“To the roof? Yes? Tea?” We had no idea what the man was talking about. What roof??? We just arrived in Kashan a few hours earlier, and were wandering around Kashan Bazaar, looking for Aminodoleh Tea House. We were not even sure if we found the right tea house. The place did not remotely look like a ‘house’, it was a tiny stall in the corner of an opening space under a soaring dome. “To the roof? Yes? Later. Tea?” Seriously, man, what roof? That roof above our head? That amazing tiled dome? Really? Can we go up there? How? “Later. Tea?” Oh yeah, tea for 2, please. Half an hour later, we were still sitting there on the carpet, wondering how to get to the roof. It was getting dark. The roof tout was gone. The tea seller couldn’t speak English, but managed to charge us nearly $7 for two cups of tea. Nice! A little scam to reap off tourists.  Forget it, time for dinner!  Actually we would never forget it, we made a little poem in Vietnamese about it.

“Trà nóng, trà nóng

Uống xong đắng lòng

Bảy mươi nghìn đồng

Một cốc trà nóng”

(Hot tea, hot tea

Tastes so bitter

Three and a half dollars,

For a cup of hot tea)

Two days later, we decided to make it our mission of the day to go up to Kashan Bazaar’s rooftop on a whim. We had come across a blog which talks about rooftop exploration in Kashan, so it could be done… Or couldn’t it? The hotel receptionists had never heard of climbing to the Bazaar’s rooftop, hence could not give us any clue how to do it. Time to be street smart!

We decided to pay Mohammad a visit.  We came across this young shopkeeper on our very first day in Kashan, while we were searching for that Aminodoleh tea house. He spoke very good English and offered to help us any time we needed. “It’s great to see you again. Come in. What? You want to go to the rooftop of the Bazaar? It’s impossible. Due to some political and security reasons, tourists are no longer allowed to go to the roof. See the door over there? It’s locked. But would you like some tea?” OK then, if we could not go to the roof, we had the whole morning for tea. So we came into his little shop, sit down, and sipped a few cups of tea each. The shop was like a little treasure trove, full of items we had not seen for a long time or had never seen before – rotary dial telephones, digital tester phones, mini aquariums, etc. We talked and laughed, drew and wrote in his special for-tourists-only notebook, and attracted the attention of quite a few other young shopkeepers (including a particularly handsome guy) and locals who came in to say hello and had a little chit chat.  It turned out Mohammad was a very talented student who got a prestigious scholarship to study nuclear power in Urmia near Turkey. He was home for holiday that week, and was helping out with his family’s business. After asking around, Mohammad told us to come back in about an hour. His father would come to look after the shop. Then he could help us find the second entrance to the roof, which might be open. We bid him goodbye and walked around the Bazaar one more time. Ey, that place doesn’t look familiar. Did we walk that way the other day? A minute later, we were standing under 3 huge domes which were being renovated. Just imagine how beautiful this place would be once the work is done. But there’s too much pigeon shit here, let’s go. Suddenly we saw on our left a small door opening to a staircase. Can this be the way to the rooftop? Can we go up? There’s no ‘No entry’ sign here, so let’s try. And that was how we stumbled upon the mysterious second entrance to the rooftop in a seemingly abandoned part of the Bazaar.

The view from the top was amazing! Mosque domes dotted around the city, like precious jewels decorating the desert landscape. In the distance, the snow-capped Karkas mountain range stood tall, creating a stark contrast against low buildings made of unbaked mud bricks and small alleys sprawling in all directions around the bazaar. Our bright pink and orange headscarves soon got the attention of a few local roof residents, one of which just tagged along at an uncomfortably close distance. He kept grabbing our arms and dragging us to different parts of the roof. It was very helpful and creepy at the same time. We walked across the smooth undulating roof to the grand light well to take a peek into the beautifully colored ceramic tiles lining the bazaar ceiling. Underneath, merchants and shoppers busily went about their business, totally oblivious of the 2 crazy girls spying on them from high up on the roof. Then out of nowhere, the roof tout that we met at Aminodoleh tea house on our first day in Kashan appeared with a camera phone in hand. He looked pissed. We were alarmed when he circled around us, took some photos, and then fled off. Afraid that he might report us to the police for illegally climbing up the bazaar rooftop, we quickly descended the stairs, and made our way back to Mohammad’s store.

Mohammad and Mr. Handsome surprised us with an invitation for lunch at Mr. Handsome’s place. I had been advised before the trip that saying ‘yes’ would be the key to experience the most warm-hearted moments in Iran, so we immediately agreed despite having a trip booked that afternoon.  Mr. Handsome closed down his shops and the two guys gave us a free tour around Kashan on their motorbikes. The sight of two colorful headscarves whizzing around the city on wheels must have been quite amusing to local residents. We got some take-away beef kebab and doogh (savory yogurt drink) before heading back to Mr.Handsome’s apartment. It was the best lunch we had so far in Iran. The meat was so tender and juicy. Our hosts were so hospitable, friendly, and funny. Conversations kept flowing with tea after lunch. On the way back to our hotel, I got to drive Mr. Handsome’s motorbike for a few minutes. Mohammad told me he had never seen a woman riding motorbike in Iran before, so I secretly hoped I was the first one to make history in my favorite city in Iran.

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We were searching for Aminodoleh Tea House

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When we looked up, we saw this …

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…and this…

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…and this. A bazaar could not be more beautiful than this

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The great dome was magnificent

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Amimodoleh Tea House turned out to be a tiny stall

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Our $3.5 cup of tea, with a saffon rock candy and white sugar cubes

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A little ‘tea ceremony’ (Iranian style) – twisting saffron rock candy in hot tea

We were told we could go up to the rooftop of this great dome. But we did not make it on our first night in Kashan.

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So we just went around the bazaar that night.

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Beautiful carpets in the market

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A shop selling ceramic wares

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A gold shop

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Women wearing black chadors in the bazaar

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Weaving yarns

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Dates, dried fruits, and nuts

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A kitchenware store

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A tin shop

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Goat and cow heads for sales

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Freshly baked bread. Bakers in Kashan are particularly friendly.

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A carpet shop

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The city had a blackout that evening. We walked by these carpet sellers, and they just asked me to take photos of them in the dark. I had to turn the flash on 🙂

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A shoe-repairing shop

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Our night ended in a public bathhouse-turned-tea house/coffee shop/restaurant

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Two days later, we were back in the bazaar to meet Mohammad, a young English-speaking shopkeeper. We wanted to go up to the bazaar rooftop, but the door near his store was locked.

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He invited us into his shop for tea.

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A mannequin near Mohammad’s shop

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Looking out into the street from inside his shop

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Mohammad and Mr. Handsome. Mohammad asked us to come back in an hour. His father would come to look after the shop, then he would take us to the second entrance to the bazaar rooftop. It might be open.

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So we went around the bazaar one more time.

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Fashionable clothes for ladies

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An ATM in the bazaar. Unfortunately, due to the sanction, Iranian banks were cut off from the international banking system. We had to bring cash to Iran.

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A mirror and lamp store

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Shoppers walking by a cloth store

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We passed by Timche Aminodoleh with its magnificent domes again

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The place looks beautiful at any time, day or night

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The ceilings are covered with colorful ceramic tiles

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A different dome design

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Antique shops under the dome

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Men engaged in conversations near Aminodoleh Tea House

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We came across this quiet corner of the bazaar by accident. You can see the scaffolds in the background. They were renovating the domes.

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Three great domes under renovation. It was here that we found the second entrance to the bazaar rooftop.

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The bazaar as viewed from its rooftop

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View of the city from the Bazaar rooftop. In the background is the Karkas mountain range.

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Undulating mud brick rooftop

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View of the bazaar from the grand light well

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Two different light-well designs

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Mohammad’s father

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Beef kebab for lunch. Yummy!

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A sign on the wall of Mr. Handsome’s apartment block

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View from the apartment

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Our lunch – beef kebab and grilled tomatoes, doough (savory yogurt drink), and bread

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A beautiful carpet in Mr. Handsome’s living room

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Mohammad on his motorbike

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Was I the first woman riding a motorbike in Iran? Or at least in Kashan? I hope so :))

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