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IRAN | Monday, 22 March 2010 | Views [443]

Until 1989 traffic was permitted on the historic bridges of Isfahan. It is hard to believe it could have been so. These days the lower arches of their 400 year old stone and mortar structures conceal tea houses, their upper youths and couples of all ages. Circles gather around men performing card tricks, a woman parts her chador to offer Miriam socks for sale.

We arrive in the city just before No Ruz, the Iranian celebration of New Year that still adheres, post Revolution, to a stubbornly solar calendar. It is the biggest holiday in Iran, and locals flock to the tourist cities of Isfahan, Shiraz, Mashhad and the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf.

In preparation for crowds of sightseers a weir is opened upstream. On the first morning the river is no more than a greasy trickle, paddle boats marooned hopelessly in banks of cracked grey mud. Families walk along the dry causeway below the bridge or cross between lower arches on stepping stones that taper out to present the largest area to your foot but smallest to the flowing stream.

By afternoon the causeway floods, the arches close, an upstream fountain shoots water into the sky.

The difference is considerable. The water, taken from the bottom of some dam, is cold, and the air on either grass-lined shore drops several degrees and gains much needed – in what is still a desert environment – humidity. The sewer smell and rafts of blue green algae disappear. The boats begin to float and water birds paddle.

Best of all the sounds of the river displace those of traffic. We sit and ate ice cream on the grassy shore. It may be barely spring but the sun is warm and passing time with other Iranians, all in holiday mode, seems by far the best thing to do.

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