My book Why Religions Work explores religious tolerance issues. It could not be more relevant at the moment with the world in its present state.
This blog has concentrated recently on the wonderful pilgrimages I have been on - to the Holy Land and to Turkey and more recently to Holy Georgia , Greece "In the Steps of St Paul" , Ethiopia and most recently my experiences in Iran.

"If I was allowed another life I would go to all the places of God's Earth. What better way to worship God than to look on all his works?" from The Chains of Heaven: an Ethiopian Romance Philip Marsden

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Iran: A Persian Odyssey - a day in Shiraz

At the mosque
stunning stained glass winter prayer hall
at Nasir-al-Molk mosque 

The first thing I notice from the coach as we drive through Shiraz is how clean the streets are - swept and hosed regularly. Many days later in Tehran I see many men in high viz vests who tour the streets on bicycles and motor bikes with besom brooms and continually sweep where needed. Sadly the main roads between the towns are a very different story, strewn sometimes with quite disgraceful litter. But who are we to talk in the UK? Litter seems to be a global scourge, and one which I find deeply depressing.
winter prayer hall Nasir-al-Molk mosque
Shiraz is surrounded by mountains - looking very stark from my hotel window, dotted with clusters of conifers. The traffic is bad - and seems somewhat chaotic with little lane discipline - in fact it looks a bit of a free for all! White cars predominate. The Ayatollah Khomeini looks down upon us from street posters everywhere! Over the years since the revolution his image has increasingly changed from severe to benign, the black beard increasingly portrayed as white and his face softer, even slightly smiling. Everyone we meet seems very friendly and full of smiles.
mihrab at Nasir-al-Molk mosque
We pass the citadel which we will visit later in the day. It is hot, but a dry heat so not so uncomfortable. In fact I am very happy with it. Roundabouts look very pretty and well tended, often decorated with neat rows of ornamental cabbages, which are propagated at the Shiraz municipal nurseries in the gardens at the Law Faculty of the University.
We walk through the Vakil bazaar. Vakil means "regent", the bazaar built as it was by Karim Khan, regent to the last Safavids (1501-1736), their rule reflected in the magnificence and wealth of the stunning architecture we later enjoy in Esfahan.  Soon we arrive at the 
the cow well
Masjed-e Nasir-al-Molk, a very charming nineteenth century mosque, said to be one of the most elegant and photographed mosques in Southern Iran. The deep blue tiling is wonderful, the stone cable-spiral columns most imposing, the colourful stained glass in the winter prayer hall playing beautiful patterns down on to the floor. We also see there, just off the opposite prayer hall, the cow well, where cows walked downhill to raise the water.

the winter prayer hall Masjed
So back along the streets, back through the bazaar to lunch, at the Sharzeh Traditional Restaurant in Vakil Street; as with so many Iranian restaurants it seems, this is downstairs, and is very popular with locals. There is a renowned salad bar with amazing spread, which would have satisfied me for lunch - but they make me a huge plate of stir fried vegetables - very tasty but just too much and a little boring after a while. Nevertheless a good place to eat. 

plates in the bazaar

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Iran: A Persian Odyssey - we arrive in Shiraz

Wednesday 19th October; the day our trip to Iran with McCabe Travel begins. 

street scene Shiraz 
tobacco for sale
 We have been looking forward to this with eager anticipation for so long. The ladies of our 20 strong group have been agonizing for weeks over what they can wear - to make sure they comply with the strict hijab rules imposed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. We all have our varied and colourful headscarves, with a mix of tunic dresses, long shirts and trousers, the idea being that arms and legs must be covered, and body contours not accentuated in figure hugging clothes. I am comfortable in a mixture of my sons' longer shirts and my own mid-thigh to knee length long sleeved tunic dresses over a mixture of baggy cotton trousers I bought in Cambodia a couple of years ago and a pair of denim jeans. Others wear Indian style tunics and trousers in the Salwar Kameez style or similar and look smarter than any of the rest of us. The men are lucky - short sleeved T shirts and jeans seem acceptable everywhere - although sleeveless T shirts would not be normally allowed in mosques for example.
street scene Shiraz
British Airways have only just announced a resumption of direct flights so we go by Turkish Airlines from Heathrow to Shiraz with a change in Istanbul - an overall travel time of about 10 hours. London is three and a half ahead of Tehran. Although the journey seems long and tedious in no way can this be blamed on Turkish Airlines who look after us very well. The veggie option is excellent on both planes and I enjoy watching Maggie Smith in Alan Bennett's The Lady in the Van - an excellent film which helps while away some of the time. Coming through customs at Shiraz airport is somewhat chaotic with little orderly queuing - but we all get through the security here eventually, are met by our superb guide Ali and are soon introduced to our equally splendid - and incredibly handsome driver Mori.

shiraz bazaar
Driving through the streets of Shiraz at midnight there are many pavement shops, still very active at this late hour. We finally arrive at our hotel Homa in Shiraz at 1 am - all incredibly travel weary - for a short sleep before being up again at 7am for breakfast, an introductory group meeting and off at 10.30 in the coach for a city tour. And so much to see in the days ahead as we explore Shiraz before traveling Northwards over eleven days via Persepolis to Yazd, Isfahan, Kashan and Tehran, and seeing much more besides along the way. 

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Iran: A Persian Odyssey

I have just returned from an amazing trip to Iran, touring from Shiraz in the South to Tehran in the North via Yazd, Esfahan (surely one of the most beautiful cities in the world), and Kashan, seeing wonderful sights all along the way. Watch this space as I hope to begin posting a detailed blog of my experiences and share many photos before too long.