As I walk through the winding passageways of Kashan Bazaar in Iran I’m fascinated by the contrasts that I encounter at every corner. This must be a spice market I think to myself, but at the next turn it’s a textile market, then an electronics market, then a food market, then a market for activities best left to another day. What is this place that I’m walking through? What is it that I’m supposed to find?
The city of Kashan dates back at least 9,000 years and by some accounts this is where the 3 wise men of biblical lore originated. The validity of this fact is something that I’m not able to verify however more immediate matters occupy my mind.
“Come” whispers a voice nearby. One of my travelling companions has been to this place before and recognises this man but to me he is merely the owner of a tea shop… or is he? “Come” he repeats again, hand gesturing to a door that appears to lead to somewhere forbidden. It is at this time I notice the key in the tea shop owner’s hand. This key it turns out, is about to unlock a passageway to something quite spectacular.
As my companions and I follow this man through the Kashan Bazaar, a market that dates back to… well nobody is certain, the adrenaline kicks in and my senses go into overdrive. Where is this man taking us? Are we safe? Are we allowed to go here?
Invigorated by these heightened emotions, we follow this man as he searches his key chain for one particular key and proceeds to unlock a door. Again the man gestures for us to follow him and so we do, through the doorway and up a poorly lit, narrow stepped stairwell leading somewhere, destination unknown.
As we walk up the stairwell we pass a room, a living quarters or an office perhaps, and a man who is half asleep on his chair barely acknowledges us as we continue our ascent. We reach a point and turn down a passage way, then left then right, or was it right then left? At this stage I’m not so sure. We venture up, then down, and in a multitude of directions at various times pausing to ensure that our small group is still intact, such is the winding and confusing nature of the passageways through which we are traversing.
Finally, we reach a door and the man smiles. “Come” he beckons once again as he stands aside while pointing us towards a stairwell that is bathed in natural sunlight.
As I head up this stairwell, the light getting ever brighter I can sense that something special awaits me. When I finally reach the top and walk through the door, I am faced with a scene that I never expected to find.
As I gather my breath and my thoughts, I start to process where it is that I am. On the rooftop of an ancient market, looking over a town that’s over 9,000 years old. Little do I know however, that this is just a teaser of what is to follow. Again, the mysterious tea shop owner with the key says “come” and gestures onward. I follow him, sure that the only place he can lead me is somewhere that I need to be. As I walk along the clay roofs of the Kashan Bazaar I’m wary of losing my step and of damaging my camera. On all fours at times, I need to crawl up domes and mounds. What I find when I reach the man is something astounding. A view like no other. Not only am I on the rooftop of this magical place, but the sun is setting.
The man gestures to a hole in the roof and points to a makeshift line around the hole. It’s the grand light well of the Timche-ye Amin od-Dowleh section of the bazaar which was built in the 19th century. This makeshift line is the only thing separating me from an untimely demise as the light well is completely open. I lean over and try to get a shot. Not good enough, I lean over further, body trembling in fear of what could happen should I slip. The man too is getting nervous. “Police” he says, “hurry” he says. Clearly, my companions and I are not supposed to be up here. I lean over further and get the shot I was looking for. I take a final look at the sun setting over this beautiful ancient city and then follow the man back down into the bazaar.
Just like that, its as if this surreal experience never occurred. I am in the bazaar looking at trinkets, and a man is in his tea shop selling tea and talking to customers. The police pass us without incident. People go about their day. What just happened? Did it happen? I feel blessed – this is what travel is all about.