Iran – not the most popular of destinations, but such a very rewarding place to visit for the traveller who is prepared to go somewhere a bit different.
Yazd is a smallish city in central Iran which sits where the Dasht-e Kavir and the Dasht-e Lut deserts meet. It features a mixture of both traditional Persian and Islamic architecture and adobe of which much of the city is built. Marco Polo, on his travels through the region, described Yazd as “a good and noble city.”
Iran is not famed for its nightlife but if you hunt around, you can find things to do in the evening. One such thing in Yazd (and in other Iranian cities) is going to see a session of “Zurkhaneh”.
Literally meaning “house of strength,” Zurkhaneh is a sport performed only by males who undergo exercises which test physical strength and endurance. The Zurkhaneh itself is an octagonal pit which sits 1m below ground level and in which all of the men exercise.
The exercises are performed to the beat of a pounding drum and to which the men have to keep time and rhythm. Over the top of the drum beat, songs are sung using words from poems written in praise of the Prophet Mohammed and his Imams.
In Yazd, the Zurkhaneh club is housed in a disused old water reservoir which you can go into and view underneath the venue. You have to pay a small spectators fee to get in it certainly wasn’t a tourist-staged event. Most other “spectators” were not tourists, but Iranian. Iranian women are, by and large, not allowed to watch men being as physical as this (and wearing knee-length tapestry-like pants to boot) but Western women are treated as honorary men.
The routine the men go through involves firstly doing some kind of press-ups and then some twirling around with all the men being in sync with each other. The young guy playing the drum (maybe a goat skin tom-tom) and singing was just fantastic – really powerfully pounding out the beat and singing really well.
The men then proceed to take it in turns to do kind of dervish type twirling followed by some swinging of heavy clubs and then the moving of big heavy metal tambourine-like objects. They are all very physically fit and it is great to watch them exercise in this way accompanied by the boy who really is a superb singer and drummer. You also even get free chay (tea)!
Zurkhaneh is a great spectacle for foreigners to watch, and for me it just served to provide me with, not only a great evening’s entertainment, but a further insight into the history and culture of this amazing country.
If you are looking for a different destination, then consider Iran. The people are extremely hospitable and welcoming and are keen to prove to visitors that the bad global press they get does not reflect on what it’s like to actually visit the country. The scenery is varied ranging from deserts to snow capped peaks to luxurious beach resorts and the food’s not bad either! It has a wealth of stunning architecture and, due to the lack of tourists, you often have it all to yourself…
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