Raphael Kessler

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South East Asia 1999

  1. Vietnam - February 1999
  2. Thailand - April 1999
  3. Malaysia and Singapore - May 1999
  4. Indonesia - June 1999
Africa to home, the long way
- Africa
  1. South Africa
  2. Namibia and Botswana
  3. Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya
  4. Uganda
  5. Ethiopia
  6. Egypt
- Middle East and Balkans
  1. Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Turkey
  2. Balkans
  3. Turkey
  4. Iran
- Asia
  1. Pakistan
  2. China
  3. Tibet
  4. Nepal
  5. India 1
  6. India 2
  7. India 3
  8. Sri Lanka
  9. Bangladesh
  10. Myanmar
  11. Thailand
  12. Cambodia
  13. Laos
  14. China, Macao and Hong Kong
  15. Mongolia
- North America and Caribbean
  Caribbean, USA, Mexico and Canada
- Scandinavia and Eastern Europe
  1. Russia
  2. Sweden
  3. Baltics
  4. Poland and Czech Republic
South America 2002
  1. Brazil
  2. Argentina
  3. Chile and Easter Island
Central America and Mexico 2002
  1. Panama
  2. Costa Rica
  3. Nicaragua
  4. Honduras
  5. El Salvador
  6. Guatemala
  7. Belize
  8. Mexico
South America 2003-4
  1. Trinidad and Tobago
  2. Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana
  3. Venezuela
  4. Colombia
  5. Ecuador and The Galapagos Islands
  6. Peru
  7. Bolivia
  8. Argentina
  9. Uruguay and Paraguay
  10. Bolivia 2
  11. Peru 2
Specific Pacific
  1. California to Fiji+ French Polynesia & Cook Islands
  2. Samoa, Niue and American Samoa
  3. Tonga and New Zealand
  4. Australia 1
  5. Australia 2



Greetings from Tehran, as you are all aware the capital of Iran. Just to fill in the gaps what happened between here and last news. Went to Anakara, Turkey's capital. Although there is not a huge amount to see there, it is of some interest. I am often curious to see the capital cities of a country, can tell you something about the place. The main thing I did there was to go to the Anit Kabir. Ataturk's mausoleum. The structure is rather impressive, being very large, set in a park in the centre of Ankara. The inside is not so fascinating. however the museums are quite amusing. In one where they have Ataturk's personal belongings there are some photos of occurrences where his likeness can be seen in the clouds, shadows from mountains etc. I find it amusing how a country can deify there leaders (this place did that a bit as well you may recall). As I was getting a bus that evening to Diyarbakir, some locals I was talking to asked me what I thought of the earthquake that morning. This was the first I had heard of it, I think I must have been asleep during it, but apparently the destruction wasn't so widespread.

From Ankara went to Diyarbakir, about halfway to the Turkish/Iranian border, another town without a huge amount to see, but interesting nonetheless. Diyarbakir is predominantly Kurdish, heartland of the PKK and not very popular with the Turks who don't like the Kurds (Q: Is a Turk Kurd a turd?). However the people were very hospitable, the police were giving me advice where to go and what to see etc. The locals just wanted to talk, the place was generally rather nice, but not necessarily attractive.

From Diyarbakir did another overnight bus to Dogubeyazit (or Dog Biscuit as it is known amongst the travelling community). Stayed in a funny little place, but with great views. The snow capped Mount Ararat (where Noah is supposed to have parked the Ark after the flood) is just up the road, so makes quite a sight and the Ishak Pasha, an impressive old fortress/palace was a couple of hundred yards away. The beer was cold (my last chance for a while) and there were some other good folks there to chat with. Including one Kurdish Sean Connery doppelganger pissed off his face with three guns and a hundred US dollars he was determined to lose gambling with me, I won it from him several times, but returned it each time as I thought it might be imprudent to take it from a well armed drunkard.
Thus far, haven't seen much of Iran except through a bus window. Got over the border yesterday at about midday, depending on which time Turkish or Iranian. Went down to the bus station, booked a ticket and then came overnight to Tehran.

It has come to my attention that I appear to be leaving a trail of destruction in my wake, during these travels.
Starting from the beginning: just two days after having gone through the Caprivi Strip in Namibia three French tourists were killed; Zimbabwe has descended to riots and gun law; Uganda discovered mass murder/suicide (the jury is still out I believe) graves after my departure; I almost got shot on a bridge in Ethiopia; the previously monotonous Ethiopian/Eritrean conflict has just got very serious; In Wadi Musa the village by Petra in Jordan - there were apparently full scale riots and several fatalities (there has been a total media blackout on it)- the day I was there, or the day I left; President Assad in Syria has fortunately died; finally, for the while, there were earthquakes and floods in Turkey. My conscience is clear though, I did not cause or create any of these events, furthermore the facts show that the safest place to be is with me or ahead of me. Still, it keeps the whole thing a bit more interesting.

So now I'm going to see what havoc I can wreak with the rest of the world.


*** missing bit *** them for some food, and we tried to make conversation, despite the lack of a common language. Still, it was interesting nonetheless and proved the stories about hospitality of some of the locals.

The following day I went to see some of the sights of Hamadan itself, chief amongst these is the mausoleum of Esther and Mordechai. In days gone by a Jewish pilgrimage site. When I got to the place the custodian (who could speak French showed me about, so I embarrassed myself with my French, which is not only rusty, but downright dilapidated) and explained some of the history of the site itself. The place was built in 252 BCE and contains a small synagogue as well as the mausoleum of Esther and Mordechai. There are stars of David and Hebrew writing throughout. Something I was surprised to see tolerated in such an Islamic country. When the custodian asked me my religious persuasion, I told him I was Jewish and he was delighted. He was too, and he went onto to say how there is quite a large Jewish community in Iran, although only 35 in Hamadan. I asked him what it's like to be a Jew here. To which he said there was no problems, the government leaves them alone to do their own thing, just recently a new synagogue was built for the community in Hamadan. I took these as positive signs, made a small donation and went on my way.

So from there I got a bus to Esfahan, where I am now. Haven't seen any of the place yet. So am off to do so now.


Greetings from Kerman, in the south east of Iran.

I have now seen most of what I wanted to in Iran and will be heading to Pakistan in the next couple of days.
A little addendum to my previous e-mail. In Hamadan I also went to the museum, where there are stuffed representations of much of the fauna that exists here. Many don't realise how diverse this fauna is ranging from European animals such as the bear, boar, etc. to African - lions, armadillos, leopards, etc. To Asian - Tigers, cobras, etc. Apparently the variety to be found here is a unique mix, but unfortunately is not only threatened by progress, but does not have any kind of reservations where one can go in search of these animals. Although not nice to see them stuffed, it was interesting to see the range of four legged inhabitants.

As I mentioned in my previous e-mail, I went to Esfahan next. Esfahan is quite a large city, but still quite laid back. There are a couple of stunning mosques set off the main square, one of the largest town squares in the world. One of these mosques - Masjed E-Sheikh-Lotfallah, is unusual in so far as it does not have a courtyard, nor somewhere for ritual ablutions before prayer. It is however very impressive, with a massive onion shaped dome, covered with light coloured tiles with ornate patterns, that change colour during the day depending on the light. The other mosque is bloody massive and is reckoned to be the most impressive mosque in Iran, and one of the most impressive anywhere in the middle-east. This one now called the Masjed E-Emam, previously the Masjed E-Shah, is bloody massive, with two pairs of minarets, that are attached to the main structures. Almost the whole thing is covered in Blue or Green ornately decorated tiles with floral patterns. Those areas that aren't tiled are generally large pieces of either plain or intricately carved marble. This place really is unbelievable, even the internal arches, with ribs and cornicing are covered with these tiles. What's more the thing is bloody massive. All in all a rather impressive structure. Aso on the main square is the Ali Ghapu palace of the shahs. Unfortunately this has not been well preserved, and many of the visitors have carved graffiti into the frescoes on the walls and ceilings. One can see to some extent how ornate and ostentatious it would have been in its heyday, but the best part is the huge balcony that overlooks the square, affording great views of the square and the mosques and also with a little imagination one can imagine how the shah might have addressed thousands of subjects from this vantage. Another thing Esfahan is famous for is its bridges, these are nice, with up to twenty arches, but to be honest unless you're a bridge fan, they'll only ever be just nice. I had been told that at one of the shrines just outside Esfahan there was a place called the shaking minarets. A Dutch couple in my hotel had just been to see them and said they were quite fun, so I made my way across to town to see these shaking minarets. I arrived just in time for a demonstration. A guy climbed into one of the minarets which come from the main structure and climb an additional three metres from the five metre high roof. He then rocked the minaret back and forth, throwing his weight against it, then lo and behold the opposite minaret started to move as well. This had the small gathered crowd in a trance, I found the whole thing quite amusing, and thought it was all a bit crap, but fun. I did enjoy it, but mainly because it was so poor.

From Esfahan I decided to fly down to Shiraz for the exorbitant price of about seven and a half quid (As opposed to the two and a half it would have cost for the nine hour bus). The flight was pleasant enough, and were given some refreshments. We flew over a huge red lake, I was later informed to be a large salt lake, although I didn't get the name.

In Shiraz the main sight to see is Persepolis, sixty kilometres away. Myself and a couple of other folk from the hotel I was staying in chartered a taxi for the trip. Our driver spoke very good English and was interesting to talk with. Persepolis was destroyed by fire at the time of Alexander the Great's sojourn there, historians are divided as to whether or not it was intentional, as many argue it was done in revenge for the Persian sacking of Athens. Anyway, what remains is quite a lot and many of the reliefs are exceptionally crisp and clear, as are many of the rock carvings. The site is quite expansive, with a great deal to see. In many ways the carvings looked similar to those done by the Egyptians, and considering that this site is about two and a half thousand years old, it is very possible there was some influence. However, the style is totally unique, with winged animals, with men’s heads, with huge beards. All in all very good. Just by one of the entrances is a bunch of carved graffiti from the past two hundred years, in amongst these in one that reads Stanley, 1870, New York Herald. This was apparently the same Stanley who went in search of and found Dr. Livingston in Uganda.

We then took the taxi a few kilometres further to Nagsh-E-Rostam, site of four tombs of the Persian emperors (Xerxes I and II, Cyrus and Ataxerxes I if I remember rightly). These tombs are carved into the cliff face in a similar way to the Nabatean temples at Petra in Jordan, these however have a different style and are inaccessible without a long ladder, which the government removed as too many of the locals were carving their names into the inside walls. There are also huge reliefs of the emperors fighting, making offerings etc. carved into the cliff face. Again rather impressive. Other than generally chilling in Shiraz I visited another mosque, which was ornately decorated throughout the inside with mirrored mosaic tiles, in floral and geometric patterns.



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