless I need to use it. However on this trip I would have my shoulder bag with me practically all the time at I use it to carry my camera, so I thought it was time to buy myself a new toy. The instructions were in Chinese but there was not a lot to learn: one charges it, and can then use it to charge one’s phone. It worked perfectly.

I didn’t have a guide book for Kermanshah so I looked around on the internet for a few places which would likely be interesting. At the top of my list, the places that I must see, were Bisotun and Taq Bostan. If I didn’t see those two places the trip would be a failure.

Getting there

I left Velenjak with my driver at 08:00 on Tuesday and headed towards Kermanshah. The motorway (with tolls) was relatively quiet with just a couple of places here and there where the traffic slowed. The weather was cool, and with the window down I rested I rested my arm on the door. We passed a lot of older Mack trucks with their famous bulldog mascots.

We went through Hamedan without stopping. Hamedan doesn’t seem to have a bypass as such, instead there is a major ring road which local traffic uses too. I considered making a detour to visit the tomb and museum of Avicenna (پور سینا /pur si’na/). But I had been there before, and the purpose of this trip was to see new places. It was already a long enough journey.

Near Hamedan the weather turned noticeably hotter and at one point I rolled down the sleeve on my right arm. I have been sun burned enough times to know how unpleasant it is. In the slip stream of the wind, one doesn’t really notice that one’s arm is being cooked. So prevention is better than dealing with tender and peeling skin later on. But I had neglected to bring my chap stick.

There were fields as far as the eye could see. At this time of the year, in high summer, they were mostly parched and had a yellow straw tinge. But it was very easy to picture the same fields in spring time and the whole landscape being as green as the UK. Terrain this vast depends on rainfall for irrigation.

Temple of Anahita

We had made good progress. Just inside Kermanshah Province, but still some distance from Kermanshah, we made a detour to Kangavar to see the Temple of Anahita. Like many people these days we used Google Maps to guide us, although it is signposted clearly.

The Temple of Anahita may not actually be a temple, but was possibly a palace or indeed something else. There are various competing theories as to its original function of which I am not qualified to favour one over another. However the sign post was written as Temple of Anahita (معبد آناهیتا /ma’bad ā’na’hi’tā/), so that is what I shall use here. Anahita was an an ancient Iranian goddess of flowing water, topical a few centuries BC.

The Temple of Anahita was a bit of a anticlimax, bluntly. It is completely in ruins, with very large rocks and columns strewn over a large area. One needed much imagination to perceive even its very layout, and in this I was not very successful. Although the area is large it gives no indication at all of any magnificence it once had, if indeed it had any. One can only assume it did, or would have had if it had ever been completed – even this is unsure. The columns are short but very stout and no doubt very heavy. Creating this temple was a major endeavour, so from that one can conclude that it was at least a building with an important function.

The information about the building at the ticket office amounted to one short paragraph. I have written far more here. There were no pictures to give impressions of what the temple might have looked like.

I was pleased that I visited this site on the way to Kermanshah rather than making a special visit from Kermanshah. That would have compounded the disappointment. Nonetheless I was pleased to have walked in the footsteps of ancient people.

I noticed a lizard (مارمولک /mār’mu’lak/) sitting on a rock. He climbed up a tree when I came too close.

We left the Temple of Anahita and continued on our way.

Passing Bisotun

We passed by Bisotun (بیستون /bee’so’tun/). I intended to spend several hours here in the coming days, so we didn’t visit the site. We stopped for just a couple of minutes to take a few photographs from a distance. In the photograph below, just above the tree line and left of centre, there is a large rectangle cut into the rock. This is called Farhad Tarash (فرهاد تراش /far’hād ta’rāsh/). There are more details about this later in my post about Bisotun.

Arrival in Kermanshah

The Parsian Hotel is a modern hotel in the northern part of Kermanshah. I checked in with the same person who I had spoken to the day before when I made my reservation. I paid up front (پیش پردخت /pish par’dakht/) 13,200,000 rials (about £94) for the three nights. The room was spotlessly clean, the air-conditioning was quiet, the bed was amazingly soft, and there was free wifi.

Mini bars in Iranian hotels for obvious reasons do not have any alcoholic drinks. Instead they have bottled water, Coca Cola or Zam Zam (an Iranian near-equivalent but with a different taste), sometimes some fruit juices or Delster (alcohol-free beer). I tend to avoid most soft drinks with refined sugar unless I am making a conscious decision to have that drink. So at this hotel I stuck to bottled water, and from a local shop I bought a couple of Vitamin C drinks, which were also rich in sugar.

Usually on arrival in a new town or village I take a brief walk around to acclimatise myself with the surroundings and to know roughly where I am. The Parsian Hotel is very close to Beheshti Boulevard (بلوار بهشتی /boo’la’vār be’hesh’ti/), a very wide tree-lined road with three lanes of traffic in each direction, and a long narrow park with seating between the two lanes. It is somewhat, but not entirely, similar in layout to the northern part of Park Lane in London.

The day I arrived, Tuesday, was a public holiday and the traffic was light. It gave no indication of what it would be like the next day. I noticed one pedestrian crossing which drivers were ignoring completely, and a foot bridge much further on towards Taq Bostan.

By the side of Beheshti Boulevard and disappearing towards the south, there was a concrete platform raised perhaps 50 feet high which I learned the same day from a Snapp driver was a monorail under construction. I don’t know when it is due for completion.

There are shops all along the west side of Beheshti Boulevard: mini markets, car garages, clothes shops, furniture shops, banks (but not a Saman bank which I use in Iran), a large carpet shop, several shiriniforushis (شیرینی‌فروشی) – pastry shops, a hubble-bubble shop with hubble-bubbles in myriad colours, and all sorts of other shops. Side roads are mostly residential and have some coffee shops.

South of the hotel there was a modern road bridge. In the near distance I could see an oil refinery of some sort. It seemed strange to find a major industrial plant in the middle of a city. There was also a Ferris wheel.

The weather was much hotter than I expected, though on reflection I didn’t know what exactly I was expecting. Walking around was not unpleasant but the heat was enervating. I have found that I can walk all day in such heat as long as I drink water.

Taq’e Bostan

In the late afternoon I took a Snapp (اسنپ /es’snap/) to Taq’e Bostan (طاق بستان) at the north edge of Kermanshah. Snapp is an Iranian analogue to Uber, though I have never used the latter. I spoke briefly with the driver and immediately noticed his accent was different to that in Tehran. I’m not sure that I can describe precisely how different it is, but I did notice it.

I was aware that some people in Kermanshah were speaking a language which was not Persian. There are many Kurds in Kermanshah and they have their own language. Although they can speak and understand Persian too, they frequently use Kurdish.

I have learned one thing when having conversations with people in Persian, and I am sure it is applicable to any language: if I am speaking to somebody and I am not a native speaker in that language, the best way that person can help me to communicate with them is to speak clearly and perhaps slightly more slowly. If they don’t make any allowances the conversation will be stilted and likely come to an end abruptly. I certainly don’t expect a foreigner to speak English as well as me, so I try to make this allowance. In accordance with that, I try to find a driver with whom I can freely converse.

On arrival at Taq’e Bostan I made an error and walked down a path outside the site. It was an easy enough mistake to make. On one side of the path there were cafes and ice cream vendors of all sorts. On the other side there were stalls selling pastries and cakes and biscuits (شیرینی /shi’ree’nee/), and various souvenirs (سوغات /so’gāt/) and trinkets. I followed the path all the way round and all the time I was wondering where the entrance (ورود /vo’rood/) to Taq’e Bostan was. Having reached the conclusion that I had made an error I returned back and found the entrance next to the path. The entrance fee (مبلغ ورودی /mab’lag’e vo’roo’di) was 200,000 rials – about £1.40 for foreigners. Iran has different entrance fees for Iranians and foreigners. Then I made my way in.

Taq’e Bostan is a quite large park containing some very old rock panels and a natural spring. The two grottos and the panel are visible in the photographs below.

Larger grotto

There are two grottos cut into the rock face, the large grotto and the smaller. One is inevitably drawn towards the large grotto first as it is more impressive and appears the more pleasing. The rock face around the large grotto is also pleasantly decorated.

The identity of the figures in this grotto are subject to debate. In the upper part, the centre figure is thought to be a king, possibly Khosrow Parviz, or Piruz Khosrow, or Ardeshir III. On his left is Anahita. On his right is Ahura Mazda, the highest god in Zoroastrianism. I will write a fuller article about Zoroastrianism elsewhere. But this site and Bisotun have clear Zoroastrian references.

The mounted figure is Khosrow II who reigned from 591 to 628. Both he and his horse are armoured.

There are some carvings on the sides within the large grotto. However there is a pool directly in front of the rock face. So taking photographs from a distance looking upwards at an angle leads to not very good results. One really needs a very long extension arm to take worthy photographs here.

The unsatisfactory photograph below shows a coloured carving of Mohammad Ali Mirza Dowlatshah of the Qajar dynasty. He was a governor or Kermanshah at a very difficult time due to attacks by the Ottomans, who he defeated. This panel was evidently added in the 19th century. There are several other carvings but my photographs of them are even more unsatisfactory.

Smaller grotto

The smaller grotto contains two figures: on the left Shapur III and on the right Shapur II, two 4th century Sasanian kings. The figures are dressed alike and both are holding their swords, but their crowns are slightly different.

On either side of the figures there are inscriptions in Pahlavi describing their lineage. Alas I cannot read Pahlavi so can’t attempt my own translation. I do have a book from Fereydoon Joneidi from Bonyad Neyshaboor for learning the Pahlavi script and language. This is somewhere on my todo list, but for now I will have to rely on others.

Ardeshir II investiture panel

Outside the two grottos there is a large panel carved into the stone depicting the investiture of Ardeshir II.

Ardeshir II was the eleventh king of the Sasanian era. On closer inspection there are actually four figures depicted: three standing and a fourth being stood upon!

The figure on the left, standing on a lotus and with a halo around his head, is Mithra the Zoroastrian God of light. He is holding what is thought to be a barsam (برسم /bar’sam/), an implement used in Zoroastrian rituals.

The figure in the middle is Ardeshir II, who ruled as Shah from 379 to 383. He is holding his sword in his left hand, and receiving a large ceremonial ring decorated with ribbons denoting kinghood.

The figure on the right, while uncertain, is possibly Shapur II. Ardeshir II became Shah on the death of his brother Shapur II, until Shapur III was old enough.

Both Ardeshir II and the figure on the right are standing on a fourth figure lying down. This figure is believed to be the Roman emperor Julian, who invaded Sasanid territory and was killed in 363.

It is amazing that these stone carvings have survived so long, open as they are to the elements.

Dinner at the hotel

I returned to the hotel and saved a few photographs to ‘the cloud’ using the free wifi. It wasn’t the fastest wifi but it worked.

In the evening I went to the restaurant on the 6th floor and ordered Dandeh Kabab, a Kermanshah speciality. This had been recommended to me by my Shahnameh tutor in Tehran. I took the photograph below from a window looking towards the south. The monorail and the arch of the road bridge are visible in the photo below. The oil refinery is there too but is too indistinct to discern.

Looking for cash

The next day I went looking for a Saman bank to draw some cash. There are lots of different banks in Iran and they have their own cashpoint machines, and in general they do not accept cards from the other banks. Therefore to draw cash from Saman Bank one has to use a Saman Bank cashpoint.

I spent some time on Beheshti Boulevard and found lots of different banks and cashpoints, but there was no sign of a Saman Bank. I did see a cat which was looking sad and thirsty so I bought him a small carton of milk to drink. He guzzled it. Beheshti Boulevard is relatively long, and I took at least an hour to reach Taq’e Bostan in my quest. But to no avail. I wandered back to the hotel.

I looked on Google Maps and found one in the south of the city, about 17 minutes away by taxi. This perhaps gives support to my suggestion that Iran could use something akin to the Visa system common elsewhere to make life easier for all bank customers. The branch near Ferdowsi Square was unhelpful. There is a limit on drawing 2,000,000 rials per day from the cashpoint, and I didn’t want to make a 30 minute round trip each day just to draw cash. My visa was being renewed so my passport was in Tehran. The bank would not let me draw more than I could from the cashpoint. This sort of small-mindedness exists in all countries solely to frustrate people and waste their time rather than to help them.

No matter. I had a backup plan: I would go to an exchange (صرافی /sa’rā’fi/) and change some pounds to rials directly. I found one, Mohammadi Exchange, which was in the general direction of the hotel. Alas by the time we arrived it was closed. So we went back to the hotel and from there I wandered around a while.

Later the same day I went back to the exchange and changed some money. Everything was now settled. But I had wasted more than half a day trying to obtain cash. Cash is important. Although shops accept bank cards, I don’t want to use a bank card when buying a bottle of water (usually about 10,000 rials or 7 pence). Taxi and Snapp drivers want cash. If a driver has been particularly good or has helped in some way, I will usually give a tip in cash. I planned to go to Bisotun the next day by Snapp, so would need sufficient cash.

Bam’e Kermanshah

In the late afternoon, and again in the evening, I went to the Roof of Kermanshah (بام کرمانشاه /bām’e ker’mān’shāh/). This is an elevated area just to the north of the city, and a very few minutes by Snapp from Taq’e Bostan. It’s easily walkable from there – I’m not sure why I didn’t. Bam’e Kermanshah offers fantastic views over the city and to the mountains beyond.

It was peaceful, it was quiet, the air was clean and clear, the clouds added some character to the skies, it was still hot.

On the way back to the hotel we saw some young karatekas in their karategis running around in a large circle in the road, apparently warming up. There seems to be some interest in oriental martial arts in Iran. Here and there one sees advertisements and publicity for karate, judo, taekwondo, and so on. Iran has traditional wrestling as one of its own form of martial arts, and in this sport it does very well internationally.

Facing away from the city there is a large rock outcrop. I noticed a slightly chubby cat prowling around. He turned away when I went to say hello. He is either a good hunter or he feeds on the leftovers of visitors.

Years ago I used to climb from time to time at Harrison’s Rocks and High Rocks in Kent, which are within convenient reach of London. Both of these Kent outcrops are friable sandstone. Some of the rock faces were damp or green with wet, and some of the routes were very messy due to lack of drainage. But they were some good but short routes there. I still have my Scarpa Superatz climbing shoes somewhere. I wasn’t the best climber, but I was reasonably competent and I did enjoy it. There is something about climbing which makes it more than just another sport. Rock climbing is a bit of an adventure in a way that kicking or hitting a ball is not. According to the British Mountaineering Council web site (checked on 20190829) there is no climbing at High Rocks at the present time seemingly due to ‘altercations’ between climbers and the landowner. I had always thought that rock climbers were a bit more intelligent than ball-kickers, they had a bit more character. While there are always two sides to a story, it does seem that the landowner had his fill of loudmouths and entitled idiots. That is his prerogative, and at the same time a loss to the climbing public. One hopes this can be resolved one day.

The rock face here at Bam’e Kermanshah is in a different class altogether and I turned green with envy. I imagine that any climber at Harrison’s Rocks would be champing at the bit at the prospect of climbing here. The rock was dry and there are long routes. There were some loose rocks, but nothing to particularly worry about. In the first photograph about one inch in from the left side there is a white dot. That’s a climber. In the second photograph I have cropped in and there are three climbers visible. Climbing could easily be developed as a reason to visit Kermanshah.

The view from the Bam at night is spectacular. The second photograph is from Kuhestan Park, which is just north and to the west of Taq’e Bostan. Confusingly this area is also referred to by some people as Bam. It is an area full of cafes and restaurants. Neither of my photographs shows the views well.

On Friday morning, my last day in Kermanshah, I checked out of the hotel and left my luggage there for a few hours. Then went to see a bit more of the town with Milad.

We returned back to Kuhestan Park but a little further up. The views are spectacular here. There was the remains of defunct cable car system, just the heavy posts remaining. There is a small cemetery for unknown soldiers (گم‌نام /gom’nām/). And there was a spring with water gently running down the side of the rock face.

Taq’e Bostan in the evening

On my last night in Kermanshah I made another visit to Taq’e Bostan. It was as busy as during the day time.

I had seen some artistic photographs taken at night and I wanted to try emulating them. I’m hardly a good photographer but I can try. I was quite pleased with the reflection of the green light in the water. In the second photograph, with a long exposure, the flowing water appears like cotton wool which is exactly as I wanted it to. I’m not sure that it has additional value.

Emad o Dolah Mosque

We made time to visit Emad o Dolah Mosque. Alas I couldn’t find any information about this mosque. I will have to update this post when I find some useful information.

A few observations about Kermanshah

The very first thing I noticed was far fewer motorcycles than in Tehran, merely a handful. I have written elsewhere about the incessant sound of motorcycles and the riders’ bad riding. This was a welcome break from the ‘sound of Tehran’ (صدای تهران /sed’ā’ye teh’ran/).

Alas instead of motorcycles there are cars. Beheshti Boulevard was every bit as busy as Vali Asr Street in Tehran, and with even less traffic lights or places marked as crossings. I have long thought and stated that the most dangerous place in Iran for me is the crossing on Vali Asr Street at the junction with Pesyan Street, which I cross several times each week. I found a rival (رقیب /ra’qib/) in Kermanshah on Beheshti Boulevard. There is a constant flow of traffic without any slowing down at all. The pavement beside Beheshti Boulevard is wide. This really is a great boulevard. A few traffic lights and marked crossings would not go amiss.

The driving is every bit as bad as elsewhere in Iran. While Iran has many peoples (Persians, Lors, Kurds, Baluchis, Turks, and so on), they all have one common characteristic: bad driving.

Fig juice (آب انجیر /āb an’jir/) is a popular local fruit drink in Kermanshah. I saw many stalls by the side of roads offering it, and not just near Taq’e Bostan. The yellowish juice is typically served with some figs in a plastic cup with a straw and spoon. The juice is very sweet and refreshing, and the figs are eaten too.

I heard people speaking Kurdish in Kermanshah but I didn’t take the time to learn any. One of my Snapp drivers, Milād, used the following term for ‘very hot’:

‘very hot’ in Kurdish

Dande Kabab

Mack trucks

Shirini souvenirs

Every city and region in Iran seems to have its own pastries and cakes (شیرینی /shi’ri’ni). I picked up some boxes from different bakeries as gifts for people in Tehran. Both of the bakeries in the photographs below claim more than 50 years of service. The box on the left is an assortment. The box on the right contains kāk (کاک /kāk/), a yellow-coloured pastry. I would provide a photograph but there are none left! جایت خالی بود /jā’yet khā’li bood/ – your place was empty.

Final thoughts

I would like to visit Kermanshah again but in the spring or autumn. And I also like to have to devote a couple of days to climbing on the Bam. I don’t know if Kermanshah has a climbing club, but if they don’t I suggest they form one.

Kermanshah is worthy of a better tourist guide book. I found a large one page two-sided tourist map with a number of sites, but it was limited. The map itself was reasonable, but the information about the sites was terse. I have found one of the best ways to experience these sites is to do some pre-reading, so I have some idea of what to expect and what to look for.

I was disappointed by the Temple of Anahita. It is not really worth visiting in its present state. Somebody needs to take a keen and sympathetic look at how to improve it.

My lips were cracked by the second day and I regretted not packing my chap stick. Immediately on my return I nursed my lips back to health.

The return journey

My driver is averagely good by Iranian standards. I am being generous when I write that in the UK he would have earned about 100 points on his licence for the return journey. The short list below is a selection of the quintessential style of driving in Iran.

The concept of keeping a safe distance from the car in front doesn’t really exist in Iran. Either that or Iranians are in general spatially unaware. Keeping 3 feet from the car in front at 75 MPH (120KPH) is usual. This is especially necessary when it is getting dark.

Lane markings are just blobs of paint on the road, they are not there to guide traffic into organised columns. So straddling the lines is, well, I don’t know exactly what the purpose is. But it seems to be a customary style of driving in Iran. Why not drive in the lanes? I really don’t know! Changing lanes, or rather preferring one over the other, is accomplished without any form of signalling. Why notify other road users of one’s intentions?

The use of mirrors and indicators is unnecessary. Instead if one pulls into the path of another vehicle that driver will sound their horn, and from that a driver can correct his action.

The hard shoulder is another part of the road to be used when the traffic is heavy, or for undertaking if one is impatient (بی صبر /bi sabr/ or نا شکیبا /nā sha’kee’bā/). One can only hope that no car is broken down there.

Undertaking or overtaking: what is the difference really? The purpose is to get past the vehicle in front. And undertaking a Mack articulated lorry on a bend is… fun!

Speed limits are only in force where there are speed cameras. So slowing down at those places then speeding up again is the correct way to keep to speed limits.

Use of the telephone when driving is, I think, mandatory in Iran. There must be fines for not doing so, otherwise everyone would abstain. Signs by the side of the roads stating that use of mobile phones when driving leads to accidents are apparently some form of amusement.

Taking both hands off the steering wheel (فرمان) when driving at high speed is a sign of driving prowess. Cars to some extent drive themselves, don’t they?

And the reason given for this style of driving is… the traffic was heavy. I despair, I really do. While I am completely conscious of my own safety or lack thereof when being driven in Iran, there is a verity that Iranians are apparently not.

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