National Geographic : 1958 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine own much of the land. The shrine alone owns about one-ninth of all the agricultural acreage of this province, along with bazaar real estate rented to shopkeepers. To take care of its properties, the shrine employs 1,700 people. The shrine's museum, beautiful and well cared for, has one of the finest collections of Islamic manuscripts in the world. Rare pot tery, carvings in ivory and turquoise, gold plate, rugs, and paintings crowd its showcases and walls. A United States Army sergeant in Meshed volunteered to work on our car. He turned out to be one of the best mechanics who ever touched an automobile. He replaced the car buretor, hopelessly gummed up by Russian gasoline, and installed a new muffler. Corn on the Cob on the Caspian We were now equipped to leave for the Caspian Sea. We drove from Meshed through countryside that resembled eastern Oregon, except that the hills are barer. Iranians told us that this was wooded country years ago, thick with oak. But the trees were cut for charcoal, and goats ate the saplings. Today one sees only an occasional canyon where wil lows and poplars grow. Plagued by road construction and a punc tured gas tank (page 25), we spent two days driving to Babol Sar on the Caspian. We reached our hotel at 11:30 p. m., grateful for showers and bed. Babol Sar has two main attractions: a caviar plant and a beach. The caviar in dustry flourishes from October to May; this was July and few sturgeon were caught during our visit. The beach was another matter. We spent hours enjoying the sand, spread a quarter of a mile wide. Our first day there was Friday, the Moslem Sabbath, and families packed the waterfront. Hawkers walked up and down, selling melons and roasting ears. The melons, iced in great tubs, were bought by the hun dreds; their rinds soon covered the beach. The ears of corn were turned over charcoal in large iron pans and dipped in a mixture of salt and oil. Sailboats plied the southern end of the Caspian, anchoring in a yacht basin near here. Men brought their saddle ponies down to the sea for washing and scrubbing. Chil dren ran and splashed on the edges. Through Pahlavi, Iran's big port on the Caspian, are shipped the caviar and cotton which the country sells to Russia. In ex change, Persians get manufactured products, including automobiles and steel. When we arrived, a Russian ship stood in port. It was still unloading. The Russian crew gathered on deck to cheer and jeer as we took photographs. One held his straw hat over his face so that he would not be recorded on a spy's film. Their cargo was a shipment of Western type toilets made in Russia. They had un loaded 200 before Mercedes's insistent call turned me back to the car. It is a six-hour drive over the Elburz Mountains to Tehran, with a good dirt road practically all the way. Not that we didn't have our share of trouble. First the new muffler came loose. It was almost red hot, and when Mercedes tried to take it off, it fell on her left hand and arm, burning her severely. We bandaged her as best we could and went on, only to find our way blocked by a stalled truck. It stood squarely in the middle of the road, out of fuel. Not until I provided some gasoline from one of our re serve jerry cans could the jammed traffic move again. We practically coasted after that, dropping to the warm, rather barren plains of Tehran. Far in the distance the dome of a mosque pierced upward from mud roofs. Though Tehran stands at an elevation of nearly 4,000 feet, it is a hot, sticky town in summertime. We stayed in a hotel owned by the Iranian Government in Shemiran, a sub urb nearly 6,000 feet high containing some of Tehran's loveliest homes. Breakfast is served in one's room, lunch in an inside dining room, and dinner on a tiled terrace around a large pool frequented by a lonesome male swan. It was so delightfully cool that we slept 10 hours without waking the first night. Tehran, City of Beautiful Gardens Nowhere in the East do I know of a spot with more beautiful walled gardens. Spar kling pools, tall pines, winding paths, roses, geraniums, and hollyhocks abound in designs as intricate as the personalities of the owners. Tehran is more of a Western than an East ern town. Mosques and gardens give an im print of the East, but architecture and broad avenues of modern shops are Western. Even the tap water is pure. While the station wagon spent several days in the garage, we flew to Shiraz and Isfahan.