(Tightly packed shops on the left and right of the bazaar but the items on sales are not necessarily old and ancient)
I first learned about bazaars when I watched the Travel series on the Discovery Channel and I first experienced a real bazaar when I was in Bangkok couple of years ago. Basically it was a modernised flea market and much updated for foreign tourists. Not exactly a traditional kind of bazaar that one was looking for.
But we heard that there is a traditional bazaar in the Iran and it is just a metro-travel away, we decided to check it out on one of the weekends. The nearest metro station was almost a kilometre walk away from our house. So one fine cold morning, we got dressed in thick clothes, packed water and camera and started to walk to towards the nearest metro station.
The thing about the general rule about photographing in Iran is that you can take photo if it is expressly allowed so. I have lost count of the times when we were asked not to take photographs (very politely and with a smile) by the authorities. So photography becomes the exception rather than the general rule (a far cry compared to Malaysia where we loved to be photographed).
So, since we do not want to run into any problems, we usually opt out from photographing anything and everything that we see (missing a lot of unique photo opportunities) and we only do it if it is safe to do so or we have gotten the necessary permission. So, photographing the inside of the metro station was out of the question but we were highly impressed with the metro system in Iran here.
At first, the layout of the station is simple and easy even for foreigners like us. We went to the ticket counter, mentioned the station that we wanted to go (to get the station name, we just googled the metro’s website and the names are laid out clearly in English), mention whether we wanted a one way or two way ticket, paid the cash, get the ticket, swipe it over the electronic gate and walk on to the platform.
Iranian metro trains are super efficient – there are plenty of cabins and trains arrives and departs on time. Most of the time, the cabins are full but when we went on that particular date, we found enough space to stand at one corner (or perhaps we were foreigners and the locals were kind enough to squeeze some space for us). After almost 6 stations, we arrived at the station that we wanted to go.
As we walk out from the metro station which is located underground, we can feel the strong cold breeze flushing in from the outside. We walked out and make a couple of turns, we arrived at the bazaar.
There is one main entrance at the bazaar and there a big different it makes when one moves from the outside to the inside. On the outside, it is covered by a rather modern building but in the inside, one is transformed to an old looking bazaar. The walkway moves from the outside and moves along a huge tunnel. On the left and the right of the walkway, there is nothing but shops. The bazaar as whole is huge and somehow divided into different area of produce – carpets on one side, lamps on another side, electrical goods and souvenirs and so on.
But the problem here in the bazaar which becomes self evident is that it is not so friendly to foreign tourists – no sign boards in English, photographers is looked rather suspiciously and there was no indication whatsoever as to where the bathrooms is!. My friend actually had to go one of the carpet shops to use the bathrooms (we had to walk along some deserted lanes to reach this shop – we were expecting to be jumped by a gang of bandits, waiting for the unexpected foreigners at the corner of the alley but luckily it ended as nothing but our wildest imagination) .
Compared to “bazaar” in Bangkok, there are more people here in the Bazaar here and everyone seems to be on the move to somewhere. If we stop to snap some photos or to look at the produce sold in the shops, we find ourselves being pushed around by this large human traffic. If that is not enough, we also have to confront the goods handlers who busy with sending the goods from the outside and to the shops. We almost got run over by these goods handlers on a number of times and thankfully we were quick enough to move out from the way in time. With an uneven walkway (seems to be made from big rough tiles), the act of avoiding “speedy” Gonzales on goods carts makes it even more tricky.
One of the things that we noticed immediately when we are in the inside of the bazaar is the architecture – something on the wall and ceiling spelt ancient architecture and history. And we managed to find some quiet spot where there was less people to allow us to snap some photos on a more leisurely pace.
We must have walked about in the bazaar for almost an hour (we managed to buy some things in the process) before realising that we were both hungry and tired. We walked out, only to be greeted by small children begging and people trying to sell small items – we decided to have our lunch at one of the nearest “sandwich” (what else?) shop. The good thing was the “chief” waiter spoke some English which made it easier to confirm and order our lunch (the menu was all in local language).
By the time we came back home tired, it was almost time for dinner time.