Iran-Trotter: Bahu Kalat

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Javad Gharaei is a young tourist who travels across Iran to explore the country’s most exotic places. In this episode, he visits Bahu Kalat in east Iran, Sistan and Baluchestan Province.

TIME CODE: 00:00_05:00

Narration: The living world is rife with unparalleled beauties; beauties represented by Mother Nature across this beautiful planet; a planet that’s been the only habitat for humans since they came into being millions of years ago. The beauties of nature have forever captivated humans everywhere. Many of what humans have created over millennia was inspired by their natural environment.

To many humans, the word nature conjures up images of mountains and forests. But nature has thousands of other beautiful facets….And some of those facets manifest themselves in sharp contrast to each other. One of the most beautiful faces of Mother Nature, isthe barren areas of land or deserts.

Many nature explorers believe that deserts and steppes are the most beautiful parts of nature….and the most beautiful parts of these parts, are the sand dunes and hills. But is there anywhere in the world with expanses of shifting dry sand dunes right next to a great body of salt water named the sea?

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Ghaaraie, Explorer: “Hi! I’m Javad Ghaaraie. I’m an Iran-trotter, and I’m taking you on a journey to the most pristine areas of this beautiful land…”

Narration: Chile is a beautiful country with unique natural exquisiteness. A country that remarkably has vast steppes and shifting sand dunes along the coast of the Pacific Ocean offering a natural scene of unparalleled beauty. Of course, I haven’t travelled to Chile’s beautiful Pacific coast. My destination is the BahuKalat Rural District in the south of Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province. But I’m not going straight to BahuKalat. I begin my trip near the border between Hormozgan and Sistan-Baluchistan provinces.

There are few places in the world where sand dunes meet the sea creating a spectacular landscape. Such coastal deserts can only be seen in parts Chile, in the Great African Sahara, and in the southwest African country of Namibia. Some may find it hard to believe, but in addition to those few places in the world, there’s an area in southern Iran where expansive sand fields meet the Sea of Oman….a place near the village of Darack in Zaravan County.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Ghaaraie, Explorer: “This is the border between Sistan and Baluchestan and Hormozgan provinces….in the southernmost area of Baluchestan on the coast of the Sea of Oman.”

TIME CODE: 05:00_10:00

Narration: In the past,this area of Iran was called “Mokraan”….A name researchers say was derived from the word “Mok” meaning the palm tree….Given its large number of palm groves, Baluchestan can be referred to as the “Land of Palm Groves” in Iran….an area with a beautiful history and peerless natural splendor.

Unfortunately, the general public in Iran, doesn’t know much about Baluchestan. The sea, the sand dunes, and the Martian mountains, all in one place, provide an environment with no parallel in Iran and I dare say in the world. But the sand dunes, the Martian mountains and the Sea of Oman aren’t the only things that make this area of Baluchestan unique…It’s the multitudes of palm and other trees scattered along this area as well as the many herds of camels, goats and sheep, grazing among these dunes and mountains, that make for breathtaking beauty.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Ghaaraie, Explorer: “Here Mother Nature has made all her efforts to create some of the most beautiful coastal sceneries in the world….and as you can see for yourself, she’s done a great job….This is the result of millions of years of work by mother nature….Now it’s incumbent upon us and the authorities, to keep these unmatched beauties, just as they are…By not allowing any structures, however small, to be built here or in the surrounding area…Not even a few gazebos for tourists and explorers to use. We have to preserve this natural magnificence as it is.”

Narration: A Geopark is a unified area that advances the protection and use of geological heritage in a sustainable way, and promotes the economic well-being of the people who live in it. Geoparks are protected areas…Many countries dream of having one in its smallest and simplest shape and form. There are only a few geoparks around the world that are both geomorphologically rich and boast unique wildlife, history, culture and indigenous populations. Countries with such wealth, are few and far between. But this area of Baluchestan is home to several morphological splendors….It’s also inhabited by Balouch tribes of a rich culture…their traditionallifestyle and time-honored customs…a pure, unspoiled natural environment…the preserved remains from the remote past…the golden sandy coastlines and the deep turquoise blue waters of the Sea of Oman….the traditional fishing apparatus on boats moored at a beautiful port….and finally, very good vegetation and animal life. If such unmatched assets existed, all in one place, in another country, they would no doubt have been registered as a geoheritage of great scientific value, and protected responsibly by the managers, authorities, and people of that country.

Sad to say, this area hasn’t been listed as a geopark in Iran or anywhere else in the world….It’s been left to fend for itself, and new building operations are ongoing in its vicinity. Even, according to the locals, a pier is planned to be built in this area…a construction that will deal the coup de grace to the already fragile ecology in this area.

TIME CODE: 10:00_15:00

Narration: As I walk on these beautiful sand hills, I think to myself, “How are we responsible to the generations that will come into being in this country?” To the natural beauties in our country…I’m spending today relishing the stunning untapped natural beauties in Zaravan and snap several beautiful photos.

The nagging question is; do we have the right to deny the children of tomorrow, the opportunity to feast their eyes on such spectacular scenery? I wish no structure, no roads, nothing would be built among these ancient mountains, sand dunes, and palm groves…No hotels, no themed amusement parks to be built for human recreation on its untouched coastline….Even a few simple gazebos in the area can accelerate the destruction of this region’s ecology and natural landscape.

I wish all us humanshad more appreciation for the natural world, this manifestation of God almighty’s beauty, and paid it due respect. I wish all nature-loving tourists would choose to walk into the heart of nature, and by doing so prevented any harm to it…A lot of people in the world think that if they really wanna enjoy their expedition into nature, they have to spend the nights in multi-star hotels near their destinations. But that’s not the right mentality. It’s not in anyone’s interests. Hotels that are built close to natural habitats, do nothing but damage to an intricate ecology that’s taken millennia to be formed. There’s an alternative way for explorers to both enjoy their trips into the heart of nature and for the natural world to be spared damage by humans….In other words, for humans to forge a partnership with the natural world…Local homes, kapars and black tents, and also camping tents are the best options.

All the people and officials in this area of Baluchestan say they hope that in the near future, the area they live in will be registered as an important and valuable geopark by the relevant authorities living in the capital city….And by doing so they hope the unique natural environment here and the culture and customs of the old Baluch tribes inhabiting this region will be preserved and protected.

I take great pleasure walking about in this beautiful natural landscape and accompanying camel herders. But this is the end of this leg of my journey…I have to set off for my main destination…the BahuKalat district in the north of Baluchestan. The main purpose of this trip is to visit an idyllic little village by the name of ShirGuaz. A lush, vast, green patch of land thirty kilometers to the border with Pakistan. The name ShirGuaz was derived from the names of two wild animals namely the lion and the boar. The locals here tell me this area is home to wild boars, but no one has ever sighted any trace of lions here or anywhere in Iran…unless in the very distant past. Perhaps what ancient ShirGuazin habitants meant by the word “lion” was in fact “the wolf or hyena”…that’s because those two species have lived in this region for hundreds of years…. But what has brought me to this area of Baluchistan wasn’t the lion or the boar….I’vecome here to see the Asian crocodile…In local parlance, this rare species of crocodile is called the Gondo! They live somewhere between River Sarbaz, BahuKalat, and ShirGuaz.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Ghaaraie, Explorer: “The river you see to my left, is the biggest natural stream of water in Baluchestan. It is known by different names by the locals living in villages located along its 300-kilometer course…Monikers such as “Sarbaaz”, BahuKalat and ShirGuaz.”

TIME CODE: 15:00_20:00

Narration: My team and I have to walk a long distance to see one of those short-nosed crocodiles…But these gorgeous thick-skinned aquatic reptiles in Iran are said to be very shy animals, making it difficult for us to find them. What that means is you can’t get too close to these amphibians and admire their beauty at close range.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Ghaaraie, Explorer: We’ve been going about gunning for a crocodile for a couple of hours now, but we haven’t been able to see even one just yet. As I say, they’re very shy animals…the locals tell me I’d be lucky to see one. Though they also say, if you wait long enough, you’ll definitely be able to see at least one. That guy swimming down there right now is around three meters long…The people in this area call them the Gondo. Who’d have thought you could see Gondos, the short-nosed Asian crocodiles in a river in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province?

Narration: At their biggest, these majestic reptiles are three-and-half meters long. The primary habitats of the short-snout Asian crocodile are in Iran, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka and Myanmar. The people of Shirguaz tell me the best place to see the Gondosis the ShirGuad dam; a barrier built across a the ShirGuaz river, to impound its water.

The number of crocodiles living in Iran has been estimated at between 300 and 400. The good news is the people of Sistan and Baluchestan do not do anything to endanger the survival of these adorable reptiles….The bond between them is unshakable. In general, the Baluch are kind, nature-loving human beings…traits that are rooted in these noble people’s culture and creed. The love of nature and of animals is part of the life and culture of the Baluch people. Animals are part of the family…Among them wild animals.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Ghaaraie, Explorer: “Probably if this were another city or country, many people would try and…Man this guy’s strong…If I let go of him, he’s definitely gonna break my bones or break my camera into piece…As I was saying, if this mountain goat were anywhere other than here, without a doubt some heartless poacher would’ve gunned it down by now. But the people here love animals dearly….the Gondos that we saw earlier, they’re conserving them so well, also this wild goat, that’s very close to the hearts of the folks here…You can see many peacocks, partridges and pheasants in the households here in ShirGuaz and also in other villages elsewhere in Baluchestan. Hey! Ha! He’s trying to hit me. I better let him go nice and easy…Man this guy is strong…Can I let him go now? Will he run away if I do? Whoa! Hahahah…”

Narration: The ShirGuaz River flows past BahuKalat village providing the hard-working community here with water for their farms, fruit groves, and animals. Perhaps there are many people in Iran who are unaware that the fruits grown in Baluchestan can only be farmed in tropical climates. That’s exactly what’s happening in this province. All of the Iranian banana produce, comes from this region. BahuKalat is also among the important producers of watermelons in Iran….The cold season is when the watermelons grown here are harvested and distributed all across the country.

TIME CODE: 20:00- 25:00

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Ghaaraie, Explorer: “I’ve just stepped into a grove in BahuKalat. In my opinion this is a veritable piece of heaven. Here, you can see several different species of fruits right next to each other…uhhh, something you may not be able to see anywhere else in Iran. Fruits such as bananas, dates, mangoes, papaya, all kinds of citrus fruits…I’ve also been told that even coffee is farmed in some of the gardens here. It’s just wonderful. I mean you could go so far as calling this place “little India” located in south-western Iran.

Here we are. This is a ripe cluster of bananas. Well not exactly, Cruz they’re still hard and green. Usually they pick the bananas when they are still green, uh, then wait for a while for them to ripen…that’s when they go from green to yellow…and that’s the best time to eat them. All these bananas are only 10 centimeters long. But they smell and taste much better than the ones imported. Thank you sir. It was great seeing you.

In the past, staple grains for all of Iran came from Sistan and Baluchestan. But what for severe drought spells and misguided planning over the years, the province has completely lost that status. But today, in some areas of this province, and in the BahuKalat district in particular, all kinds of vegetables and tropical fruits are cultivated. As you can see right here behind me there’s a mango tree that’s in full bloom exploding with blossoms…in about five months they will turn into delicious, juicy mangos. This is heaven indeed.”

Narration: Walking around the palm groves and other gardens in BahuKalat gives me a lot of peace. One of the most beautiful things I come across during my stroll is the Baluchi squirrel. The Baluchi squirrel, also known as the stripy or palm squirrel, is a unique species of rodents living in parts of Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. The most distinctive feature of this mammal is the dark wide stripes on a white background on its back. In the past, the inhabitants of Sistan and Baluchestan believed these stripes were the finger prints of the Gods. A typical Baluchi squirrel is between 13 to 15 centimeters from its head to the end of its rump. Its tail adds an additional 14 to 19 cm to its length.

It’s quite refreshing to see Baluchi children playing and gallivanting around in the banana groves…..Beautiful pure souls….a product of their serene, peaceful surroundings. The children of ShirGuaz spend the whole week waiting to go to the fruit groves near the village to expend some of their inexhaustible energy. What they also do is they cook their traditional food on their own. Just like their elders, they gather around, sing and play.

TIME CODE: 25:00_30:00

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Ghaaraie, Explorer: “The kids here have such distinctive innocent faces…There are just gorgeous. And um they’re all wearing their traditions costumes, boys and girls alike…All wearing traditions clothes. Um, they are among the oldest, most original tribes in Iran. They’re very noble and ahhh…very patient…they’re a people with a lot of patience…and although some of them don’t have good living conditions, they are very patient folks….They’re so content…Thank you everybody. See you later…Goodbye…”

Narration: The Blauchi culture is the perfect example of a culture of nobility and peace…Those cultural traits were readily visible in the architecture of the old houses in the village. The architectural design is endemic to Balouchestan….You can’t see anything like this anywhere else in Iran. There are also new houses in these areas with designs influenced by Indian and Pakistani culture and architecture. One of the characteristics of Balouch families is their large populations. Wherever in the village I go, I’m surrounded by many of these little angels….offering a breath of fresh air after a long day of hard work. They fill my heart with peace and joy. Perhaps one of the reasons these kids are so happy, is their beautiful tranquil natural environs. Just as influential is the beautiful, happy colors used in the clothes that the little girls have on…clothes that are embroidered by the artistic hands of their mothers…Hand embroidery on colorful clothes and fabric, is among the most important crafts of Balouch women….and fortunately, Balouch women have been able to preserve this exquisite art….a skill handed down through generations…

It’s noontime. It can get really hot in ShirGuaz even in the middle of winter…But the boys of the village have a good solution to fighting the scorching heat. What they do at a time like this is jump into the waters of ShirGuaz river and swim to their hearts’ content. These children usually play together in groups. The day offers an opportunity for me to make a return to the beautiful carefree days of my own childhood….Live life as an uninhibited, unabashed explorer of the unknown. Playing with these children serves as an outlet for the negative energy in me. One of the best moments of play is when the children come outta the cold waters of the river and roll about on the dirt and sand on the banks of the river.

Although the children in ShirGuaz don’t have much to entertain themselves with, they are all growing up happy, healthy and strong by playing in groups and making the best of what their natural environment provides them with….No computers to spend the whole day on….playing virtual computer games that don’t involve any physical activity… Video games have taken the place of playing outside for many kids today. ... Outdoor experiences in nature, and plenty of physical activity that a growing body craves….These children’s only toy is nature. Going up trees, diving into the river and swimming…playing with animals…singing songs and helping their parents at home and on the farm…frolicking around and playing with stones and pebbles. This nonstop joyful mobility is the reason behind these children’s physical health and happy disposition.

TIME CODE: 30:00_35:00

Narration: Very soon, I leave the village, and set out for my next destination. I have to travel 250 kilometers to the west of Balouchestan…to a place 80 kilometers north of the city of Neek-Shahr….a name that reminds me of my country’s beautiful north. Given its unique geographic location, Balouchestan has a diverse and strange climate….Some parts of this area is affected by the tropical climate of India, in the south by the sea of Oman, in the west by the JazMurian in land basin and in the north by Lutdessert. Surrounded by these different climatic conditions, Baluchestan features diverse lifestyles, and various plant and animal species.

Baluchestan is a dry, water-thirsty land. The average annual rainfall in the province is around 110 mm. But the important thing is, all that water comes down in only a couple of torrential rain falls that cause the rivers in the province to overflow their banks.The ensuing flooding leavesbehind a trail of destruction every time. The people here tell me they get snow and blizzards in some winters too because of the mountains in the Gorgaan area.

SOUNDBITE [Persian] Javad Ghaaraie, Explorer: “Perhaps…uh…you’ll find it interesting to know there’s a place named Gorgan in Sistan and Balouchestan province…But no, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the city of Gorgaan in the north of Iran. This area is comprised of around 11 villages…punctuating this mountainous area. It can get freezing cold here. The people of Balouchestan say except for Mount Taftaan and Mount Bazmaan, the only other place where you can see snow in the highlands, is in this same Gorgaan region, uh, in Balouchestan. It can get really cold here.”

Narration: Because of the altitude and the relatively good rainfall here, this valley usually has a good amount of water….and abundant water means life and prosperity. The people of Gorgan are either farmers and orchard owners, or livestock keepers. The most important thing for them to be able to do any of those things is to have clean drinking water. The people of the first village I visit are very kind and hospitable. In my conversations with them I realize all the young people in the village are busy working simply because there is enough water. Everyone has something to do. They are all grateful to God for all their blessings. Their biggest asset is contentment.

Conversation [Persian] Javad Ghaaraie & rural men: “-What’s the name of this village you live in?

- Jagaan?

- Jagaan?

- Jagaan! What’s Jagaan’s population?

- Population? I’d say about 10 people

- Ten people or ten families?

- The latter….Ten families…

- So there are ten households…

- What’s the name this building….which looks like a conical tent? What do you call it?

- Teep! Teep! Toop!

- Teep? Toop! Uhuh! Tents that are…

- Right! Shelters like this that are circular at the bottom and conical at the top something like a pyramid…are called “teeps” or “toop”

- Teep! Teep! Teep!

- How about the houses that have the shape of a cube, what do you call those?

- They’re Kapars

- Kapar! So you call them Kapars!

- Yes

- Even if they’re made of stones and wood, you still call them kapars

- The one’s made with stones and mud are called baans…

- You call houses made with stones and mud, “baans”

- Baans or baadgiers

- Baans or baadgiers! And you call this a teep

- Yes

- And then there are Kapars, well it’s obvious what kapars are…

- Exactly

- Well…

- We pronounce Kapar as Kah-par

- Kah-par

- Kah-par

- Kah-par is it?

- Yeah, yeah…Kah-par

-Right! It’s pronounced Kah-par in the local dialect.

- Yeah.”

TIME CODE: 30:00_42:38

Narration: I could say most of the things I’ve seen in this village were built from scratch by the men and women living here. They are all content with what they have. They even have electricity. They live a beautiful, simple and healthy life. Away from the hustle and bustle of city life, and excesses that distract human beings from their true self and from nature, the Baluch community leads a simple lifestyle in their simple homes in Balouchestan. They don’t even expect a paved road. The peace that these lovely people exude is a breath of fresh air against the vicissitudes of city life. I am so at peace when I am in their fold.

Before long, I resume my journey and arrive in the village of Archeneek. A bucolic settlement second to none. But it isn’t the architecture and natural environment that lends Archeneek its beauty. The most beautiful thing I come across is the hospitality of the local inhabitants. Archeneekis are hard-working hospitable people. Moments after I reach the village, one of the elders comes to welcome me and invite me to his beautiful house. The family gives me the red-carpet treatment.

Conversation [Persian] Javad Ghaaraie & Rural men: “The elder of the village of….What’s the name of your village again?

- Archeneek

- Arecheneek

- Archeneek! I’m having a hard time memorizing that name…The elders of Archeneenk….I mean we wanted to head to other villages from here but despite our entreaties, they insisted that we stay.They said, “You are our guests now. We’re not letting you go just yet.” As you can see, they’ve prepared us a great square meal and said…

- This is just breakfast

- That is breakfast? It’s 11 in the morning and he’s telling me this is just breakfast. Meaning there will be lunch, too. So, we’re crashing here. In a gorgeous house the like of which I haven’t seen anywhere in Iran. It’s circular at the bottom. It has a conical, dome-like roof. It’s really beautiful. It’s a lot of fun spending time with such beautiful, kind, hospitable people. How interesting? What are those for?

- For washing our hands

- Oh, you wash your hands in here? How interesting.

- Yeah. It’s a custom. We wash our hands before we have our

- Before you have your meal

- Yeah

- You wash your hands…(To the camera) This is one of their customs. Before the meal is served, one of the younger people in the family brings a ewer of water along with that vessel….what do you call that vessel?

- Basin or bowl. We use it to …

- What do you call it in your local dialect?

- Dast-shood

- Dast-shood?

- Yeah

- A ewer of water and a basin or dastshood…it is customary here for everyone to wash their hands before they eat their meal. So interesting. All along my journey, Balouch girls and women are conspicuous by their absence. The fact is, Balouch girls and women usually don’t show up in gatherings that include strangers. Another social norm deeply rooted in the culture of this ancient tribe. But I simply can’t come to terms with that. Women’s presence in all social arenas provide an opportunity for them to interact, exchange knowledge and learn more. And of course they can pass their knowledge, arts, and other skills onto to me and others. But unfortunately the woman and girls of Balouch are not at liberty to interact with the world beyond their own tribe. And that’s one of the reasonsbehind the lack of knowledge about the Balouch culture and customs across Iran. Personally I have a lot of respect for the culture and customs of this lovely, ancient tribe and have tried my best not to have a negative impact on the culture or any of the good social norms of this community… Instead I learned from them things that I had no idea about before I met them.

- Muhammad sir, your house here that you call Teepee or Toupee, am I right?

- Teep

- Oh, Teep! How do you make a teep? How are they made?

- Right

- I see.”

Narration: I have had many trips to far and exotic places in Iran. And on those trips I saw many and varied village houses and nomad tents. But nothing like the Teeps in the Gorgan region. Beautiful modest homes that offer peace and tranquility just like their natural surroundings. Village elder, peer Muhammad, fills me in on how they build their houses.

Conversation [Persian] Javad Ghaaraie & Rural man: “Peer Muhammad here is telling me they first go up the mountains, and from a tree, a species that’s endemic to this region, what’s it called again? Guaton did you say?

- Guaton!

- Guaton

- Correct

- So there are guaton trees that grow in the mountains here, they cut off the wood they need from them, uh, if they have big enough braches, they use those, if not, they chop down the tree itself and use the trunk…They use that to erect four columns for these conical houses…One in the east, one in the west, one in the north and one in the south…So that’s four columns so far…then they use cobb to lay these stone plates on top of each other between those columns….From another tree, they take these, what do you call these again?…

- Peesh!

- Peesh! Yes, they take these from large shrubs that look more like small trees….very similar to palm trees…they use the leaves from those shrubs to make this amazing dome-shaped roof…and they tie it down using rope that again they use the vegetation here to make…..After that, they fit in a wooden door….How did you make this door?

- With wood from a tree. This one is from a blueberry tree or from a

- A blueberry tree?

- Exactly

- So they use their doors using wood from a blueberry tree…That’s how they build their houses. And everybody helps. Like ten people team up to make something like this in two or three days and start living in it. At the moment, they spend less time living in these houses than before…Houses that they call Toupee, teepee, right?

- Teep!

- There you go, teep!

- Yeah

- I keep forgetting what they’re called…So they call them teep and nowadays they use them as their kitchen….and they themselves live in stone and cobb houses.

- What do you call this food?

- Tabaheh

- Rice

- Rice with what?

- Tabaheh!

- Tabaheh? Is that what you call this?

- Yeah

- So Tabaheh means meat and rice

- Meat and rice, yeah

- What type of meat is this?

- Goat

- This is chevon or goat meat with rice mixed up with condiments that they themselves make. That’s what they call the Tabaheh. Correct?

- Excuse me?

- Tabaheh is made with pomegranate sauce.

- Uhuh…They’re telling me Tabaheh is made with pomegranate sauce….It’s goat meat and rice with dashes of local spices. The people here usually eat like this. They serve the meal in a big platter and they use their hands, which they’ve washed already, not to mention these herbs grown right here in this village, they use their hands to put the food in their mouths. Help yourselves. Bon appetite.

- Please. Enjoy.”

Narration: My trip is nearing its end. That means I have to leave the beautiful Sistan and Balouchestan province and head back home…I leave with a bag of experience and memories as sweet as the dates of Gorgan…and I do so knowing I haven’t doany harm to the natural environment and culture of this ancient tribe. 


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