On the way through the desert, we stopped at a 400-year old Caravanserai “Zein–o-din,” out in the middle of absolute nowhere. About halfway there, the caravanserai which typically prepares dinner upon request called our guide to inform him that they were expecting a large group for dinner, and they did not have enough plates and flatware to serve everyone so we were on our own for dinner.
This presented a problem as there was nothing along the way but one truck stop and a market that looked like a throwback from World War I, stocked with faded provisions with a layer of dust that would stir up a dust cloud with one breath. The truck stop afforded our only opportunity for lunch, and we would stop at the market to stock up on provisions for dinner. Upon pulling into the greasy truck stop, everyone piled off the bus, took one look at the place, then immediately made a U-turn and stampeded back onto the bus. Our tour guide came on the bus to try to coerce everyone, explaining that it was either this or cold sandwiches from the mosque down the street. Slowly, one by one, everyone relented and begrudgingly filed back into the truck stop to reluctantly place their lunch orders. It actually turned out to be some pretty good chicken kabab, but it was a near-mutiny getting everyone to order and eat.
A few miles down the road, we stopped to purchase our “picnic” provisions for the caravanserai, which consisted of tomatoes, cucumbers, some cheese packaged in a juice box, some flat bread the size of a coffee table folded up in a plastic bag, and some stale ginger cookies…but at least we had food for the night.
The caravanserai was beautiful. Located in the foothills of the stark, rugged mountains, it was built in the round with the sleeping rooms which were nothing more than elevated wooden platforms enclosed by canvas curtains, arranged in concentric circles around a beautiful open courtyard. There were alcoves all around with carpets and pillows where we could sit and enjoy the cool, dry desert night air while sipping tea. There was also a rooftop for viewing the sunset over the mountains, and later after dark, thousands of stars with the new moon.
Even though the caravanserai did not have enough plates and flatware, they did offer us up a small dining room to spread out our picnic. We made the best of it, all sharing what we had bought at the market. We were in our quiet little dining room with the loud Persian music permeating and pounding from next door, when all of a sudden we were invaded. Iranian ladies came in and grabbed us all by the hands and dragged us into their party room. Now behind closed doors, the headscarves were sliding further and further back until finally “the frog jumped out of the sock!” There was no getting out of the middle of it. They would show us all dance steps, the women curling their wrists in the air and making the trilling sounds, clapping, dancing wildly, and then step back and wait for us Westerners to do the same. Camera flashes were going off from every direction. If you tried to step out of the circle, they would pull you right back in. I haven’t danced that much in 10 years! This went on for about two hours, when they all loaded back on the bus as quickly as they came, and we were left with the quiet of the desert night once more. It was if a huge “dust devil” had blown through the caravanserai, and we were all left standing there asking, “Did that really just happen??”